The Australian bush is an ancient ecosystem and despite the devastation and suffering it can bring, fire has always played an important role in its life cycles.
Fire literally cooks up the whole rejuvenation process for many species of flora and fauna. Seed pods high in the canopy crack open releasing their gift into a fertile layer of nitrogen rich ash. Non-native weeds are destroyed. Dense undergrowth is thinned out and newly burned nooks and crannies provide a wildlife housing boon.
Following natural fire events, the green and the newborn follow briskly. The bush is re-booted.
But we are changing all this.
Early in the morning, the light is crisp, and I take a rolling drive through the green hinterland between Jambaroo and Kiama. The country seems to take a long cool breath in, before holding it desperately as the temperature quickly soars.
Later in the evening, the sea breeze will roll through like a long sweet exhalation of relief. King parrots, cuckoo doves and topknot pidgeons call the air in thanks.
Back up on the Hume highway, I plow between sheer twisted stands of eucalyptus and rough tinder scrub.
Forrest redgum and banksia. Woolybutt and gully gum. Blackbutt, stringybark, bloodwood and Sydney peppermint.
I wind the window down briefly. It smells like oil. That hot dry, dusty, smoky smell that is unique to the Australian eucalypt forrest in summer. Every Aussie knows it well. Even the green is brown.
The wind is already too hot and too hard, and the cicadas endless shrill seems to forbode danger ahead. The whole place feels ready to ignite at the slightest fools provocation.
All those towns and properties that embrace the bush must surely be on edge.
And not just smaller or rural populations.
On Saturday 18th January 2003 a freak and devastating firestorm tore through my home city of Canberra. Four people died and over 500 homes were destroyed. One of those homes belonged to my sister.
Anything unable to adapt or outsmart or outrun or protect itself during these dry windy summer months is open to burn.
And sure enough, as Ripley mounts the next hill, I can see a wide mushroom plume of muddy brown and white smoke slanting up and out far in the distance.
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