It’s the time of year when my loyal half dozen readers expect a missive from the far end of the world. Usually a disaster, natural or man made accompanies my travels and this time is no exception.
The ghastly ‘White Island’ horror occurred in early December. Many survivors remain in Christchurch and Auckland hospitals. How irresponsible were the tourist operators in allowing exposure to an active volcano?
It was to New South Wales that l ventured for the Christmas week. Immediately on leaving Sydney and driving south towards our destination, Jervis Bay, the smoky atmosphere was evident. The sun hid behind a blurred veil and we could see irregular shafts of smoke moving upwards. Once settled in our beachside, rented property we set forth for Woolworths and provisions. 4pm.
The day had become night. It was ecliptic. The sky dark with deep red strands, and no birds sang. What should have been a bright, clear, hot and challenging afternoon was instead a weird, doom-filled darkness. Locals and visitors alike marvelled at this extraordinary sight.
The morning was bright and the wind had changed but our clothes, the cars, the buildings and even the sea were covered in the ash that had blown our way. We didn’t witness such a phenomenon again but as we travelled, roads were blocked and the National Parks closed.
Inevitably we discussed the causes for such devastation. The chronicles of early explorers sailing along the eastern seaboard tell of extensive smoke from fires. One quarter of the whole of the state of Victoria was burnt out in the 1800s. Some point the finger at climate change, others accuse arsonists, a number have been arrested, many blame the intransigence of officials.
Aborigines burnt vegetation in the cool months to prevent extreme fires; farmers followed the same practice but now underbrush ‘fuel’ loads build up as councils prosecute those who disturb the dead wood and hence animals and insect life living there. This has created a tinder box situation that ignites easily in extreme heat especially encouraged by the volatile eucalyptus trees. Some rethinking needs to be done and common sense needs to prevail.
Back in New Zealand, l and all the nation on New Year’s Day witnessed the Australian smoke from the fires wafting over 1500 miles of sea. It reminded me of the Chernobyl fallout of 1986 and the Eastbourne skies mysteriously clouding over from the debris.