It’s always exciting when it rains. And not just for the farmers, livestock, flora and fauna!
My Grandfather, William Joseph Bannister, service number 1912, was 21 years old (DOB 09/07/1895) when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on the 15th of January, 1915.
In January 1918, Private Bannister was “severely reprimanded” for being in Bailleul (France) without a pass….. I suspect there was a mademoiselle involved.
I must admit that our “48 pizzas” resolution has fallen by the wayside as we’ve embarked on a bit of a healthy lifestyle change but come May 23rd, we would be 24 Pizzas into our 4-year tenure.
Looking back, the decision to join the dark side was a fairly easy one for Nige. After years of dealing with domestic violence and/or alcohol and drug-related events, he was glad and even looking forward to moving on but for me, it wasn’t so easy. As much as I loved the bush, I balked at the length of tenure – a year and a half longer than the other two tenures.
Last week, with the help of my new ‘el cheapo’ sewing machine, I managed to finish whipping up curtains, (mosquito net) fly screens and window socks for the camper van – just in time for the Elvis Festival in Parkes.
At around 360 kilometres away, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate our newly completed camper fit-out as well as to discover what we’d forgotten to organise or pack.
With a 3-day window of Rest days (what the police call their days off ….. although Nigel would call them “work around the house” or “work for Kaye” days) we booked a dog-friendly caravan park at Peak Hill – not far from Parkes – and took off excitedly last Thursday morning.
Now, in my defence when I first raised the idea with Nigel, it was spring and the weather was sunny but cool. However Thursday’s weather, while sunny, was anything but cool – at around 42 degrees! Gradually our excitement turned into a rude awakening. Questions like “What if we can’t park close to the main activities and have to walk for kilometres? What if Bowie can’t handle the heat? What if there’s no shade?” While we didn’t quite blame Elvis for the heat wave, we definitely questioned why on earth he chose to be born in January.
Of course, none of those questions seemed important when, around 20 kilometres out from the festival, the oil light decided to turn itself on, screaming “pull over now or I’ll blow the engine up!” or words to that effect.
Now the idea of stopping by the side of a country road with a very furry dog in 42 degree heat with no shade to be found was somewhat off-putting and after a few seconds’ debating, we decided to venture on towards Parkes in the hope that the light might decide to turn itself off. Unfortunately that was never going to happen.
Fortunately however, we managed to make it to a service station without said engine blowing up. Unfortunately, after topping up the oil to the level dictated by the manual, the light stayed on leaving us with no other course of action but to wait for our friendly NRMA man to arrive. Fortunately, the NRMA were quite understanding of Bowie’s discomfort and the stated hour’s wait was reduced to 20 minutes (if you remember the Nissan towing debacle, I’m happy to declare that all is now forgiven!!).
Strangely, the manual wasn’t quite correct and more oil needed to be added (who argues with an NRMA mechanic?) but unfortunately and again, contrary to the manual, the light stayed on leading to another hasty decision – to drive on (Nigel), while praying for divine intervention (Kaye).
Of course the light did eventually go off, the engine didn’t blow up and, back at the caravan park, the heat did finally dissipate ……………but not before the mandatory dust storm had blown up.
Now dust storms are all well and good when you have all the windows closed and the air conditioning on but unfortunately (sorry, I had to get one more in) every window and door had been opened to allow for any cooling breezes that might eventuate during the night.
Suffice it to say that our Elvis holiday was short lived and, with 46 degrees predicted, we took off the next morning – in a very dusty van – for the cooling comforts of home. Instead of bopping out -to “Blue Suede Shoes” we spent the following day mopping out – the floor, walls, windows, curtains and bedding all had to be washed.
‘So what’s the verdict?’ you ask. We love our new camper van!
And we’ve decided to name him Elvis.
Working on it
Tomorrow is Megan’s birthday. Three days before Christmas. As much as we tried to make it all about her, I always felt a bit sorry for her that her birthday and Christmas blended into one big celebration. Still, being pregnant and giving birth in summer heat wasn’t all that much fun for me either.
The last few days I’ve been reminded of her presence by the butterflies. It was actually my sister who remarked, when I told her they were all flying around our yard, that it was probably Megan’s way of saying Hi.
I still find it difficult to talk about Megan’s death and yet, at the same time, I feel guilty when people ask, “How many children do you have?” and I say “Two” instead of three. I wonder whether that’s normal. It’s especially tricky when the doctor or gynaecologist asks. I usually answer them with a question – “Are you asking how many child births I’ve had?”
Memories of Megan
One of the first funny memories that sticks in my mind was when she was 3 or 4 and managed to stick a piece of crayon up her nose. The sheepish look of remorse when she was forced to ask for help was pretty priceless.
So too, her version of “Jesus loves me” – again when she was very young – went something like, “Jesus loves me this I know, and the table and the chair…”. Obviously more work was required on Sunday School songs…… and rhyming verse.
Not long after her brother Jeremy (aka Jamie because Jeremy was too hard for her to say) was born she sagely commented, “now we’ll have to say ‘Gentle Jesus Jamie mild’ – another reinforcement of our failure as parents in all things ‘Sunday School’.
Actually, I suspect that it might be a somewhat universal problem because my mother once told me about a little girl, who named her teddy Gladly after the hymn, ‘Gladly my cross I’d (read cross-eyed) bear’.
And when number two son asked one day, “If God’s not in heaven, where is he?” I was a bit perplexed until he followed that question with……. “Well, you know how we say, ‘Our Father who aren’t in heaven’?”
Perhaps a lesson for all parents (and teachers) in just how much the child understands of what they’re ‘learning’.
By far my strongest memory is Megan’s voice on the telephone, “I love you too Mummy” – although a teenager, she thought it quite funny to continue to call me Mummy.
For me it’s true what they say – the happy, funny memories are the strongest. I remember a bright young lady, who had just started a job she loved and was so excitedly hoping that it might lead to a career in journalism. I remember the night we walked home from the Mexican restaurant – quite drunk and loudly singing Elvis songs. I remember the hand-written cards with drawings and poems written especially for me.
I’ll leave you with a poem she wrote for me on Mothers’ Day…… literally a lifetime ago.
This is a “reblog” of a post by Meg Mcgowan on the 10th of December this year. There’s nothing I can add to her post that would make it better in any way so I’ll just share it. You can read the full blog post plus comments here:
This photo was taken ten hours ago. The man in the middle of the photo in the red braces is my husband, Graham King. He’s fighting fires today as a volunteer. His shift won’t be over for a few more hours.
When I saw this photo, posted by our friend David Glover on our local community page, I briefly had the thought that if anything happens to Graham today, this will be the last photo I have of him, so I saved it. Graham’s a fairly private person and probably won’t be happy that I’m writing about him, but today the Prime Minister was quoted as saying the volunteers “want to be there” and it made me really angry.
Does he honestly think that this is how we want to spend our summer? With Graham away every other day fighting fires, and sleeping or resting on the days in between? We have no idea how many days or weeks this will last. As the Prime Minister uses public money to jet off and have dinner with the Murdochs does he appreciate what it’s like to watch my husband walk in the door again and again with soot all over him and a flimsy disposable face mask between his precious lungs and the toxic smoke? Or how angry I am that the fire fighting budget was allegedly cut last winter by his colleague and fellow Liberal, Gladys Berejiklian in her capacity as our state’s premier? (Please see images below before asking me to fact check). How about some helmets for volunteers with proper filters instead of your ritzy dinner? Does he appreciate that a P2 facemask is the best they can offer my husband, and that on his last shift he came home with a the lower rated P1? The P1 is the kind of thing you put on to move mulch or open a bag of potting mix. Even the P2 is supposed to be well fitted to work properly and nobody seems sure that it’s appropriate for smoke in any case.
Does the Prime Minister understand that my husband has just one set of yellow protection gear, known as PPE, so after he wears it for a shift he has two choices; he can wash it and hope it’s dry in time for his next shift or he can wear it smelly and dirty. Does the PM know that in order to get any new item my husband needs to hand in a damaged one or get a special clearance from his captain for a second set. It’s not like he’s going to wear his PPE to do the gardening, but giving everyone two sets of gear is apparently too expensive.
I wonder if the Prime Minister has ever fought a fire? If not, why not? Can he imagine what Graham’s night was like a few days ago when everyone was urgently called out at around 4.00pm. It was around 1.00am after a night of back burning that Graham and his captain and crew leader, Rob, were finally told to go home. Can the Prime Minister even comprehend what it was like for them to see a tree fall across the path of their truck just as they got the message to stand down? Or the sinking feeling they must have had when they realised they had walked backwards and forwards under that tree all night? I’m guessing it hasn’t even crossed the Prime Minister’s mind. Nor has the effort required after a long shift to cut the tree up so that they could get out. They needed two chainsaws because the first one became blunt while Graham was cutting. They are supposed to resharpen the chainsaws as soon as they return to the station but Graham left it until the next morning and did it then, on his “day off”. It’s possible the Prime Minister doesn’t appreciate that volunteers also do all the routine maintenance of their gear.
Otherwise I’m sure he would never have made such a stupid comment.
No, Mr Morrison, my husband does NOT want to be fighting fires. He would rather be writing or playing music, or building things for the garden, or teaching permaculture or any one of his many hobbies. I would rather have him here. We could both do without the stress and anxiety but we both understand the importance of what he, and his fellow RFS colleagues are doing. They are saving people’s lives and homes. This means that if our own home is at risk of fire I’ll have no choice but to leave early. I can’t stay and defend on my own. Graham carries this knowledge with him while he’s saving other people’s homes; ours might burn while he’s doing that.
Graham is over 60, officially retired and has had asthma all his life. I look at him in this photo and see him with other volunteers, breathing in the smoke and waiting to be sent to whichever part of the mega-fire will be their particular front for today. They are all sick of hearing “unprecedented” even though that’s a really accurate way to describe what is happening. The last report I checked tells me are 85 fires burning across the state of NSW and 42 of them were uncontrolled. This is actually a bit misleading.
We’ve all got the RFS “Fires Near Me” app so we can keep track of what’s happening. The fires variously shift from being listed as “being controlled” to “uncontrolled” throughout the day so there’s no firm count. There are also a number of fires that have now joined up, meaning that the total number of fires looks like it’s decreasing where in fact they are just becoming an impossibly huge fire front. The black outline of the burnt bush creeps slowly across the screen, day by day. We don’t have decent rain predicted until mid-January and it’s the 10th of December. The smoke is chokingly thick today and people in Sydney are posting photos of it. My husband is up on the mountain breathing it. When he takes a break he pings me a quick kiss so I know he’s still alive.
It’s difficult for people that have never been first responders to understand their stress. People like Graham are passionate about helping others, and protecting our beautiful natural environment. Someone on a friend’s Facebook asked how volunteers could end up with PTSD. “They’re volunteers. They can just not go.” Stupid comment. Volunteers are the kind of people that keep pushing themselves beyond the point where their bodies tell them to stop. They do it because they are deeply committed to making a difference. I wonder if the Prime Minister understands this when there are calls for better welfare support, better access to professional psychologists and better training to avoid PTSD in the first place. Or is he busy balancing the economic costs? I don’t suppose he has ever felt the pressure of a community that depends upon him to keep them safe. No pressure. Just say no if you don’t feel like going.
I wonder if the Prime Minister has considered what would happen if the volunteers just decided not to go. Or what will happen when they are all exhausted, worn down, emotionally frayed and unable to go back. Of course they will have already gone back several times after they reach this point because there is nobody else to go.
Graham is particularly angry at reports in the Murdoch press that blame “The Greens” for the fires. I don’t think the Prime Minister having dinner with the Murdochs and their papers’ continued campaign to avoid the truth are coincidental. How are people so gullible that they believe this stuff? The Greens are the only party ever to come up with a comprehensive policy on climate change. Decades of government neglect caused these fires. The science has been available and verifiable. We knew this was coming. It was preventable. And the only party to actually come up with a plan to prevent it is also the only party to NEVER have held power, so how they have magically had such a significant influence is beyond me.
The fire line is full of ‘greenies’. It’s these people that become volunteers. Our community depends upon ‘greenies’ to protect the bush, to rescue the thousands of injured animals and to return after the fires to help restore the natural world. They will lose sleep, spend their own money and ask for nothing in return. It would help if they weren’t also being held responsible for the predictable consequences of climate change.
I love this photo. It’s typical Graham to be straight faced and thinking of his duties as crew leader and deputy captain while his crew have a bit of a laugh before the serious work begins. These people are his good friends, as well as his colleagues. We all live in the same community. Like him, they are giving up their own time and possibly some paid work to fight fires. They don’t want to be there either. They would rather be anywhere else. But there are fires and they are needed, so they are there.
That’s what I want the Prime Minister to understand. These people volunteer because they have to. Someone needs to protect our community and it certainly isn’t going to be Scott Morrison. People join the RFS out of necessity. If there was a paid fire fighting reserve force they wouldn’t need to.
In the midst of all the calls for better equipment, better support and more funding for our RFS I have a different dream. I dream of a day when they are redundant. When a real leader with the vision to respond to climate change steps up and implements the urgent strategies we need to draw down carbon, reduce and eliminate fossil fuel use and repair and restore the natural world. I don’t know anymore if a complete turnaround is possible. It was……… a decade ago. They didn’t act. History will remember them for that.
So no, Scott Morrison, my husband does not want to be fighting fires this summer. But he will fight fires, along with the estimated 2,700 other volunteers. They are not there by choice. They are there because it is necessary. Your inaction on climate change and the inaction of every leader before you for at least the last 20 years has made it necessary. They are there because they care about our community, our bushland and our planet.
If only we could say the same of you.
BEST COMMENT EVER: THIS COMMENT FROM STEVEN IS IN THE THREAD BUT IT DESERVES SPECIAL ATTENTION SO I’VE REPOSTED IT HERE:
“No one is making us fight fires this summer. No. we can stay at home and watch our friends and neighbours lose their homes and livelihoods. We can stay at home knowing that the brigade won’t have a crew leader or maybe a driver, and the tanker will have to stay in the shed. We can stay at home knowing that other poor bastards are out there for weeks on end on a few hours sleep a day. We can stay at home knowing that if the blacking out isn’t done, the wind change next week will just start the whole thing off again. We can stay at home and leave it to the seventy year olds who keep quiet when they have a funny turn because they don’t want the tanker pulled off the line and don’t want to let everyone down.Yes, we could stay at home, but our sense of duty to the community stops us. Would I rather be at home? Absolutely.
I’m the Captain of a RFS brigade that has been flat out since August and what we have been doing is not sustainable. It has already gone beyond that point in the north of the state. To say that we are out there because we want to be is insulting and belittling, but unsurprising. When I look around me on the fireground I see people just like me, driven by a sense of altruism but hurting emotionally, physically and financially.
I see people from the poorest and most disadvantaged groups in our communities risking their lives to save homes of a standard that they could never afford, filled with all the expensive toys and gadgets, and wonder where are the volunteers from these homes?
And then I hear those who are supposed to lead our communities say that we don’t deserve the best equipment and that we don’t need financial support, and I feel like walking away. But I don’t, because I know that if I did, then just like Nero, our leaders would let us burn.”
So perhaps I was a tad early with Christmas cheer and wishing everyone a happy new year because, after my dismissiveness (apparently not a word) the last quarter of 2019 is proving quite tenacious. In fact, there are all sorts of events to celebrate before the wind down to Christmas.
Let’s start with the recent heavy rain last weekend. Twenty seven millimetres fell in Cobar, making it the second highest rainfall in 2019. While it hasn’t broken the drought, there were a lot of happy farmers and many people took to social media to celebrate in pictures. Here are some of my favourites – from Facebook’s ‘One Day Closer to Rain’. Photography left to right by Ingrid Cassidy Jayda, Justine Campbell, Oliver Ozzey Gordon and Tracy Bennett.
Of course, rain in the bush can sometimes be bitter-sweet as it’s often accompanied by flooded, undriveable roads and shops, such as our IGA store, that need to be sandbagged at the hint of a deluge.
In our case, with patchy grass and no driveway, the dirt quickly turned to mud and no matter how many towels I put down, the vinyl floor became a patchwork of prints from muddy, red paws and police boots.
You might remember that we foolishly bought a camper trailer (‘we’ meaning ‘I’) and then discovered that we weren’t camper trailer people after all and should definitely never be allowed to tow or reverse such a beast! After a year, in which we managed to use it for just one night – in the back yard – it became painfully obvious that said trailer had to go and we’ve since replaced it with a VW Transporter van, which we bought a couple of months ago and left behind at Gloucester to be fitted out as a camper.
At 366th in the queue (such is their popularity) it’s been a long time coming but a few days ago DRIFTA emailed to say that our van will be fitted out and ready to collect on the 6th of November. That’s right! Today! Unfortunately, as excited as we are to see the completed work, the earliest we can pick it up is the 18th .
To be honest, I did briefly consider catching a train to Gloucester, picking up the van and then driving back to Cobar but there are no direct train routes from Cobar to Gloucester and I would have had to go via Central with travel and stop-over times totalling around 27 hours. Still………
With the van due to be completed in November and Nigel’s annual leave commencing on the 17th, I decided as unofficial roster clerk to add a few days off without losing any coverage. I was feeling quite chuffed at my outstanding rostering (also not a word) until I realised that our house was rented out for that first few days and therefore unavailable!!
A hasty Plan B was formulated and bad fortune turned to serendipity when we secured dog-friendly accommodation at Wattle Lodge (a 2-bedroom cottage on a one hundred acre cattle farm in Glendon Brook.) With an opportunity to explore the Hunter Valley with its dog-friendly restaurants and wineries I’d say crisis well and truly averted!
And for those, who might be interested, the web site photos look lovely. http://www.thewattlelodge.com.au/
This one of the cottage was taken by Stan Carter Photographics
When we leave Glendon Brook we’ll catch up with Nigel’s parents on the Central Coast before making our way up the coast to Paradise Beach – hopefully arriving after our holiday tenants have departed. Note to self: when organising holidays it’s a good idea to block accommodation BEFORE someone else books it!!!
Our trips to Paradise Beach are also often bitter-sweet with the anticipation of strolls on the beach, dips in the pool and catching up with friends only slightly dampened by the mandatory list of chores that arise when you ‘live’ in your house for less than 3 months of the year.
On our next trip we’ll be re-mulching the gardens with river stones, which while looking spectacular for the first year or so, will eventually disappear under the piles of leaves that fall from the trees along our back fence.
It’s quite strenuous work transferring a half a tonne of pebbles by bucket from the ute to the wheelbarrow, then negotiating the sub floor steps before finally tipping them into the back garden. In fact, it’s been on our job list for quite a few months but there’s always been an excuse to replace that chore with an easier task, like pruning or weeding.
There’s also a Yesterday, Today Tomorrow plant, which I’ve just discovered is poisonous to dogs so that will have to go. Not that Bowie’s vices include chewing plants – discarded food scraps in the kitchen bin are much more to his liking – but we can hardly advertise as dog-friendly with dog-unfriendly plants in the yard!
And in case you’re thinking what other chores could there possibly be in Paradise, our job list includes but is not limited to: Paint the balcony ceiling; paint all skirting boards and architraves; clean along the tops of the PVC pipes in the sub floor; meet with handyman Ron regarding painting the front door red and replacing the tarnished chrome towel rails, soap and toilet roll holders in both bathrooms (think living on a house boat); meet with photographer Martin regarding putting professional photos up on Stayz; update the inventory (always fun!) and sand and re-paint all balcony rail posts. Notice the number of painting jobs left till last? Enough said.
And just a note on photographer Martin, who has kindly agreed to my request to photograph the house. Here’s one of his recent photos of the devastating fire that swept along Nine Mile beach in Tuncurry. Thankfully that fire is now under control.
So 2019 is well and truly not over and I’m now researching short trips in a camper van to dog-friendly parks on grassy creek or river beds. Bring it on!!
And in case anyone is interested in doing the same, here are a couple of good sites including Pupsy https://pupsy.com.au/ and Travel Australia with Dogs https://www.facebook.com/groups/496641167356061/