Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The forecast maximum temperature for Adelaide today is 42 degrees. South Australia is divided into fifteen 'districts' and the fire warning for two of them is classified as 'Severe'. For five more, it's 'Extreme'. And for the remaining eight, it's 'Catastrophic'.

This new classification system was activated for the first time in the heatwave of mid-November when my tiny home town came under threat. And it was very worrying to see interviews afterwards with people in other parts of rural South Australia who complained 'Oh but it wasn't classed "catastrophic" here so we thought it would be all right.' Others complained that they had been classified as 'catastrophic' -- and at the last minute, too! "They" had kept changing the classification! -- and yet there had been no fire. They were outraged that their lives had been, however briefly, disrupted.


Human nature being what it is, there are a few things about this that are very worrying. One is the dependence mentality that seems already to be setting in, the expectation that there will be full correlation between what's predicted and warned and what actually happens, and that, somehow, magically, "they" should and will fix it all. Another is the apparent ignorance (and I know for a fact that country people are not ignorant about this, so there is clearly some other psychological gremlin present) about the unpredictability of fire conditions and their aptness to change and turn on a sixpence.

And maybe the most dangerous is that suggestion that if the danger is not officially classified 'catastrophic' (code for 'If there's a fire, get out of your house to safety: you can't save it and we can't save you') then there is no danger at all and it's safe to stay home and do nothing. The lure of the false binary is strong, Grasshopper, but in this instance it could lead to unthinkably tragic consequences. If I were the state government I'd be fast-tracking the use of the education department to disseminate clear thinking about fire, warnings, and the limited power to predict and fight fires of the state authorities -- about which, ironically, country people are usually all too sceptical.


Di said...

It's definitely a worry.

I think the education department should just disseminate clear thinking per se. If you know how to think clearly you have a good chance of working out what's going on despite the apparent muddle of warnings.

'Clear thinking' used to be a part of senior English classes here in Victoria. It lost that tag years ago and fell into the more amorphous headings of reading and writing to argue and persuade or some such similar mouthful.

I'm looking forward to seeing pictures of those gingerbread cats.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

The gingerbread cats are going to fall by the wayside at this rate -- I have had a disgusting and debilitating respiratory tract infection for a week and am still sicker than I want to be, and it is 42 degrees, and the fondant on the Christmas cake thingy must be a feat of precision engineering and timing if it is to come out right. Bevel cake edges with a small serrated knife! Make a glaze with warm apricot jam! Put the cake on top of an upturned cake tin smaller than it is for easy working and fondant-edge-trimming! Wear white! Etc.

Di said...

Maybe next year, or for cats' birthday?

I bought the made-up almond icing and what she called the 'plastic' icing to go on top and I'm planning to roll it out and get it straight on the cake sometime between now and Christmas morning. I've just cleaned the kitchen in preparation; now I'm soaking my apron! Just have to dash a hundred kilometres for mother-in-law's birthday party before I bring out the cake from its hidey hole.

It's 36 degrees out the back here; windy too. But no fire threat at this stage.

Sorry you're still crook.