Glimmerings in the sci-fi movie smoke

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The smoke plume from the Orroral Valley Fire. Photo: Ian Meikle

“Suddenly there was a sense that ‘we’re all in this together’, that the very idea of being Australian and literally under fire from the monster made us one,” writes The gadfly columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.

IT’S been a hellish summer; and it’s not over yet. 

Robert Macklin.

That fire-breathing monster of our own making is still blasting the landscape, even to the ramparts of the national capital. And its mad rampaging can be seen all over our south coast playground.

Hail wrecked 15,000 Canberra cars. The mega-duststorms are rising in the west and carrying the precious topsoil away. And the smoke haze that chokes our lungs and robs the elderly of weeks or months of their hoped-for lifespan, persists and persists and persists.

But even as we struggle to cope with what until yesterday seemed like a sci-fi movie, there are some bright glimmerings in the mist. 

The much-despised media, for instance, has restored its reputation, warning and showing us the fires that threatened. The ABC alone used its amazing network of stringers throughout the towns and villages to bring us the stories as they were happening.

Mostly, it seemed, they were bright, articulate young women who arose from nowhere to do their on-camera reports with barely a note or a cue card to assist. The magnificent Philip Williams, not long from unravelling the tangled skein of Brexit while standing before 10 Downing Street, was just as brilliantly professional in the crowded refuge of coastal Bega or beside the embarrassed fumblings of Scott Morrison among the reluctant hand shakers.

So, too, the brotherly Hamish Macdonald in shattered Mogo. So, too, Liv Casben holidaying at her Nelligen family home, reporting as the flames roared nearer. So, too, the world’s best newsreader Juanita Phillips, back from leave to meet the crisis; and the afternoon anchors such as Karina Carvalho handling a myriad of incoming reports from the firegrounds with perfect calm and competence.

Those behind the scenes who were organising the crews, the transport, the accommodation, the co-ordination with officialdom and the on-camera novices, deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. For without their tireless work, all the rest would never have reached us. 

We waved off the pilots as they flew their water-bombing missions. And we listened, rapt, to Shane Fitzsimmons, the NSW RFS commissioner with his round, compassionate face that never smiles but has become part of an Australian story that, one suspects, is only just beginning.

Suddenly there was a sense that “we’re all in this together”, that the very idea of being Australian and literally under fire from the monster made us one. 

So when the Prime Minister returned – reluctantly, it seemed – from his Hawaiian holiday, his missteps were magnified in the public mind. He was suddenly an interloper in “our” struggle. And when he donned his baseball cap and played the “Daggy Dad” that he thought had won him the election, it got our backs up even further.

Little wonder his PR advisers dragged him back to Kirribilli and clad him in a suit in a vain attempt to restore his lost authority. It might have worked, but for the awful Bridget McKenzie who had scammed the $100 million sports grants. Worse, it wasn’t just bungling Bridget, but Morrison and his Cabinet mates who also had their fingers stuck in that little tar baby. And Bridget knew it!

Oh dear, what to do? 

“Wait – look over there!” they cried. “We’re rescuing Aussies from the naughty Chinese and their coronavirus…”
You have to wonder – is that honestly what they think of us?

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