Wake up, Georgy gal… another disaster’s calling!

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Not mushrooms… this peaceful scene of nestling hailstones was taken in the shredded garden at the Australian Academy of Science’s Acton HQ in the quiet aftermath of the storm that smashed windows, threatened archives and dented the Shine Dome.

What the hell happened there? A week of extraordinary events that, short of locusts, kept us all talking, trembling… and cleaning up. It’s “Seven Days” with IAN MEIKLE.

GEORGEINA Whelan must live in fear of her alarm clock. Every morning it seems to drag the ESA commissioner into a daily nightmare of new problems. Especially this past week. 

Ian Meikle.

Let’s try a list: hailstorm, emergency level bushfire, dust storm, total fire ban, howling wind and more fire, all topped by a renewed State of Alert. And that just got her to Thursday. Some wag in the office suggested we only had locusts to go!

What a week and what a first summer for the commissioner – or more precisely as she is known in State-of-Alert circles ACT Emergency Controller – since her August, first-woman appointment to the top job. 

But our Georgy gal is well primed for what she faces with an army background, a rank of brigadier and front-line experience in international disaster management operations, including the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh. 

On the “CityNews Sunday Roast” radio program on 2CC late last year she was poised and reassuring when I asked if the ACT was ready and (gotcha warning) if she had a bushfire plan? We were and she did. We are blessed to have her leadership at the helm.

ACT ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan. Photo: Danielle Nohra

The close shave of the fearful Beard Fire set a tense community mood of nail-biting menace as the fire rating yo-yoed and the Canberra Airport closed its runways, but it was Monday’s shocking hailstorm that set everyone off. 

It cut a sudden, brutal swathe across the city, hammering cars, smashing windows and sending social media into a tornado of photos and woe. Players at a Fyshwick bridge club lost at more than cards as the write-off rate spiralled in the streets around them. Public servants were sitting ducks in the Parliamentary Triangle on foot or in the open car parks. Then there was the story of the woman, photographed beside a battered, shattered car, who had only picked it up new two hours before the hail.  

That floating ball, so much a signature art piece outside the National Gallery, looked like it had holes shot in it and the iconic copper-top of the Shine Dome wore the indents of a golf ball once the storm had got through beating it. 

Every cloud has one, and doubtless there isn’t an unhappy panel beater or car dealer in Canberra at the moment. 

Not much else seemed to much matter beyond the vagaries of our weird weather patterns.

There were a few government “nanny-state” initiatives that slipped through. Police minister Mick Gentleman was pleased to be ushering in new, 360-degree, Big Brother CCTV cameras down by the LBG lake at Henry Rolland Park. Priced at $100,000 for four, Mick says they’ll “strengthen public safety and asset protection at this wonderful location”. Until they start building flats around them, one supposes. 

Then Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury had a couple of media moments. He’s going to allow cyclists (not motorcyclists) exemption from wearing safety lids if your religion precludes you (ie Sikhs who wear turbans). 

This brought an almost immediate practical rebuke from former chief minister (an ex lawyer) Jon Stanhope who growled on citynews.com.au: “I assume, however that the necessary legislative amendments provide that any cyclist not wearing a helmet because of this exemption who suffers a head injury or brain damage as a result of an accident or collision will not be eligible for compensation and that the driver of any car involved in a collision with a cyclist not wearing a helmet who suffers a head injury or brain damage or who dies and was not wearing a helmet because of this exemption will not be charged with an offence.”

His week still incomplete, Shane announced that people putting rude words or offensive slogans on vans and cars would be deregistered. Not the people, the vehicles. I need to get out more, but I have no memory of ever being offended in that way. So I went to the website of one of Ratters’ targets, Wicked Campers. Some of their vans would certainly make a sailor blush, but couldn’t a consumer boycott campaign do a better job?

And, finally, something local to rival Tourism Australia’s much-lampooned $38 million global campaign “Philausophy”.

The publicly funded Tuggeranong Arts Centre’s creative theme for 2020 is “Solastalgia”.

CEO Rauny Worm says it was coined by Australian environmental philosopher Dr Glenn Albrecht in 2005 and apparently describes the sense of loss or nostalgia we feel when our homes or environments change irreconcilably in the face of climate change or natural disaster. Or “a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home,” says Albrecht. 

Which is probably how Georgeina Whelan feels when that bloody alarm goes off. Roll over, Georgy, you’ve earned a sleep in. 



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Ian Meikle
Ian Meikle is the owner and editor of "CityNews".

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