sudden death, the party’s over

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Australia being the ‘lucky country’. Although it remains so, I write this week with sense that the party is over. Below I list two realties that dominate this sense, both have come with tsunami-like force taking all in their path.

1. As I write I am flying over the worst floods in Queensland in decades. For extreme contrast, I have left behind what is being described as the worst peace-time disaster in Australia’s history … bushfires that became fire storms, taking whole towns as they roared through the state.

2. It seems everyone I talk to is experiencing ‘reduced head counts’ at work. The speed and severity of the economic spiral is frightening …

I lament the lost opportunities the government’s stimulus package represents. We got into this mess because we have been living beyond our means; how does putting more cash in people’s hands solve the problem? And what an extraordinary opportunity to invest in infrastructure for the future, in particular the new energy technologies that will both help us meet our obligations to reduce CO2 emissions and kick start a new economy. C’mon Kevin.

But front of mind today is the numbing loss associated with the fires. For the first time ever our family sat in the lounge room, gathered around the radio. As the disaster unfolded it was hard to stop listening to the emergency services network.

It had a strange eeriness for us because we had been in the area of one of the major blazes on Saturday as the drama developed. As we drove out back to Melbourne via detours not in place hours before, we witnessed the breakout of fires, flames just a couple of hundred metres from the road being fanned by the searing wind in 46 degree heat. . We were concerned for the 100 odd people at a wedding we left behind … but were relieved Sunday morning to hear they had been evacuated after playing the frightening game of waiting, while the smoke blackened skies and orange glow surrounded them.

Too real. Too close. But for many, too close became worse. Earlier this year I wrote an obituary piece for Sir Ebia Oleware who died suddenly … no one saw the great man’s end coming.

Over this last weekend, there were great people and great towns that met their end with sudden ferocity. Stories have begun to emerge of people who chose to stay and defend who saved their homes. But the dominant narrative seems to be that the rage of the flames made a mockery of the intention to fight. I wonder if the wisdom of staying to defend will come under question with already the loss of life over 100 people.

When you do a job like mine you spend a lot of time in Marysville. Ninety minutes from Melbourne via one of the great Australian drives through the Black Spur it was a mecca for Conference Centres, craft shops, cafes and holiday retreats. By Sunday afternoon Marysville was no more. The images of charred streets are numbing … how must it be for those that have lost loved ones, homes and memories?

It has made me rethink my understanding of resilience. I’ve thought of resilience being about resistance, being able to withstand the onslaughts life offers. But sometime what life offers cannot be withstood. ‘Tsunamis’ smash us. Perhaps resilience is about what we have that allows us to cultivate seeds of life that emerge from the rubble.