Tasmanian Times


I must be confused about the date …



John Maddock

I must be confused about the date.

I thought that at this time (7:50 p.m.) 45 years ago I was almost blind from smoke injury to my eyes.

If I’m correct, I knew that I still had a house and most of my farm buildings, even if they were scorched. And a tractor.

I also knew I still had some hay in barns, even if a 7,000 bale hay stack had gone up in smoke early in the afternoon.

And I knew there would be no electricity for a few days because I’d discovered some power poles were missing, along the Channel Highway. I didn’t know that it would be 13 days before electricity was restored, and that by a curious sequence of events, I would be instrumental in having most new milking sheds constructed in Tasmania having all the steel, including the reinforcing in concrete, electrically bonded to earth.

Nor did I know that around 60 people were dead or missing in southern Tasmania.

I think I knew that many of my sheep were dead or in agony from their burns, but nothing of the countless thousands of farm animals and native animals in a similar state across the south of the state.

I don’t think I knew that night that radio station 7HT were beginning broadcasts of personal messages, news of loved ones being safe … or not, as the case may have been.

But as I say, I must be confused about the date, because I’ve read and heard about the Victorian bushfires which happened on this date 3 years ago, but nothing about what happened in southern Tasmania 45 years ago.

I ‘spose the media knows what day it is.


by Tess Lawrence

Only tears of angels can extinguish these flames, bathe charred hearts and our incinerated souls.

We have never seen such apocalyptic fire in Victoria, demonic flailings lashed by hellfire winds, delivering an armageddon well prophesied upon a sunburnt country already dying of thirst.

Embers, like anger, still smoulder. Nature’s mighty force is one thing.

When she is aided and abetted by human accomplices, then she is seduced into believing she is invincible. C’mon baby, light my fire. The impotent goading the omnipotent. Make no mistake, arsonists are terrorists, turning our beloved land into valleys of death and destruction.

As we haul the twisted corpses of our brothers and sisters from their still warm tombs in scenes reminiscent of another kind of war zone, we must not capitulate to the despair, the horror and the sadness we now feel.

As we count and bury our dead, the undead amongst us must embrace the dying and the injured.

As we smell the burnt flesh of the wounded, the smoke is smeared as strong as paint upon our landscape and upon our heartscape.

We salute our mighty fireys, firefighters and rescue workers. And brave neighbours and friends and family members who risked all to save and help others. Some forfeiting their own lives, and even loved ones and property as they toiled.

All are heroes, whether in the uniform of the CFA or the Salvos; whether they bear the Jaws of Life or administer healing cups of tea, offer hugs, words of encouragement or talk gently to us of a happier future far from today’s nighmare.

As we begin to bulldoze the corpses of livestock and animals trapped in stables, cages, pens, that we left behind, or bury pets that died with their owners, and as we put down hundreds of half-burned, bloated, blinded and near dead creatures with half-beating hearts; eyes crazed white with fear and pain – I can promise there is a guilt of the human survivor even in this; that we did not, could not, protect those trusting creatures in our care.

We must all help in whatever way we can and even if we don’t have money to spare, we can lend a hand in so many other ways, either on an individual basis or with community working bees.

So often, in the heat of disaster, we inundate crises centres with support.

But it is in those lonelier days into the future, when the blistering subsides and the emotional regrowth starts to show that we need to be there for those of us forever scarred by these fires.

Tasmanians know this only too well. Black Tuesday 1967 is like a welt upon the memory of those of us who lived through it. We lost 62 of our own during that maelstrom when the air turned into a blood red solid element. Like Icarus, our State was hurtling towards the sun.

About 900 of us suffered burns and injury, some forever disfigured, disabled, deformed and reformed by the fire, its heat reforging our molten skin like play dough. This too, too solid flesh did melt.

More than 7000 Taswegians found themselves homeless. My own family amongst them.

In a bizarre co-incidence, both Black Tuesday and Victoria’s fires happened in February – and exploded on the same date – the 7th – 42 years to the day !

The post traumatic impact of tragedy leaves a different imprint on us all.

It manifests in different ways. On different days. Even decades later.

It is always with us. It becomes part of our emotional ringbarking. One is not even conscious of it. But it is a psycholgical stigmata that reappears during these times of stress and particularly when there are similar recurrences.

The embrace of family, friends, schoolmates, and the kindness of strangers becomes a parliament of healing and support; a Loving Cup, a shared humanity in which we find comfort in one another.

You find such precious jewels amongst the ashes of razed houses and dreams. You learn from bitter experience these are the truest. They are to be polished and cherished and placed like runes in a safe place in your heart.

And they do sustain you and remind you of the goodness in the hearts of others.

And you find yourself fingering them in moments of insecurity and fear.

In such places as Ethiopia, Iraq, Kuwait, I have done this to calm myself.

It is knowing you are not alone in such horrendous difficulties that can salve wounds and the hurt. No amount of anesthesia will numb the emotional pain.

Experiencing these horrors gives us empathy with those who daily live with the nightmare of war and bombs, disease and starvation. It brings us a little closer to the 800,000 human beings who were disembowelled, mutilated and hacked to death by their own species in Rwanda.

None of us is immune from tragedy. Not even those of us who report the news, good or bad. Channel 9’s famous newsreader Brian Naylor and his wife Moiree are you or I on another day, another place.

I covered the Ash Wednesday fires for the now defunct Melbourne Herald – now merged into the Herald Sun, sister paper to The Mercury, where I did my wonderful and happy cadetship and covered everything from Courts to Shipping.

At the time of Black Tuesday, our Dad was a sub-editor on The Mercury – most of us kids were still at school. Dad’s workmates and families were fantastic to us. Everyone was. People lent us their homes and lent us their hearts.

Our next door neighbour Fred Scheppein and his beloved wife Pat ( who has since died ) bought our block and told Mum and Dad, if ever they wanted to rebuild, it was theirs. Just like that. We never did rebuild. But thank you Fred and Pat.

I do believe that every death diminishes us all. In Victoria, the number of deaths is increasing. The bell has yet to toll for others.

Somewhere there is the person/or persons responsible for some of this bloody murder most foul. Getting their rocks off as they monitor the international media response to their cowardly deeds. Perhaps filming on the mobile phone for a YouTube, boast.

The same Queen who sent Dame Elisabeth Murdoch congratulations for her 100th Birthday, also sent her condolences to Victorians who lost loved ones.

The arsonist (s) would pin this on a chest like a badge of dishonour. But beware, forensic teams have already moved in to anlayse your handiwork.

Anyone who has smelled the burning flesh of humans never forgets it.

Those of us who have to identify corpses will never forget it. To see your loved one(s) and animals grotesquely disfigured by fire is a spectre that haunts one forever.

Imagine too, the psychological impact upon those who find the bodies and the paramedics, police, medical and Defence and other teams now working to save us and mend us.

One thing I do know, is that the human spirit seems to be greater than the adversity that challenges it.

We can overcome tragedy and we can rebuild. We can rebuild our lives and we can rebuild property and we can rebuild broken hearts and broken spirits. We have before and we will again.

But we should not be embarassed or afraid of seeking psychological help and de-briefing counselling.

I hope the fires are extinguished by St Valentine’s Day; more an act of mercy than Love.

I hope that the tears of angels fall like rain on the smouldering earth about us to put out the fires that rage on the land and in our hearts. And that we use these tears to bathe wounds and cleanse us from the smoke, in our throats and in our eyes.

Life goes on. Not always in the same direction as originally planned; often with an increased faith in humanity and a greater sense of community.

How true it is, that tragedy often brings out the best in people; so it’s there – inherent.

The Phoenix is already risen, borne aloft by the collective indomitable human spirit.

The murderous person(s) who set the torch that ignited this current inferno – also lit a candle to a shared humanity and turned a nation into a family.

* Tess’s family has been burned out twice – and lost everything on both occasions. Once in political riots – and once in bushfires. She still grieves and cries about the family’s five beloved dogs who died in these fires.

First published: 2012-02-07 06:57 PM

Published also on Independent Australia (with vids of the Victorian horror)

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. John Maddock

    February 9, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    I’m disappointed that Mark and Robin in their various posts have hijacked a thread which was intended to lament the non-interest of the local media in what was a very significant day in Tasmania’s history. Happily, it became a thread of enquiry about the reasons for what happened and personal experiences.

    Sure, there is a connection between forests and bushfires, but repeating the same old rhetoric about the scientific proof of the value of hazard reduction burning simply invites a response, leading to the standard debate between old-style foresters and new.

    I have no doubt that they accept the veracity of the information they have.

    I beg to differ, and said so gently in an earlier post. Just because I’m an aging farmer who has done my best to observe, over the years, and not a “trained” forester, are my conclusions false and invalid?

    I’ve said in other places at other times that when “professional” foresters show more understanding of agronomy, I’ll show more respect for their version of forestry.

    Ditto for hazard reduction burning.



    February 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Dear MARK POYNTER,PB, ROBIN HALTON and others who are leaving comments. Thank you. For the most part the rest of us are starved of this information – and the debate.

    I know I’m not the only one who is grateful for this info – and it’s great weighing up your differing robust viewpoints and opinions.

  3. Mark Poynter

    February 9, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    #31 PB

    As usual you are somewhat misguided here. The forests referred to in that so-called ‘research’ are wet ash forests that are not able to be fuel reduced because 1) they are too wet and 2) mountain ash is very sensitive to fire.

    Mountain ash forests typically only burn at anywhere from 50 to 400-year intervals under exceptional drought conditions.

    The role of fuel reduction in relation to those forests is to help prevent fire spreading into them from adjacent drier areas on lower slopes.

    Ash forests only comprise about 6% of Victoria’s total forest area, so FRB is certainly a tool that can be used in the great majority of forests.

    Oh, but don’t let me or the huge body of Australia-wide research on this topic deter you from your assertion that FRB is useless, it seems that our ENGos and their supporters only agree with science when it fits their beliefs.

    As to the ‘research’ paper you are referring to, it is not about FRB, but is an agenda-driven piece with some critical errors of fact, particularly in relation to the role that logging has played in the preponderance of regrowth. Wildfire is by far the greater influence, but the particular researcher is part of an acedmic institution which has a funding partnership with the Wilderness Society …. so you can draw your own conclusions.

    In the last edition of Australian Forestry, the former head of the CSIRO’s Bushfire Research Unit and a retired Professor of Forestry from Melbourne University wrote a damning critique of that research paper …… that should be enough said, but I understand that it will continue to be quoted ad nauseum because it fits the anti-forestry agenda.

  4. PB

    February 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Mark Poynter’s claims that significantly increasing fire reduction burns in public forests mitigates the risk to the public are not supported by recent scientific research which concludes:

    “Devastating wildfires provide a window into conditions that may become more common in the future and therefore represent important learning opportunities for decision-makers. The typical response to destructive wildfires is to increase the total area of land that is fuel-reduced. Our results instead indicate that a shift in emphasis from broad-scale fuel-reduction treatments to intensive fuel treatments close to houses will more effectively mitigate impacts from wildfires on houses. This result is consistent with observations that the density of airborne embers and amount of radiant heat (the principal causes of house loss during wildfires) are greatest closer to the fuel source. This suggests that the actions of private landholders, who manage fuel close to houses, are extremely important when reducing risks to houses posed by fuel. Our results are based on data collected at wildfires in south-eastern Australia. While it has been speculated that these conclusions apply to other regions around the world, the broader applicability of our results can only be confirmed with sampling across a broader range of fuel types and climates.

    Although our results indicated that risks posed to peri-urban communities by severe wildfires can be reduced by effectively managing fuel, these risks cannot be eliminated by managing fuel alone. Fuel treatments can be expensive and can have undesirable health and environmental impacts (but not in all cases. Therefore, intensive fuel-reduction is not always an appropriate strategy to reduce risk posed by wildfire. Weather strongly influenced the effect of fuel variables, hence other measures not accounted for here (e.g., architectural solutions, education of residents, suppression effort, safer places, early evacuation) must remain part of a strategy to mitigate increasing risks to communities from wildfires.

    Overall our results clearly imply that fuel close to housing plays a key role in house loss during wildfire, so fuel management should be considered as part of a strategy to mitigate increasing risks to peri-urban communities from wildfires. Future impacts from wildfires will be reduced, and the negative effects of fuel treatments avoided, if new peri-urban developments in fire prone regions are restricted to areas where there is adequate separation between high fuel loads and houses.”


    Refer also to ANU research which shows that “decades of industrial logging in Australia’s wet forests have made them more fire prone, raising urgent fire management issues.”


  5. Mark Poynter

    February 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    #29 Robin H

    Couldn’t agree more – the only state that has consistently done enough FRB is WA (in its south west) where it was targetting 8% of its public forests annually. In Victoria, in the decade leading up to Black Saturday, the comparitive figure was about 1.5% not withstanding that it has a much larger public forest estate.

    For 50-years WA avoided the occassional huge mega-bushfires that have afflicted eastern states, but in the last decade its ability to meet this target has declined in the face of public opposition and ‘green’ political influence. The results of this are becoming evident this year as the region has had several damaging fires, inc one near Margaret River.

    One of the consequences of not doing enough FRB is that the fuel build-up makes it increasingly risky when it is attempted. That coupled with usual media storm when an FRB escapes, is a significant disincentive to public land managers. Not withstanding, that it is increasingly more difficult to safely burn due to the propensity for people to live in or near the bush.

    It seems likely that unless something changes dramatically to allow more FRB, there are going to be more of these hugely damaging mega-fires into the future. The threat of these to soil, water and biodiversity dwarfs the largely imagined threats ascribed to forestry, but try getting an ENGO interested – if there’s nothing to lock-onto, there not interested. Yet they supposedly care about forests …………..

  6. Robin Halton

    February 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    #26 John Maddock. FRB does not necessarily stop wildfire. From my 35yrs experience with FT it has the effect of reducing damage and allows fire crews to safely and more effectively to deal with wildfire.
    On a multi agency basis regular FRB has never been satisfactorly achieved in this state.
    The real irony is that we are dependent on wildfire outbreaks to be attended to, to reduce fuel loads on a totally out of control unplanned basis!
    I know of at least a few landowners who in recent times have appeared to have lit up the adjoining bush to “protect” their own properties.
    Firecrews from FT and TFS have attended and borne the time and cost of supression but very rarely with a conviction.
    Post Victoria fires findings:There needs to be put in place an annual FRB program to deal with the worst hazards which are often right on our doorstep.
    Without a determined multi agency approach (TFS, PWS and FT) along with rural landholders and Fire Officers employed by local councils (Hobart and Clarence have them, not sure about Glenorchy) then it will only be a matter of time before we get caught with a major wildfire with devastating effects.

  7. Mark Poynter

    February 9, 2012 at 10:57 am

    #26 John M

    Burning periodically (say every 10 years) undoubtedly reduces forest fuels substantially compared to just leaving them unburnt and letting them accumulate and build for 30 – 40 years. This doesn’t mean it necessarily stops a later bushfire although it would for a year or two, but that when these reduced areas do burn, they do so far less intensively and so do less damage to the forest, as well as the soil – and are easier to control.

    There has been a substantial amount of research on this over the last 25 years – see Project Vesta in WA, the Eden Burning Study in NSW and the Wombat Fire Effects Study in Victoria, as well as innumerable case studies wherby actual bushfires have hit fuel reduced areas and the resultant change in their behaviour.

    To some extent, the effect of fuel reduction relates to forest type. In dry forests with fairly naturally low fuel levels, it mightn’t make much difference. But Project Vesta found that the effect of fuel reduction burning in significantly mitigating subsequent bushfire behaviour can last for varying periods up to 20-years in some forest types.


    February 9, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Dear SNOWY, thanks for providing this information for us – give us all a few leads.

    It is so interesting reading all the comments – really wide-ranging and complex issues.

    We are so often locked out of community and government debate and argument – and the invaluable counsel and viewpoints of citizens are sometimes actively discouraged in favour of stacked focus groups who find in favour of their paymasters/mistresses.

  9. John Maddock

    February 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Mark #23

    You wrote: “The use of prescribed burning is regularly pilloried by those who live in far away cities and have minimal threat of bushfire and are more worried about getting smoke on their washing. But those who live cheek by jowl with the threat of bushfire see it as a perfectly natural way to make things safer.”

    Not from my observation of my bush.

    It was almost as fire prone as ever after very few years, according the land I had bulldozed in 1970, only three & a bit years after it was burned.


  10. Snowy

    February 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    re #17: No, Tess, I wasn’t involved in the Royal Commission. I lived in Hobart at the time so remember the R.C. being held. I did a quick internet search yesterday and couldn’t find a reference to it, but I think this may be it (just found):
    Chambers, D.M. and Brettingham-Moore, C.G. (1967) The bush fire disaster of 7 February 1967 : report and summary of evidence (excluding appendices) ( Solicitor-General (Mr. D. M. Chambers) and the Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court (Mr. C. G. Brettingham-Moore) Office of the Solicitor-General. Hobart,Tasmania.

    On the 936ABC Facebook site there are some personal recollections of that day (last Tuesday, 6.29 am). There is also a photo taken from the top of the old ABC building some time after the fire and a link to a more panoramic view (including Mt. Wellington, Mt. Nelson, Collins Cap) on flickr.

    I was thinking more about the weather conditions leading up to 7 February 1967 and my recollection is that Hobart had no rainfall at all for 6 weeks beforehand and I think this was true of most of southern Tasmania.

  11. Mark Poynter

    February 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    #15 Tigerquoll

    “Liberal-Labor governments save billions by vehemently perpetuating the low-cost guilt seducing volunteer fire-fighting culture”

    What a silly comment – not that it is completely untrue, but it seems to be implying that paying people for this service is a viable option.

    In Victoria, the Country Fire Authority has 58,000 volunteers – that would be quite a cost burden for Government to bear if they were being paid. Ditto for Tasmania where I imagine the Tasmanian Fire Service also has many thousands of volunteers.

    The major problem faced by these volunteer fire organisations is the aging demographic profile of rural areas. The average age of CFA volunteers is mid-50s, and I believe only around 15,000 of the 58,000 are regarded as fit enough to be active fire-fighters.

    This certainly isn’t being helped by campaigns by urban-based ‘green’ groups opposed to traditional rural activities such as farming, mining and forestry which, when taken to their nth degree, are significantly reducing rural employment opportunities further reducing the pool of potential volunteer fire-fighters.

    The suggestion that these activities will be replaced by tourism is laughable. Most new tourism ventures are run by older ‘tree-changers’ anyway, thereby perpetuating the problem. Young people see this as short-term holiday work at best, which isn’t going to stop them leaving rural districts.

    This is a real problem that has slowly been creeping up although its only when there is a Black Saturday that the vast majority living in the city take any notice.

    Indeed, after Black Saturday there was apparently a surge in CFA membership around the urban fringe, but again only a proportion were considered fit and skilled enough for immediate fire-fighting. By the time the others are trained-up, I suspect interest will be on the wane.

    As with other traditional rural activities, there is a real city-country divide surrounding fire. The use of prescribed burning is regularly pilloried by those who live in far away cities and have minimal threat of bushfire and are more worried about getting smoke on their washing. But those who live cheek by jowl with the threat of bushfire see it as a perfectly natural way to make things safer.

    As someone said earlier, the lessons are soon lost and we are already seeing this in Victoria as ENGOs campaign to put 3,000 rural people out of work by ending the native timber industry. This despite the 2009 Vic Bushfires Royal Commission noting that the significant downsizing of that industry which has already occurred since the 1980s has been a strong factor in reducing the capability to manage forest fire, given that logging contractors and their earth-moving gear have traditionally been at the fore-front of fire-fighting, while timber revenue has been a substantial funder of government forest management workforces.

  12. Leonard Colquhoun

    February 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Re Comment 15’s “the low-cost guilt seducing volunteer fire-fighting culture”, which seems to imply a government take-over and control of volunteer activities (and not just fire-fighting): one of the earliest steps towards establishing a totalitarian government is to ban volunteer activities, or to subsume them into officially-approved state-run ones.

    Thus in both Nazi Germany and the USSR, the Boy Scouts were quickly absorbed by the Hitler Jugend and the Young Pioneers.


    February 8, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Dear TIGERQUOLL,so glad that you’ve raised this issue and would love to hear from volunteer fire-fighters.

    This is such a complex issue but that should not deter us from openly discussing every aspect.

    There is no doubt that the local knowledge of community volunteer firefighters has so often saved the day.

    There is much to be said about the wonderful benefits to the community of members within that community regularly getting together and training as volunteers.

    So often the heartbeat of the community is felt within this community family – especially in regional Australia.

    Lifelong friendships are often formed and sometimes several generations of families are volunteers.

    Yes, the generosity of the volunteer spirit is
    so often abused.

    Then there are the manipulative and expedient politics that pervade the whole debate.

    Years ago I wrote to the Taxation Commissioner to raise the possibility of volunteers receiving tax concessions.

    This country would collapse in a heap if it were not for the millions of wonderful volunteers that prop it up.

    Successive governments continue to treat our volunteers with contempt, for the most part.

    In my own experience – and this was a volunteer who worked in the vision impaired community – one volunteer I know – a pensioner – regularly went without meals to afford the transport costs to get to work.


    February 8, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Dear JOHN MADDOCK, thank you for this valuable contribution – and for reminding us of the generosity and compassion of the fodder relief committee.

    What wonderful kindness and humanity – and thoughtfulness.

    You’ve got some fine historical records there John, I reckon you should write an article.

    Were you on the committee ?


    February 8, 2012 at 2:24 am

    Dear SHAUN, yes, like the wars to end all wars.
    As if.


    February 8, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Dear TIGERQUOLL, thanks for the heads up about NATASHA CICA’s book. I’ll check it out.


    February 8, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Dear SNOWY. Yipppeee! I knew one of our beaut readers would have the drum on this.

    Were you involved with the Royal Commission Snowy ?

    This is such wonderful detail and will be a big help to other readers, me included!


    February 8, 2012 at 2:10 am

    Dear MR LEONARD COLQUHOUN, firstly, please call me Tess. Thank you so much for your comment.

    I love your concern and passion for language and meaning. I am a bit of a mangler, as is obvious.

    But I appreciate what your’re saying.

    RELUCANTEMBERS has also brought up the issues of weather conditions, and I think it might be unfair to the ‘ best educated ‘ generation in the nation’s history for me to pretend I am among their number, despite the valiant attempts of some of my teachers.

  19. John Maddock

    February 7, 2012 at 10:30 pm


    I think #10 has accurately set the scene for that day.

    Bear in mind that since the days of white settlement (and perhaps before?) people had been using the “Red Steer” (fire) as part of their “management”. From my experience in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s, it was standard practice for farmers to burn log heaps in the clearing of their land, as well as unbulldozed bush.

    Oh how I wish the trees I had bulldozed to grow pasture in 1970 were still standing. Now, they would be almost ready to put thru my sawmill – and much more valuable than all the low grade pasture grown since the clearing!

    In the months after the fires, Hazell Bros had a lot of work in the Channel ‘dozing burnt areas for farmers – the fires having done a lot of the work already.

    My neighbour at the time, George Jenkins was able to clear most of what became known as “One Tree Hill” with relatively small dozers, including an Internatonal BTD6, iirc.

    As I remember, the Weather Bureau warned a day or 2 in advance that any fires burning on the Tuesday would cause problems, and as Snowy noted, there were many of them.

    I can certainly attest to the power of the winds on that day. I was blown off my feet by a gust close to the stack of hay I mentioned.

    The other remarkable thing which I saw at that time was cow pats, glowing red, being bowled along the ground like catherine (sp?) wheels.

    These spark storms were what set the hay alight.

    I note that new building regs are either in place or are about to be, regarding structures in bush areas, and as I understand it any new house closer than 100m from bush will be considered at risk and require special precautions.

    There is a further story to the ’67 fires which only occasionally gets a mention, and that is the work of the fodder relief committee set up in southern Tas to supply free fodder to farmers who lost their winter reserves. (The loss of their fodder in the fires was compounded by the drought which did not break until July ’67).

    I have some of the committee’s records.


  20. John Maddock

    February 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    #12 Shaun

    Beg to differ – about fire risk, at least.

    I now keep a very sharp eye on the sky on risky days, especially so after I saw the start of the fire which went from Chimney Pot Hill east to Kingston one Saturday afternoon 8 or 10 years ago.

    I think people in general are now much more aware of the risks, and take more care accordingly. My evidence is the general lack of smoke in the atmosphere thru much of the summer – certainly compared to (say) 20 or 30 years ago.

    And speaking for myself I was sceptical of the risk of starting a grass fire with a hay mower – until I did just that!

    Similarly, I simply do not use an angle grinder on fire danger days unless I’m in the totally enclosed workshop.


  21. Shaun

    February 7, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    Humans generally don’t learn from these disasters.

    The 1967 fires – what did we *really* change after that?

    The 1983 fires in Vic and SA – much the same outcome.

    The fires in Canberra a few years ago – the CSIRO produced a report but politicians buried it.

    Floods in Qld last year and elsewhere over the years – but we keep building in flood-prone areas.

    The other major Tasmanian event of 1967, the power rationing? A few politicians seemed to permanently learn something from that as did engineers, but the general public sure didn’t.

    The Great Depression of the 1930’s? Here we are now repeating most of the same mistakes once again…

    The 1970’s oil crises? Largely forgotten by the mid-1980’s and yet we’ve now put ourselves back in a situation where OPEC holds all the cards.

    And so on. Man doesn’t generally learn too much in the long term when things go wrong, hence every generation or two we see the same basic problems.

  22. Snowy

    February 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    A Royal Commission was held after the event and the report must be accessible somewhere.

    I do remember that a wet spring produced a lot of growth, then there was a prolonged dry spell from about November onwards. The 4 days preceding the 7th February were very hot with low humidity. On the day winds averaged around 80kph but gusting up to 100 and the fire index was 96.

    The major difference between then and now is that existing fires were not extinguished as a matter of priority during summer. So on the morning of 7th February there were 13 or 14 existing fires unattended around the Mt. Wellington region alone and, IIRC, over 100 burning in the southern part of Tasmania. Obviously, in the weather conditions of the day, they escalated quickly and joined together forming masssive fire fronts.


    February 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Dear RELUCANTEMBERS, I think the University of Tasmania might have done an investigation – and there may have been a Government Report.

    I’d contact people like the State Library of Tasmania, Weather Bureau and State Emergency Services for starters.

    Hopefully TT Readers might recall – and let you know.

    When you think of the capacity for computer modelling in 2009 – not available in 1967 – it compounds the tragedy of the loss of human and animal life – and property – in the Victorian fires.

  24. Leonard Colquhoun

    February 7, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    But, Ms Lawrence, why call the ‘coincidence’ in “In a bizarre co-incidence, both Black Tuesday and Victoria’s fires happened in February – and exploded on the same date – the 7th – 42 years to the day” a ‘bizarre’ one?

    Isn’t it rather likely that such co-incidences would occur because of the likelihood of similar weather & ground conditions, and other season factors recurring every now and then?

    Perhaps what is truly ‘bizarre’ is that hardly anyone seems to have noticed this, or, maybe it was noticed, but its significance was not appreciated – and this by the ‘best educated generation in our nation’s history’.

  25. RelucantEmbers

    February 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Does anyone have much info or links on the conditions that lead to the Tasmanian fires? eg how long it was dry, the wind strength at the time, how/where the fires started? etc.

    I have Googled but could not find much detail.

    Fairly keen to avoid the situation obviously, we are only surrounded by cut grass, but it gets very dry and the wind often blows in from the treed areas.


    February 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Dear TIGERQUOLL,thanks for your response, also we often called adults who were close family friends, ‘ Aunty ‘ and ”Uncle ‘ didn’t we. Still do.

    How wonderful that you shared those times with your Aunt and Uncle – and such sweet memories too.

    And what a coincidence about recalling friends taking to the surf – given PETE GODFREY’s comments!

    This is one of the many beaut things about chatting with one another in these comments – the sharing of experiences – and also the sharing of our histories.


    February 7, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Dear PETE GODFREY, thanks for your valuable comment and recounting your experiences with the Ash Wednesday fires. And isn’t it wonderful how things work out; full of ‘what ifs?’

    What if the rotund policeman hadn’t had words with you – you might not have noticed that chap on the roof.

    You saved a life that day Peter, by not being a mere bystander in life.

    What happened to you teaches us that we can make a difference by speaking up – and being aware.

    We do need to remember – and I realise that we all remember in different ways – and at different times.

    If I had my druthers, as well as the human dead and injured, I would also release the approx numbers of pets,livestock and bush animals believed dead and injured.

  28. Pete Godfrey

    February 7, 2012 at 12:03 am

    John and Tess thankyou for your stories. It does seem that humans are good at forgetting, we forget events and forget to learn from those events.
    I can remember the 1967 fires , I was living in Sydney then but still they were such a devastating event that I can remember them. Not the date, not the time but the destruction.
    I remember the Ash Wednesday fires because I was travelling in Victoria at the time, so much of that state was dirt with not a blade of grass growing but when my friend and I got to Lorne all hell broke loose. We stood on the beach and watched a fire more fierce than we could have imagined roar down the mountains towards the town. I remember well a fairly rotund police sergeant telling my mate and I to leave as we were in danger. We protested that we were standing on a road with a beach behind us. Still he wanted us to leave. It was not until I pointed out that there was a man a hundred metres away on his roof trying to fill his gutters with water that he left us alone.
    His exclamation was “shit” then a rolly polly police man ran and ordered the man off his roof.
    Within a minute or so the house burst into flames and burnt to the ground.
    I couldn’t stop the fire but hopefully I made a difference to that man.
    We need to remember disasters, we need to learn the lessons and we need to feel. Feel for those people who lost so much and for the innocent animals that perished and were horrificly injured.


    February 6, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    Dear TIGERQUOLL( love your name ) and just to let you know that I covered the Ash Wednesday Fires.

    I agree with you about an overhaul and have always disagreed with previous slogans.

    My slogan ‘ IF IN DOUBT, GET OUT ‘ doesn’t seem to grab the powers that be.

    Can you let me know how your Aunt and Uncle are these days ?

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