Category Archives: Australia

The hailstorm turns Warrandyte green, not all of it good

The hail storm that ravaged Melbourne, and in particular, Warrandyte, was so furious, it literally stripped the branches on the exposed side of the gum trees and piled the debris all over everything. That debris, which is highly flammable, now carpets my block and that of all my neighbours. Cleaning it up is a nightmare.

These are the in-progress pics of the Great Clean Up and the fresh green grass that’s growing up from underneath. Clearing the area directly around the house and the fire fighting pumps has been my first priority:

The concrete and metal pump house with waist high berm in front
Step 1, rake, rake and rake some more
In the background is the corrugated iron, walk-in bin we made

There’s a bit of green pretty much everywhere, but the lushest green is on the terraces near the house where grey water from the laundry has soaked in, keeping the grass from completely drying out. The melted hail, and the good rain that came after, did the rest.

The largest terrace was created from the clay and rock excavated for the site cut. The site cut is literally a flat spot dug out of the slope of the hill to make space for the house.

The pic below shows the set of field stone steps leading down from the top terrace to the ‘orchard’ area. Much of the debris came from the steps themselves and the banks on either side:

Field stone steps

And finally, a close up of the ‘bin’ we made out of star pickets and left-over corrugated iron sheets.

The walk-in ‘bin’ for the debris

The inside measurement of the ‘bin’ is 1.5 x just under 3 metres, so it’s big. Even so, it’s about 1/3 full already and may not be big enough to contain all the debris from the house area, let alone the rest of the block. We can make it a bit bigger, but I don’t want to bring such a huge heap of flammable material any closer to the trees [in case a bushfire goes through and turns it into a bbq].

Once the bin is full, I’ll close off the front, plant a sprinkler on top and keep everything moist until the fire season is over. Gum leaves don’t compost very well so I may have to burn them off in bits over winter. Joy.

Thanks to my neighbour’s house acting like a shield, the hail didn’t cause as much damage in the front as in the back. If we’re lucky, and nothing bad happens before Easter, I may be able to get rid of most of the debris in front via the weekly green bin. It’s not very big, but as I don’t have a trailer or even a car that could tow a trailer, I have no other way of getting rid of the green waste.

Thanks for your great generosity, Nillumbik Shire Council. <<biting sarcasm>> One of the richest shires in Victoria gave us one extra green bin collection to help us reduce our fuel load. I’m sure it bled their coffers dry.

Anyway, time to take up my trusty rake and get back to work.

cheers

Meeks


Hail storm turns Warrandyte white

Warrandyte was hit by the mother of all hail storms yesterday afternoon [January 19th, 2020], and I have to admit, we were scared. The roof is corrugated iron, and the hail stones, some as big as golf balls, sounded like machine gun bullets trying to smash their way in. And that’s without the thunder and lightning adding their bit. And it just wouldn’t stop.

Mogi [dog] was shivering like a leaf and Golli [cat] was yowling in terror. The Offspring and I just stood in the kitchen, peering out at the devastation and muttering ‘I don’t believe this’.

These are some of the photos I took once the worst of the storm had eased:

Mist rising from the hail
Mist starting to roll up the hill

As odd as it may sound, the humidity after the hail storm was intense, and the temperature was actually warm, so the layer of icy hail stones created a mist that became heavier as it flowed up the hill towards the house. Very strange.

Hail piling up against a window
Hail piling up against the back door

Just realised that some of the hail was bigger than your average golf ball! Those are full sized bricks on the side of the last picture, yet look at the size of some of those hail stones by comparison!

The corner of the deck showing how much hail had piled up

We never get snow, but I found myself having to shovel hail stones off the deck as if they were snow. And this, in the middle of one of our hottest summers…wtf?

A very large terracotta pot, embedded in hail stones

We’ve since learned that Warrandyte was pretty much at the epicentre of yesterday’s storm and suffered quite a bit of damage. In low lying areas, some of the houses suffered broken windows and flooding. And every car left out in the open, is now pockmarked with dents.

Personally, we took very little damage. The Offspring’s car is dented, and one small tile broke on the small side deck, but other than that, we came through the storm surprisingly well. It’ll take me forever to rake up the carpet of shredded leaves and branches covering the ground, but my baby apples survived, and I’d harvested most of the apricots already, so I think we’ve been very lucky.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a pic of the apricot cake I made two days ago. It’s garnished with apricot compote, and all the apricots came from my own tree. Can’t complain. 🙂

Bon appetit 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Drones instead of fireworks!

In a recent post, I raged about Sydney staging New Year’s Eve fireworks when so much of Australia is burning. This is a fantastic alternative for New Year’s Eve 2020 and beyond:

My thanks to Carol Cooks 2 for bringing this amazing video clip/technology to my attention.

cheers

Meeks


Windows

Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but windows are the weakest link in our homes. Because they’re fragile. Because they break.

It seems like such an obvious thing now, but I remember how shocked I was when an expert pointed out that the inside of our homes is the driest place on earth. Once a window breaks, even one ember is enough to burn the house down from the inside out.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet how many of us have adequate protection for our windows?

When I built my house in Warrandyte, I had to put metal mesh screens over all the windows that could be opened. But my house has double barrel windows where the top pane opens but the bottom pane is fixed. The top pane is protected by the required metal screen [basically an ordinary fly wire screen but made of metal]. The bottom pane is not.

Now, imagine a bushfire scenario. The wind is howling, and the gums are dropping branches large and small. One of those branches is blown towards the house and slams into one of my windows. The top pane may remain intact, but what of the bottom pane?

Yes. Exactly.

I solved my window problem by investing in fire resistant shutters. These shutters cover the entire window area, top pane, bottom pane and the wooden frame. They look like this:

The shutters roll up and down inside the frame [like vertical sliding doors] and are rated to protect the windows for about 20 minutes. That’s the length of time it usually takes the fire front to pass.

The regulations have been tightened up a lot since Black Saturday, and I believe that new houses in fire prone areas must have toughened glass instead of ordinary glass. But what of existing houses? As far as I know, there are no regulations about retrofitting toughened glass to houses built before 2009.

Does that mean there is no danger to those houses? Of course not.

If you live in a bushfire prone area, please think hard about your windows, and what you can do to protect them.

Stay safe.

Meeks


Bushfire 31/12/2019 – update

Just a very quick update to tell you that Malacoota is okay, thanks to a southerly cool change. Unfortunately, the wind change that is now pushing the fires away from the township of Malacoota is putting other small communities at risk. There have also been about twelve new ignitions in Victoria [my state] caused by lightning strikes. The battle continues.

May all the courageous people fighting these fires stay safe until we finally get enough rain to put these fires out for good.

Meeks


Fireworks 2019 – let's call this spade a bloody shovel

Photo of evacuees on the beach at Bateman’s Bay, from the Twitter account of Alistair Prior.

This is the beach at Malacoota, on the Victoria side of the border. Photo taken from the Twitter account of Bluesfestblues.

This is, or was, the historic township of Cobargo, NSW. Three people are unaccounted for. Photo taken from the Twitter account of Siobhan Heanue.

Despite being ringed by fire, despite whole communities huddled on beaches watching their towns burn, despite the growing death toll due to these unprecedented fires…the Sydney Fireworks will go ahead.

What are we celebrating, exactly?

Both Gladys Berejiklian [Premier of NSW] and Clover Moore [Major of Sydney] have made glib remarks about ‘community’, and staging the fireworks for the community.

But which community? The ones with no homes to return to? The ones who’ve lost loved ones to these fires? The ones watching their towns burn even as I write these words?

Those communities don’t have tv’s to watch, but even if they did, do we honestly think they’ll enjoy watching pretty fireworks when their own skies are red with flame and ash?

Do we really think the fireworks will make the victims feel better?

Ah, but Clover Moore says she hopes the fireworks will make people donate to the victims…

Does she really think Australians are that callous, that selfish, that uncaring?

We didn’t need fireworks to donate after Black Saturday. We gave and we gave and we gave. We gave until it hurt because we all knew someone who knew someone who died in the fires, or lost everything. So much less than 6 degrees of separation.

We gave out of shock, out of survivor guilt, out of a genuine desire to help.

But it was more than that. We gave because it was the only way we could show our solidarity, our respect.

We gave as a way to mourn.

It was Australia and Australians at their very best.

No, the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney have nothing to do with community, or caring. They’re all about the tourist dollar, and as such, they are obscene.

We are better than this.

I won’t be watching any fireworks, anywhere in Australia, because we are still burning. Every state, including my own. And things are likely to get worse as the fire season progresses.

There is nothing to celebrate this year. Not a single, bloody thing.

Meeks


The Christmas Roast

Writing sci-fi involves a lot of research, most of which never appears in the finished story. I created the following schematic so I could see the layout of the Undercity apartments in my story, The Christmas Roast:

The diagram of the SL’ick tank below details how the SL’ick are harvested:

None of the details about the SL’ick tank appeared in the story, but I needed to know them in order to make Caitlyn’s feelings ‘real’.

The Christmas Roast is one of the sci-fi short stories found in my book, The Vintage Egg. I hope you enjoy the story and have a safe and happy Christmas. Cheers, Meeks.

The Christmas Roast, a short story

Christmas was supposed to be a time of happiness and good cheer, but fourteen year old Caitlyn Nguyen knew that Christmas was going to be horrible this year. That was why she was still awake at 3am on Christmas morning.

Caitlyn’s two younger brothers, Jeff and little Michael, had gone to sleep hours before, and she could hear them snoring softly in the bunks below. They were probably dreaming of the presents they would find under the tree when they got up in the morning.

It wasn’t a real tree of course. It was illegal to grow pines anymore because of the bushfires, but the fake Christmas tree was still very pretty, and Caitlyn had been happy to help decorate it until the moment her mother had started talking about the huge roast she was going to bake for Christmas lunch – real potatoes, real carrots, real pumpkin… and their very first, home-grown SL’ick.

The boys had jumped up and down in excitement, wanting to know if they could help get the SL’ick out of its tank. Neither of them had given a thought to the fact that taking the SL’ick out of its tank would kill it. All they had cared about was that there would be meat for Christmas lunch…

Carnivores! Caitlyn thought in disgust as she stared up at the ceiling just a couple of feet above her head. All they care about is food!

Before being assigned to their very own apartment in the undercity, Caitlyn had been much like her brothers. They had never gone hungry, her parents worked very hard to make sure that never happened, but still, meat was not something they could afford to eat.

There had been special occasions of course, birthdays and anniversaries and such, when they would all go out to have a hamburger as a treat, but the meat inside the bun had been mostly soy anyway, with just a bit of SL’eef for flavour, so Caitlyn had never really had to worry about where the meat came from. But eating a whole SL’ick was different, especially when it was a SL’ick she knew.

Like everyone else, Caitlyn had grown up knowing about Synthetic Life Animals. She knew they made precious compost because they were engineered from earthworms. She knew they had no bones, or eyes or anything, and she knew her family was incredibly lucky to be assigned an apartment with its own SLA tank. However none of that changed the sense of horror she felt at the thought of eating one. No matter what anyone said, she knew the SL’ick in their home tank were not just giant worms!

When the Nguyen family had first moved into their apartment, everyone had been given one special chore, even three year old Michael. As the eldest, Caitlyn was given the important task of feeding the five tiny synthetic life chickens her mother had bought. Three times a day she would have to scrape the leftovers from their meals into the SLA tank, and three times a day she would have to look down into the tank and see the brown, segmented things that moved around inside.

While the SL’ick were small she hardly even noticed them, however once they became bigger a curious thing began to happen. Instead of staying below the surface of the compost, the SL’ick began squirming up to the top, their toothless mouths opening and closing as if in anticipation of the food she was about to give them.

When Caitlyn told her parents about the SL’icks’ odd behaviour they laughed it off, saying it must have been a coincidence because SL’ick were too primitive for such ‘purposeful behaviour’.

Even the boys had laughed at Caitlyn’s fanciful story, so she had not brought the subject up again, but the strange behaviour of the creatures in the tank continued. She did notice, however, that the SL’ick only seemed to respond to her. Whenever anyone else opened the tank they would hide below the compost. It was almost as if they recognized her in some weird way.

And then two weeks ago the biggest one, the one that was going to end up as Christmas lunch, began bumping its mouth-end up against Caitlyn’s hand, almost as if it was saying hello or something. The first time it happened she had fled to the holoscreen, desperately searching for answers, but all the wiki clips said the same thing – SLA did not have heads as such because they didn’t really have any brains, so there was just an in-end and an out-end.

Nonetheless every time the big SL’ick bumped her hand it was always with the mouth-end, the end that would be its head if it had a brain. Could it be that these SL’ick were made differently to normal SLAs? But why would the company that made them suddenly give them a brain?

It didn’t make sense, unless the company hadn’t meant to make them this way. Maybe Buffa and the others were part of a batch that went wrong. Glitches did happen. Usually they were caught before people bought them, but there was that Eterna face cream recently. It made hundreds of women’s faces turn blue…

Fearing the ridicule of her friends and family, Caitlyn told no-one of her latest suspicions, but in the privacy of her own mind she began thinking of the big SL’ick as Buffa. It was a silly name from a little kids holo, but somehow the name seemed to fit; just like the fat cat in the story, Buffa really was very smart. Before each feed it would bump up against her hand as if telling her to hurry up, but afterward it would slide gently beneath her fingers, back and forth, for all the world as if it was saying thank you.

Buffa is smart, Caitlyn thought as her throat tightened up, and the first tear slid down her cheek. More tears followed, leaving cold, wet trails down her face before pooling in her ears. Rolling onto her stomach she buried her face in the pillow, but the tears kept coming. Soon the sound would wake the boys, and then they would wake her parents and-

Sliding to the side of the bunk, Caitlyn grabbed the guard rail with both hands, and swung her feet onto the rungs of the ladder that connected the three bunks. Once on the floor she tip-toed from the small cubicle, and swiped the panel that closed off their bedroom from the round hallway.

Like all of the apartments in the honeycomb of the undercity, the Nguyen’s 20 foot square of living space had a circular, multifunction ‘hall’ in the middle that provided access to the two bedrooms, the kitchen and the communal living space. However when all the openings in the hall were closed, the circular space automatically turned into a bathroom.  The toilet and basin would rise up from the floor while the shower-dryer would drop down from the ceiling. The bathroom was also the only space in the apartment that was sound-proofed.

As the door leading to her parents’ room was already closed, Caitlyn only had to close off the living, and kitchen spaces to gain the privacy she needed. In moments she was alone in the bathroom, but she made no attempt to use any of the fixtures. Instead she just sat on the toilet and cried.

She had already made up her mind that she could not, would not eat any of the SL’ick her mother served up for lunch, no matter how much trouble she got into. However, as she sat there with snot running from her nose, and her shoulders bouncing up and down with hiccups, she suddenly realised that refusing to eat was not going to be enough. Buffa knew her and trusted her. She couldn’t just stand by and let him die. She just couldn’t.

When the hiccups finally stopped, Caitlyn took a deep breath, washed her face and hands, and opened up the doors. Creeping back into the room she shared with her brothers, she grabbed her clothes and school bag, and crept out again. She knew exactly what she had to do, but guilt still made her shiver as she crept into the tiny, compact kitchen. SL’ick were expensive.

Placing her shoes and the bag on the floor with exaggerated care, Caitlyn stared at the door to her parents room as she pulled on her coveralls, and slipped into her shoes.

The only light in the kitchen came from the night light that always burned in the hall, but the apartment was so tiny even that dim light was enough to see by. If one of her parents got up to go to the bathroom, and saw her standing in the kitchen fully dressed, they would know something was up.

Nervous sweat made Caitlyn’s hands feel wet, and she wiped them on her coveralls before she reached out and opened the SL’ick tank.

During the day, the soft hiss of the servos was impossible to hear against the background noise of five people moving around inside a very small space, but now even that slight sound seemed unnaturally loud.

Caitlyn held her breath as her eyes flicked to the door of her parents’ room. She expected to see her father standing there, cricket bat in hand, ready to repel intruders, but the door stayed closed.

Breathing out in relief, Caitlyn turned back to the SL’ick tank, desperate to grab Buffa, and leave before her imaginings turned into reality. However when she looked into the tank she could not see the big SL’ick anywhere. The little ones were all coming to the surface, but there was no sign of Buffa.

Cold hands seemed to clutch at her heart. Had her mother killed Buffa already? Was that what her parents had been doing after the rest of them had gone to bed?

Sorrow, relief and guilt battled it out in Caitlyn’s mind as she stared at the small SL’ick waiting hopefully for an unscheduled feed. I’ll never see Buffa again. I won’t get into trouble. I should have rescued Buffa sooner.

After all the crying Caitlyn had done in the bathroom, she should have been all out of tears, but there they were, blurring her vision all over again.

“I’m so sorry Buffa,” she whispered as she gently patted the surface of the compost. “I did try. Really I did.”

Caitlyn was shaking the compost off her fingers when something wet, and slightly slimy, rose up and nudged the palm of her hand. It was the big SL’ick and it was still very much alive!

Thrusting both hands into the compost, Caitlyn scooped up the big SL’ick, and placed it gently in the bottom of her bag before quickly covering it with some of the moist compost from the tank.

SL’ick could survive in the air for a short time, but she knew Buffa would never survive the trip to the surface without compost.

She was just about to close the tank when two of the medium sized SL’ick slithered up, still looking for food. They were only about half the size of Buffa, but as she watched their little mouths open and close in entreaty, Caitlyn knew she couldn’t leave them behind either. Even though they were small, her mother was a very determined woman, and she had set her heart on having roast SL’ick for Christmas.

Sorry Mum, Caitlyn thought as she grabbed a SL’ick in either hand. They too went into the bag with a blanket of compost. Catching the two smallest ones was a little harder as they were only as big as her index finger, and quite fast, but she kept combing her hands through the compost until she had them both.

After covering all the SL’ick with a few more handfuls of compost, Caitlyn quickly sealed the bag, and hoisted it onto her shoulder. Five SL’ick and a load of compost turned out to be a lot heavier than she expected, but desperation and a strange, wild excitement gave her the strength to tip-toe away.

A few moments later the front door irised shut with a soft snick as Caitlyn and her SL’ick made their escape.

* * *

As soon as Caitlyn stepped out into the corridor running past her home, the guilty elation fled. She had never been out this late before, and the corridor looked spooky, and somehow alien with only the dim blue of the floor panels to light the way. They led off in either direction like the footprints of a ghost.

Maybe this had not been such a good idea after all. Passive sensors guarded every corridor of the undercity, but Caitlyn knew they wouldn’t be much help if some psycho jumped out of the shadows. Security would come, but not in time to save her.

That was a lesson the whole undercity had learned two years ago when a nightshift worker had been found, raped and strangled. Security had caught the psycho responsible, but that had not been much consolation to the victim, or her family.

Maybe I should just put the SL’ick back, Caitlyn thought as her hand groped blindly for the access panel next to the door. Surely if she made enough of a fuss her mother would change her mind about the roast…

Yeah, right. And maybe we’ll have snow for Christmas too.

Ever since Caitlyn had put the SL’ick in her bag, they had been quiet and still, but now she could feel them squirming around against her back. There really wasn’t enough compost in her bag to keep them alive for long. She would have to decide one way or the other very soon.

It’s not that far to the recycling plant…

Caitlyn’s parents both worked at the recycling plant, so she knew the way. All she had to do was walk to the first main intersection, and ride the strip until she hit the Hub. From there it would only be a short ride up to the recycling plant on the surface.

C’mon, c’mon you can do this!

The SL’ick seemed to agree as they intensified their squirming. Or perhaps they were just getting more uncomfortable.

What if they died before she could get them up to the recycling plant?

Snot-on-a-stick!

That was one of Michael’s favourite sayings, and the thought of her four year-old brother steadied Caitlyn’s nerves. Both boys would think this was a great adventure. How could she wimp out now?

Hitching the heavy bag a little higher, Caitlyn took a deep breath and started walking up the corridor. The floor panels brightened at her approach, and dimmed again as she walked on. The added light should have been welcome, but being in her own cone of light just made her feel more exposed. She longed to run, to get this all over with, but the bag seemed to get heavier with every step, and a slow trudge was all she could manage.

It seemed to take forever just to reach the first side corridor, and when she got there, Caitlyn had to put the bag down, and catch her breath. She did not rest for long though; the sound of her own breathing seemed terribly loud in the silence. Picking up the bag again, she trudged on.

The main corridor was much wider than the narrow residential one she had come from, and the lighting was brighter, but the emptiness stretching ahead and behind scared her in a way she could not define. During the day, this corridor teemed with people and bots, all hurrying to someplace else. Now it was as if she was the only person alive in the whole of the undercity.

If Caitlyn had been less tired she might have given in to her fears then, and trudged home again, but with the moving strip just a few feet away it seemed easier to keep going.

Hefting the bag onto her shoulder once more, she turned the corner, and stepped across the west bound strip at an angle so she would not be carried too far in the wrong direction. Once on the east-bound strip she lowered the bag to the moving pavement, and stared at her feet, refusing to look at all the empty corridors trundling past. Yet not seeing was somehow even worse than seeing, and her head quickly snapped up again. The back of her neck crawled, as if hundreds of tiny insects were marching up and down in feathery little boots.

Adding to Caitlyn’s fears was the lack of movement from her bag. The SL’ick had stopped moving, and she was terrified they would all die for nothing.

Please, please…

By the time Caitlyn finally saw the Hub in the distance, its massive ramp corkscrewing its way through the centre of the undercity, her coveralls were sticky with fear sweat. The only thing that kept her from crying like a little kid was the sight of one of the freight elevators standing open, its interior bright with light. Sanctuary beckoned, and she shuffled inside like a lost soul coming home.

“Destination please.”

“S-surface,” Caitlyn whispered as the massive doors slid shut.

With no other passengers getting on or off, the ride up from the nineteenth level of the Hub took only seconds. All too soon, the great doors slid open once more, and the AI’s impersonal voice was wishing her a Merry Christmas.

Caitlyn had never felt less merry in her life. The plexiglass dome that protected the entrance to the undercity was awash with stars, but their light was too fragile, and too distant, to relieve the immensity of the blackness pressing in from the Outside. Even the strip lighting that led the way to the brightly lit portal of the recycling plant seemed ineffectual. Each cone of bright light just made the shadows beyond its reach even darker.

Anything could be hiding in those shadows, absolutely anything.

Almost there… Almost there…

Making herself walk that last quarter of a mile to the recycling plant was the hardest thing Caitlyn had ever had to do. Every time she left the light and stepped into shadow, it felt like walking into the maw of a ravenous beast.

By the time she reached the portal she had reached a level of fear beyond terror. Mouth open in a silent scream, eyes wide and dry, she walked like an automaton with just one program functioning – get inside.

Five paces from the portal, the sensors detected the presence of a human, and the massive, metal petals of the portal irised open.

Caitlyn kept walking, hardly aware of her surroundings. Only when the rich smell of humus assaulted her nose did she stop, and look around like someone waking from a terrible dream. To her left were the sealed vats where human wastes were processed by a series of engineered bacteria. In the middle were the administrative areas, and behind them were the compost farms that turned all food waste into rich, soil-nourishing humus.

But the young girl with the tear-stained face had eyes for just one thing – the neat rows of hover-trains lined up against the right hand wall. That was where she had to go. And then her job would be done.

Too tired to carry the bag any longer, Caitlyn dragged the SL’ick behind her on the brightly polished floor as she staggered to the nearest hover-train. The huge container was resting on the ground, waiting for the teleoperators to arrive in the morning. She knew it would be full of precious soil for the farms.

With the last of her strength, Caitlyn opened the floor level door and climbed the narrow plasteel steps of the service hatch. When she reached the top, she opened her bag and wrestled it to the top of the guard rail.

As the bag fell, compost and five brown shapes fell onto the pile of humus. The drop was not that long, but none of the five SL’ick moved.

Caitlyn knew she should be feeling something, but there was a strange emptiness in the middle of her chest where her heart should be. Only the need for secrecy still drove her, although why it should matter now was lost in the fuzzy concept of ‘tomorrow’. Turning from the railing, she trudged down the steps, and closed the access door to the hover-train behind her.

She had to hide. 

Looking out across the expanse of faux marble, Caitlyn’s eyes brightened a little when she saw the curved reception desk facing the portal. There.

Beneath that desk was a safe, dark place. She had played there many times as a small girl. No one but her mother would know to look for her there.

Moments after crawling under the desk, Caitlyn was asleep.

* * *

Caitlyn was eventually found by the skeleton crew who came in to keep the recycling plant ticking over during the holidays.

She spent the rest of Christmas day in hospital, under observation. Despite being questioned by Security, hospital staff, and her own family, she refused to say what she was doing at the recycling plant.

The only person who did not question Caitlyn was her mother. She did not need to. As soon as she had found the SL’ick gone that morning she had known something was very wrong. Finding Caitlyn missing as well had confirmed her worst fears.

She had known Caitlyn would be upset by the idea of eating the SL’ick, but she had hardened her heart, telling herself the child would outgrow her squeamishness. Now she just prayed her daughter had not paid too high a price for her soft heart.

Mother and daughter were finally reunited in the hospital where they spent some time alone together.

When Caitlyn was allowed to leave the hospital, she looked less stricken than she had when she first arrived, but it would be another six months before the haunted look finally left her eyes.

The family were eating dinner, and watching the nightly news, when an odd little story appeared on the holo. Apparently a group of young men had gone Outside during a drunken binge, and one of them swore he had seen a giant earthworm burrow into the ground just a few feet from where he was taking a leak.

The newscaster made a snide reference to pink elephants before going on to discuss the latest findings published by the Global Climate Change Authority.

Caitlyn and her mother just looked at each other…and smiled.


Staying cool in 43 C

It’s officially 43 C in Melbourne, and my air conditioner died yesterday, yet the inside of the house is a relatively comfortable 26 C :

The defunct aircon unit showing the temperature inside the house

My office is a fair bit warmer because it’s a small room, and the desktop computer puts out quite a lot of heat [AMD processor], but it’s still bearable.

Magic? No, fire resistant shutters.

I wrote about my fire resistant shutters back in this post. They’ve never been tested in a bushfire situation, but by god they keep ordinary heat out!

The following pics were all taken from inside the house to show the shutters at work:

In the loungeroom
Inside the front verandah
Through the kitchen windows
Old fashioned evaporative cooling, and more shutters.

Almost every door, verandah and window in my house has been fitted with these fire resistant shutters. They weren’t cheap, but every winter since then, they’ve kept the warmth in, saving me money in heating costs. And in summer they keep the heat out, with or without the air conditioner. 🙂

Much as I love my shutters, however, I have to say that on their own they would not have been enough. Part of the reason they work as well as they do is that I insisted on having an insulating foam applied behind the door and window frames. The foam fills up all the gaps in construction conveniently hidden by the frames. A small thing, perhaps, but the foam has stopped those elusive draughts from leaching the heat from the house.

Apart from the shutters and the foam, two more things helped keep us from melting today. The first was the weather overnight. The temperature dropped to 14 C which allowed the cross ventilation in the house to cool everything down before the heat climbed again. If it had been hot overnight, we would have been in trouble.

The second thing is that orange towel shown in the last picture. And no, it’s not my washing. :p

That humble towel is wet, and it’s hanging in front of an oscillating fan. As the water in the towel evaporates, it cools the air. The fan then circulates that cooler air around the small family room and into the kitchen.

My jerry-rigged evaporative cooling is probably good enough for some light cooking but…bugger it, we’re having take away! Ahem. I deserve it.

If you’re an Aussie, I hope you stayed cool and safe today. If you’re from the northern climes, I hope you stayed warm and toasty.

-hugs-

Meeks


A Bushfire A.B.C

I wasn’t going to write a bushfire post this year [2019] because I thought there was no need, not with the devastating fires in NSW and QLD to focus everyone’s thoughts. But I’ve just been on Twitter and seen some of the misconceptions about bushfires.

So…here are some basics:

Fire needs just two things to burn: fuel and oxygen. However the size of that fire depends on many things:

  • Dry fuel – makes a fire burn harder and faster. Fuel is made of up dry grass, leaves, small twigs and fallen branches that build up on the ground over time.
  • Low humidity – i.e. moisture in the air and soil – makes a fire burn harder and faster.
  • Strong winds – provide the oxygen to make a fire burn harder and faster. They also transport embers ahead of the main fire.
  • Embers – land on dry fuel and start spot fires.
  • Spot fires act like pre-ignition for the main fire.

So far, these conditions could apply to any fire, in any country of the world. In Australia though, things are a little different. As well as all of the above, we also have to contend with native vegetation that evolved with fire. Some native plants developed ways to keep the species going after a fire. In fact, the seeds of many of our natives need fire to germinate.

In a nutshell, most Australian natives evolved to burn. This includes gum trees [eucalypts].

  • Gum leaves contain eucalyptus oils.
  • When these oils heat up enough, they turn into a volatile gas.
  • Add a spark and this gas goes ‘boom’. It’s an accelerant – like throwing petrol onto a camp fire.
  • Lightning strikes from ‘dry storms’ provide the spark that starts hundreds of fires every year.

So let’s look at a couple of what-ifs. Let’s say a lightning strike starts a fire. If the humidity is high and the fuel is wet – e.g. winter – the fire doesn’t go very far.

But this is what happens in summer:

  • Lightning [or human stupidity via an angle grinder creating a spark, an over-heated car starting to burn, a camp-fire left unattended, blah blah blah] starts a fire in grassland.
  • The grass fire spreads into scrub land.
  • The scrub land fire spreads into native forest.
  • The scrub at the base of the gum trees burns hotter and hotter.
  • The eucalyptus oil in the gum leaves heats up.
  • The volatile oil in the gum leaves becomes a gas and suddenly the whole tree is on fire.
  • As more and more trees burn, and the wind pushes the embers and superheated air ahead of it, the conditions for a ‘crown fire’ emerge.

A crown fire is when the fire jumps from tree top to tree top. This is a fire that nothing can stop – no amount of water bombers, no amount of fire fighters, no amount of chemical retardants. In fact, water bombers can’t even get near this kind of fire because it creates its own weather, crazy weather that makes flying virtually impossible.

In 2009, south eastern Australia was in the grip of the Millenium drought and an El Nino weather event. For those who don’t know, during an El Nino period, south eastern Australia goes through an extended ‘dry’ spell with much less rain than normal.

In February 2009, an extended heatwave of 40+ degree temperatures, extremely low humidity, high fuel loads and a ferocious north wind [bringing even more heat from the Centre] combined to create Black Saturday, the worst bushfire event in modern Australian history. 173 people died.

Now, ten short years later, NSW is likely to have another perfect storm of fire conditions…tomorrow…at the very beginning of summer…with the worst of the fire season still to come.

I’ll be honest, I’m scared. Conditions here in Victoria are cool and wet, for now, but the worst is yet to come. How will Warrandyte fare once the grass browns off and the damp fuel load turns into dry kindling? And even if we squeak through this fire season, what about next year and the one after that?

Some years ago I attend a Climate Change rally in Melbourne, and one of the speakers [from the CFA*] said something I’ll never forget. He said words to the effect that there are no climate change deniers at the end of a fire hose.

Climate Change is not causing bushfires, it’s making them bigger and more frequent. Exactly as the climate scientists predict.

Climate Change is also extending the length of the fire season. When I was a kid, January and February were the bad months. In years to come, fire season may extend from the beginning of Spring [September] through to the end of Autumn [May].

Three people have died in NSW already. How many more have to die before we stop ‘praying’ and start doing something useful?

I hope with all my heart that the legacy of Black Saturday means that Victorians remember how helpless we all felt, and act accordingly. We’ve been there. We know. The only thing we can control, even a little, is the fuel load. Reducing the fuel load won’t stop a fire from starting, and it won’t stop a fire from spreading, but it may reduce the severity of that fire by stopping it from becoming a crown fire. Harm reduction. The life it saves could be your own.

And Warrandyte? If you haven’t cleared your block yet, what the effing hell are you waiting for? NSW and QLD may be the canaries in the coal mine this year, but make no mistake, we’re in that bloody coal mine too.

To EllaD and the GO in Taylors Arms – stay safe.

Meeks

*CFA – Country Fire Authority, the volunteer fire fighting organisation in Victoria.

 

 


Drought proofing Australia

Drought is nothing new in Australia. Dorothea McKellar wrote about it in My Country, a poem that I, and all Australians of my generation, learned off by heart in school:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

But last night I saw something that truly shocked me. It was an aerial view of the reservoir of a small town in NSW. The reservoir was half empty, and the water was an unpleasant green.

But that was not what shocked me.

Snuggled up next to the reservoir was a huge tanker. It was pumping water into the reservoir because the town had run dry:

https://iview.abc.net.au/show/7-30/series/0/video/NC1901H153S00

But that was not what shocked me.

What shocked me was the realisation that much of the precious water going into the reservoir would soon begin to evaporate. Even as it was being pumped in, it was starting to evaporate out. And all of Australia’s dams and reservoirs are like that – open to the air, the wind, the sun and the heat. Water wasted by the gigalitre.

Open reservoirs were the only way water could be stored in the past. But it doesn’t have to be like that. It would take money, a terrifying amount of money, and a political will that has not been seen since World War II, but those outdated, primitive reservoirs could be updated into underground water storage units.

It is possible. If we can build concrete swimming pools, and massive damns like the Snowy Hydro scheme, we can build concrete reservoirs for the most threatened, inland towns of Australia. Or perhaps we wouldn’t use concrete at all. Maybe we could repurpose all that plastic waste and use it to line those underground water storage reservoirs.

We could also stop giving away the life blood of our rivers to mates with deep pockets. Our food security relies on irrigation. The water for that irrigation comes from our river systems. But instead of protecting those river systems, we’ve allowed them to be plundered for cash crops like cotton:

Part of why cotton takes up so many nutrients from the soil is its extensive root system. In order for the roots to develop enough to obtain those nutrients, lots of moisture is needed, especially early on.

Could someone explain to me why cotton is being grown [by huge agribusinesses] in an arid country like Australia? Without massive irrigation, taken largely from our rivers and flood plain harvesting, cotton could not possibly survive in inland Australia. Yet it’s happening, and it’s generating huge profits for multinational businesses such as CS Agriculture Pty Ltd:

“….(which owns Cubbie Station) in Australia. Shandong Ruyi is the ultimate shareholder of this new Australian group…”

“Since CS Agriculture took control of Cubbie Station, the struggling cotton property has been transformed by a major reinvestment into the business, including upgrades of water-saving infrastructure…”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/rural-news/2016-06-21/cubbie-ownership-changes/7517058

The ‘water-saving infrastructure’ includes massive damns that harvest flood plain water. I should also point out that Shandong Ruyi is a huge Chinese textile company:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shandong_Ruyi

Australia needs foreign investment, but as one of the most arid countries on Earth, exporting cotton via Shandong Ruyi is akin to exporting our water. In my not-so-humble opinion, that is insane. Allowing this to continue when said export is destroying land and communities in the rest of Australia is…criminal.

Every Australian needs to understand that the flood plains of a river are vitally important to the river and the land, both above and below:

‘The layered sediments of many flood plains can create important aquifers. Clay, sand, and gravel filter water as it seeps downward.’

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/flood-plain/

When you harvest the water of a flood plain, you starve the river and the land. You also starve the towns that historically relied on that river for their water. One such town is Broken Hill.

Broken Hill is not some small country town with a pub and not much else. Broken Hill is a major inland centre, and it too is running out of water. It used to supplement its water from the Darling river, but the Darling is almost dead so a ‘hurry-hurry’ pipeline is being built to the Murray river:

“The Wentworth-Broken Hill pipeline will fix things for Broken Hill, which can no longer rely on the Darling for its water supply. It will also ensure secure water supply for two new mines, Perilya Mines and Hawsons Iron Project.”

https://www.smh.com.au/environment/sustainability/cry-me-a-river-mismanagement-and-corruption-have-left-the-darling-dry-20180226-p4z1uc.html

Makes you wonder whether the pipeline is actually for the town or the mines…

The biggest problem with the Broken Hill pipeline, however, is that the water it takes from the Murray will impact all the communities south from there, in Victoria. Victorian communities rely on the Murray too, as does South Australia. Allowing the Darling to be destroyed up north in Queensland and northern NSW will have a knock-on effect all the way down the line, with each ‘fix’ creating problems further south.

There is one ‘fix’ I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s desalination. We built a desalination plant here in Victoria, after the Millennium Drought. That desal plant may stop Melbourne from running dry, but what of the inland?

Australia currently has six desalination plants – one for South-East Queensland, two in Western Australia near Perth, one near Sydney [NSW], one for Melbourne [Victoria] and one for Adelaide [South Australia]. All of these desalination plants are on the coast…dah…because they make fresh water out of seawater. All of the communities supplied by those desalination plants are on the coast as well.

Now imagine how much it would cost to pump water inland from those desalination plants…

All of Australia’s water problems are of our own making, and could be fixed properly, but it would take serious nation building by a succession of Federal governments. It hasn’t happened.

Now ask yourself this: if we can’t fix the problems we created, what are we going to do when climate change truly starts to bite?

Sadly, the answer to that question appears to be ‘nothing’. Successive governments have sat on their hands, denying that we’re destroying the rivers, denying that climate is changing, denying that anything needs to be done. And we, the voting public have allowed them to get away with it because we’re scared our cushy lifestyles will become a little less cushy.

I truly hope I’m no longer around when life stops being ‘cushy’ and becomes a fight for survival.

Meeks


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