Australia Burns: Bells Line of Road, 28 December 2019

Emergency information

Fires Near Me (NSW), Vic Emergency (Victoria)

Context

These photographs were taken on 28 December on Bells Line of Road, which runs between western Sydney and Lithgow. Bells Line of Road is the northernmost of two road crossings of the Blue Mountains between Sydney and western NSW.

Wildnerness and parts of towns were badly burned for a long stretch between Lithgow and Bilpin on Bells Line of Road in the days leading up to and including December 21 by the Gospers Mountain / Grose Valley fire complex. The road re-opened on December 25.

The December 31 2019 eastern bushfire catastrophes were concentrated far to the south east from where these pictures were taken; they were in the South Coast of NSW and East Gippsland in Victoria. These two areas are also currently considered most at risk in the upcoming January 4 heatwave, with tourists asked to leave the South Coast and the evacuation of Kosciuszko National Park (January 2), following the evacuation of East Gippsland (December 29).

Fires are expected to continue in Australia until there’s substantial rainfall.

Supporting firefighters and affected people

Donations are accepted by, among others:

Most affected areas rely heavily on the tourism industry for income, planning to visit after the fire period is also likely to be helpful, you can check NSW road closures and warnings at Live Traffic. Judging from Bilpin on December 28, take cash, phone lines and cell towers aren’t restored until long after power is.

Photos

Bare trees, near Bell Trees burned to the crown Burned rail embankment Blackened road sign One side of the road burned Melted road sign Completely burned Burned up

All photos.

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town.

2019 in threes

End of year reflections.

Three moments of 2019

Tacking a sailboat towards Kurnell in pretty strong winds (for the size of boat) and successfully starboard rounding a mark. And many other sailing navigation moments that I did far worse at than that one.

Lying in an influenza fever dream in the middle of winter, dreaming that the illness was a dimly glowing grey sword about 3 metres in length. Waking long enough to ring the travel agent before dawn to cancel the next morning’s flight to the US.

Arriving halfway down the Ruined Castle ski run at Falls Creek, and surveying it, finding it rather steep, and doing it anyway. Also enjoyed the carpet required to speed me up to catch its chair lift after.

Three meals of 2019

We went back to Quay for a last minute 20th anniversary meal. We were thus in the “be out early” seating with the 6 course meal; they added the Poolish crumpets, which were the only thing missing, as a special surprise.

I wound down a team at work — transitioning our projects to another location — and had a farewell picnic for team members past and present. This involved my favourite caterer Sydney Picnic Co, the Grumpy Donuts I’ve been buying the team for a couple of years whenever there’s an outage, and the views from Ballaarat Park.

Chilli margaritas and veg wedges at Corner Bar; our days of sailing lessons wound up early enough to fit these in before school pickup.

Three photos of 2019

Frangipani Apples, Mayfarm Flowers I found the billionaires

Three pleasures of 2019

Walking. Because I twisted my ankle badly in April 2018, I spent most of last year with limited range and for much of the year outright pain when I exceeded it, and tearing a rotator cuff later in the year didn’t help.

Gently kayaking up Currambene Creek with my daughter in front desultorily adding to the paddling, sliding through the mangroves.

I loved the Apollo 11 documentary, which I saw on a badly needed short notice day off work — something I’ve had to do a couple of times this year, managing two teams and quite a few outages — at Dendy Circular Quay. I spent the first viewing uncertain how much if any of it was file footage versus re-creations. (One thing about the file footage; it’s unlikely that a re-creation would think to have so many people people waving and mugging at the much rarer cameras.) I rang Andrew immediately afterwards to debrief the whole thing over the phone, and took him to see it the following week.

Three news stories from 2019

Can’t go past the bushfires. Well, you can go past them or their aftermath, via almost any major road leaving Sydney. Merry Crisis!

Tracey Spicer, #MeToo, NOW Australia. See The Leaders Of Australia’s “Time’s Up” Movement Made Big Promises They Couldn’t Keep and Tracey Spicer accuses three women of defamation after ABC #MeToo documentary. You could do worse than following Nina Funnell and Nareen Young on Twitter.

Australians working with local councils to get climate emergencies declared. This could be anywhere on the spectrum of “completely for show” through to being a local part of global change. There’s a lot of power in local.

Three sensations from 2019

Rotting seaweed slick and sticky on my feet approaching the beach during our January holiday. This was otherwise an excellent holiday with only a few minutes of disgust, worse because of having to coach children over it.

Hot and seemingly-still air surrounding me as I sailed downwind. Because we learned to tack first, I got used to sailing into the wind, breeze in my hair, triumphant balancing at the bow, and so on. Downwind — with the wind — feels very still and stifling.

Lethagy as I plodded 6 kilometres down the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail north of New York City, through the autumn leaves. I really wanted to mark a travelling Saturday some other way than huddling exhausted in my hotel room, and I don’t regret it, but the outdoors was hard won that day.

Three sadnesses of 2019

It’s a gentle sadness, but my entire family now lives in one town, and I live in a different city and I imagine I always will. I’m also emerging from the young-child chrysalis, and feeling keenly how long and hard I will need to work to rebuild a social circle.

In the same way that I spent much of 2013–15 dealing with bad stuff that happened to me in 2012, I’ve spent much of this year being sad about things that happened in 2015. The hardest half-decade of my adult life, and as a result the following years have been the saddest.

Noting that sadness and wanting pity aren’t the same thing, I’m sad the tech industry, which I’ve either been in or orbited for twenty years, is harming the world.

Three plans for 2020

I won’t count it as one of the three, but I’d love to have less plans. I’ve just spent the last month drowning in planning holidays, and holiday care, and work transitions, and child sporting commitments, and early departures to get ahead of bushfire risk, and packing, and unpacking.

I’m not sure if it’s a plan or the fates, but I feel like we’re even odds for finally taking our kids to Canada; V would like to see Japan as well, and they’re sort of near each other in no sense at all, so maybe we’ll do them in one giant trip.

We’re going on another (seaweed adjacent) beach holiday in a week, assuming the fire risk is acceptable (and this is a real question). I plan to find some good fiction to read; might be hard to top reading through the Imperial Radch triology on this year’s holiday.

It’s the year to get the payoff for the sailing lessons, which is a sailing holiday with the kids. I view it as camping, but without tents. Or sleeping on the ground. And with added water.

Three hopes for 2020

I feel oddly optimistic about the world this week, a gloomy week in a gloomy year in a gloomy decade. Profound sadness hasn’t done me a lot of good in terms of action, so I hope that continues.

Some form of career change: I don’t mean leaving tech for healthcare (I think about this all the time, but only to remind myself I’d be practicing independently long after my 50th birthday), but right now I’m mostly challenged in a “there aren’t enough hours in a day” way rather than the “have to learn a new way of thinking/doing” way and I much prefer the latter.

Rain. Lots and lots of rain.

Storm over Sydney, New Year’s Eve 2018

The dramatic storm that ended 2018 by soaking most of the people who’d been waiting 12 hours for a fireworks show was not forecast, but it also wasn’t entirely unheralded. Here’s the sky 2 hours before it struck:

Storm gathers over Sydney, New Year's Eve 2018
Storm over Sydney, New Year's Eve 2018

However, it wasn’t until later that this was heralded on the radar:

Storm building over Sydney, New Years Eve 2018

I went to the north of the island to see if I could see the storm cell; hearing a security guard’s radio piping up about moving all guests into shelter. Promising! I was not disappointed:

Sydney storm cell, New Year's Eve 2018
Storm cell over Hunter's Hill, New Year's Eve 2018
Rain foot, New Year's Eve 2018

I hurried back; as I did the loudspeakers started to call everyone into the old machinerary sheds due to a “dangerous storm”; we were probably some of the few New Year’s Eve revellers around the harbour who could take shelter that evening.

I made it before the rain did. However, I wasn’t quite the last one in:

Taking shelter from the storm, New Year's Eve 2018

We were out in time for the party:

Rain dance

Other photos of New Year’s Eve (in progress).

2018 in threes

End of year reflections.

Three moments of 2018

April: the day after my birthday, sitting alone near the top of Mount Kanimbla with a camera on a very cold morning to catch the sunrise. I’d had a badly injured ankle for a week at that time and so getting myself outside was a real independent triumph.

Dawn over the Blue Mountains escarpment, Kanimbla Valley
Dawn over the Blue Mountains escarpment.

September: the top of Thredbo resort with Andrew and V, looking towards the Basin t-bar in gale force winds. While it was still open, none of us love t-bars or have any experience riding them in high wind. So we skiied/trudged uphill for 500m straight into the wind to the top of the run we wanted, our faces being scoured with freezing rain, and then we skiied down until we were below the cloud layer and high-fived.

October: Saturday in New York, the end of the first week of a three week work trip, before flying to California. I’d planned to visit either the Holocaust Museum or the 9/11 Museum, but a nor’easter blew in. I went down to the World Trade Center to find people queuing outside for the museum in the pouring rain in flimsy white plastic raincoats, and turned right around and went back uptown. I was tired and I needed snacks and mains power, so I went into work, went up to the top of the building, and sat on a couch eating yoghurt and hummus with my fingers because I was too tired to figure out where the spoons were.

Rain in New York
Rain in Chelsea, October 2018.

Three meals of 2018

January: V’s birthday lunch in Kauaʻi, for which he of course chose McDonalds. It seemed exactly the same, but somehow also gloomier.

August: at the local Indian restaurant, discovering paratha after twenty years of Sydney naan.

December: lunch at Quay, squeezing in before a gift voucher from Christmas 2017 expired. We had the ten course meal, it was all lovely, but what instantly comes to mind when I think back to it is the incredibly buttery crumpets about half way down the menu, delivered in a wooden “toaster”.

Three photos of 2018

Photographer under Hanalei Pier
Photographer under Hanalei Pier, Kauaʻi
Reflected Australian flag
Australian flag reflected in Darling Harbour
Wave breaks over Icebergs
Wave breaks over Icebergs pool, Bondi

Three pleasures of 2018

February: three days of alone time in Birchgrove. I needed to have a radioiodine thyroid scan and moved out of home for several days as a precaution against exposing the children to radiation. While the doctors thought this was a little excessive for the dose, it meant that I hunkered down in a granny flat with a harbour view, caught ferries, took myself out to solo dinners, and watched harbour waves break in the dark on the shores of Birchgrove Park.

View from Birchgrove
View from Birchgrove

December: summer foods, defined as stone fruits and dark and stormies. We’ve been drinking dark and stormies and catching up on the final two seasons of Rake.

Throughout the year: my daughter’s immense wavy head of hair after years of her pulling it out and being mostly bald. My current line about this is that we finally understand why she was pulling it out: it was a last ditch defence against the complete takeover. She lost; now she is a being more hair than child.

After party
A, November 2018

Three news stories from 2018

All the news about cryptocurrency, particularly scams and regulatory crackdown. This is my popcorn news, having read David Gerard’s Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts around the time of the Bitcoin peak.

Global hunger has been rising for three years. There’s been a narrative for a while now among the philanthropy wonks I follow that, somewhat silently and without fanfare, disease, poverty, and hunger were gradually reducing and we weren’t giving ourselves enough credit for creating a better world. But not so in the last few years. Which is the interregnum, the few decades of progress or the last couple of years of worsening?

Which brings me to the IPCC 1.5°C report (“we have 12 years”), the November student strikes in Australia, and other climate change news.

Three sensations from 2018

April: crutching my way out of Balmain Hospital with a pain-free foot. The injury only hurt when I put weight on it, so the absence of pain was a common and lovely sensation. Lying down! On crutches! Complete absence of pain! When the doctor asked if I needed pain relief I gave her an uncomprehending look.

August: freezing rain scouring my face at Thredbo as I went up the chairlift in a gale just shy of closing the lift. “Welcome to outdoor sports!” chortled the instructor. I liked it in an odd way, but V found it so frightening he insisted on being taken right back down the mountain. (At the end of the lesson I had to wring my gloves dry of water; it’s a credit to GoreTex my hands were still warm.)

November: pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks in San Francisco, in honour of Glen Weldon’s take on pumpkin spice (offset 06:45). It’s mostly cinnamon.

Three sadnesses of 2018

Cancer in the family, again.

Much smaller but you can have more details: I had a couple of nasty and slow healing injuries this year. First I twisted my right ankle in April playing with A at a drop off beside one of V’s soccer fields and hurt it badly enough that it didn’t take weight for days and I couldn’t walk long distances without pain for about half the year. Second, I tore my left supraspinatus skiing and have only regained most of the flexibility in the shoulder in the last few weeks and am yet to get much of the strength back. This put paid to one of the previous set of plans, learning to sail, and made sleeping, housework, and cycling difficult all year.

The California Ideology, to which I am not native but from which I profit, coming up worse and worse over time. See this interview with Fred Turner.

Three plans for 2019

Throwing my children birthday parties this year. This was a millstone last year, and we left it until the following birthdays were nearer than the ones being celebrated and then abandoned all hope. This year two parties are planning, and from now on, since their birthdays are only 12 days apart, they get a party every second year alternating.

We’re taking the first two weeks of the year off work. Our only holiday plan — really, one should be enough — is to spend a week of that on the south coast, which I haven’t visited since diving with seals at Montague Island in 2007. Unlikely to dive this time but perhaps boating on Jervis Bay.

Because of the injuries, we didn’t get to learning to sail — at one point I could neither have stood comfortably on my right foot nor pulled with any strength in my left arm — so that returns to the plans again.

Three hopes for 2019

To quote my entry a year ago: “Some good news about climate change, whether statistics or serious political will.”

Some new horizon of family life, as my youngest child turns five and we’re increasingly free to explore things for older children and adults. So far we’ve done ropes courses and water parks, I’m sure there’s more to come.

Involvement in some kind of activism. I gave what I had and to spare to tech feminism already, perhaps labour activism or something like 350.org is next.