Monday, February 01, 2010

History hazards of the countryside

I’m reminded of the old Punch cartoon with two city gentlemen in a coach on the way to a country weekend. One fop is saying: “The countryside is truly rural hereabouts.” And so it is in my Mia Mia retreat, and there is something about country people I really connect with; not well mind you, but I enjoy it.

Part of the secret is not to be a city smartarse, don’t be telling the locals how they should do things or what they should think. Oh! and it helps to keep yourself to yourself and not be nosy. I generally fail miserably at all those things. Despite the failings I seem to have connected remarkably well in this community of 400 or so people.

I ask a lot of questions about the area and its history, just occasionally being asked why I want to know. That one I fouled up last week with the response: I just like to know the ins and outs of a duck’s bum! I suspect from the look I received word will be out this week that I am a government spy or worse. It was ever thus.

In fact these people have been living their myths for generations and resent being called to account for consistency of detail. Indeed, the issue I was addressing was the identification of remains of an old brick hut on our property. The city owners insist it was an exotic tale of land claim jumping by a Henry Munro, the locals say it was a bloke named Harrison or Thompson… the names go on, in the 1940s or 50s.

The city folk are less than delighted when I show Munro was not the occupant, the locals are cautious to stick with a broad suggestion and avoid actual detail. With all that, my nosy probing and other misdemeanors, it seems I am accepted. Having walked to the pub (above) on Saturday, a good uphill hike, I sat with my paper and was reading about the late JD Salinger. I will copy in part the comment I posted on Ragebot in response to Kvatch’s post:

“You read, did you read Salinger?” Well yes, but I thought it was pretty ordinary. Now Kerouak… “Who?” The thing about Salinger is that his name and the book are known – vaguely. One of the bar supports said, “of course he was involved in killing Kennedy – that bloke had his book!” In fact it was the bloke who killed John Lennon was carrying the book. Another corner of the bar offered that he, JDS, was only a Pom after all. It turned out he was confusing another ‘seminal’ text and author, Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence.

I forget that oral history is still alive and well, along with it’s social taboos like insisting on consistency and specifics. It is more about keeping the local myths alive and presumably they have their own point for the initiated. So now I’m nervous of asking questions about the photo of the rail. Well I should ask in Kyneton anyway, it is their railway station..

Kyneton is about 25 Km up the Campaspe River which flows, or puddles, near my abode. The town began before the gold rush and became a sort of staging post and supply depot, and rail was part of infrastructure expansion in the fledgling colony. What fascinated me was the well picked section of railway line carrying the mark – V.R. KRUPP 1889. The VR is clearly Victorian Railways, and the KRUPP that German steel maker famous for armaments through many conflicts up to WWII.

The Kyneton – Redesdale area were not big producers of gold as their neighbouring districts were, and have been largely ignored by researchers. I suspect that is changing on some fronts. Aspects like the railways, including the one which used to run to Redesdale, will be well recorded, but I wish them well on collecting the real local history.

Can’t escape bureaucratic bungling

With only a cell (mobile) phone and small radio to keep me in touch I thought I might become less of a carping critic of issues concerning poor governance. No so when you live in a sparsely populated region still in trauma from the bushfires of last February.
I thought heading into the wilderness, beyond the communications systems we now take for granted, would at least shield me from the knowledge of political and bureaucratic. That was a vain hope.
With high temperatures and strong winds hitting my wilderness I am receiving a stream of confusing warnings on fire dangers. The warnings are so confusing the ABC (radio) presenters are constantly seeking clarifications from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE).
Given the tragic circumstances of previous bushfire seasons, and the pasting authorities have endured through various hearings and inquiries, there is enormous pressure to solve problems of mitigating disasters. Unfortunately it falls to the wrong people in the case of CFA and DSE. Rather than look to the local knowledge of a committed volunteer base it is those who only know the assurance of a pay packet who are dealing with this.
The major issue, in the restructuring of a fire response system, is basic communications. CFA and DSE seem so tied up in their own entrenched language and systems they seem unable to put together A simple set of plans which will work across this relatively small Australian state. Part of the problem is their refusal to listen to those who really understand the territory.

Mapping the issues

BOM has a great reputation with weather districts based on consistently similar patterns. There accuracy, while largely speculative or ‘educated guess’, is well respected. The fire authorities base their maps on multiple municipal boundaries, which are large areas with some dramatic climactic variations.
In my case it is doubly confusing because I live on the edge of the North Eastern Fire District, which extends from central Victoria to the Pacific Ocean. Across the road (pictured above) is the North Western District extending across to South Australia. All last week my district was on the edge of ‘code red’ fire danger, we will get to the various codes, then Saturday the danger swung to the North Western district.
The crazy part of that is where this apparent barrier has been created both sides of the road are tinder dry and any activity likely to set of a fire would only be undertaken by a malicious individual or a dullard unaware of the danger. The problem for my neighbours, and more so for my radio presenters, is the difficulty in focusing in on potential crisis points. As some commentators have noted, there is a danger, after a few panics, of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ syndrome.

Confusing codes

So the CFA and DSE bureaucracies went further than ignoring the well established district regimes of BOM, but also decided to change the old, and understood, fire rating system for a new and confusing model. (see pic) They probably only need low – high – code red, but even with that they have communications problems. It will not be code red across the massive area they are reporting it.
The trouble Coupled with those unwieldy fire reporting districts the new codes simply deepen the confusion on the ground. Now on the ground is just where the local volunteer fire fighters are and there workload is already heavy from using their local knowledge and concern to spot real problems before they happen. That isn’t always possible, but we would already be in deep trouble without their efforts.
So each time code reds have been declared and the worst outcome wasn’t achieved did the authorities clap and cheer a successful operation? No, they blamed BOM who they rely on for their weather predictions. They are bloody crazy. A code red is a message to take special care about fire risk, if people listened then it achieved it’s purpose. But the bureaucrats are obviously focused on a different reality to the rest of us.