Tram, Shakespeare and a pause in the bushfires

So yesterday I took the train to Sydney to have lunch with M in Surry Hills — and to ride the tram. I took with me for sentimental reasons this:


The last time I rode a tram through Surry Hills/Moore Park I may well have had that with me! Now, about the new tram — and here I am on board:


It is a tad slow, but that is probably better than running over people or crashing into cars. Indeed at one point yesterday a car came through an intersection as if the moving tram wasn’t there. The tram driver sounded his horn — not a bell, notice. However, while well aware of the costs that have been involved in the build, I give the tram the thumbs up! It isn’t the line to nowhere after all. Yesterday it delivered quite a few to the cricket — sorry about that, Kiwis! Then it has two well-placed stops for Randwick Race Course, ditto for the University of New South Wales, and the Randwick line ends right in the midst of the medical offices, cafes etc., that are part of the Prince of Wales Hospital precint. I can see a lot of use for the line as time goes on.

Mind you, it is true the bus is faster… But not as comfortable.

Then back to Surry Hills, and the glorious old Shakey — the Shakespeare Hotel of such happy memory. There I met M, who was in fine form. And the food was excellent — I had the Shakey Pie, a beef and vegetable job in a real home-made pie shell, not a lump of premade pastry on top of a ramekin. M had a steak; he said it was excellent. And price? Much the same as City Diggers in Wollongong — under $20 each dish. You could have had a chicken schnitzel special for $10! The drinks are on the dear side, but not outrageous.


And the Surry Hills tram stop is ideally placed for visiting the Shakey.


Picture by James O’Brien

Travelling in cooler weather yesterday to and from Sydney I closely observed the bush as we passed through. Tell you what, toss a match in there and all hell would break loose. Wollongong and the Royal National Park have truly been lucky so far — but there is very possibly two months to go. The heat returns at the end of this week. And as soon as I write that I know some are going to mutter “hazard reduction” and others will start muttering “Greens!” Yes, there are arguments worth having around all that, but to quote one expert: “It’s simply conspiracy stuff. It’s an obvious attempt to deflect the conversation away from climate change.”

On Sunday night I phoned my last remaining aunt, in Sutherland — she’s 82 — knowing that my cousins from Bundanoon were sheltering there, having evacuated. I spoke to one of those cousins. It seems that their Bundanoon house is safe, though covered in ash. That at least was all she knew on Sunday. We talked for some time. We haven’t talked for a very long time, in fact, using Facebook to keep tabs instead. We found ourselves on exactly the same page about climate change being the deep cause behind all the proximate causes (such as fuel loads) of this present fire season.

Wollongong rides its luck again!

Yesterday’s day from hell passed relatively quietly, but that was not true of so many places near here and further away. Fancy Penrith, west of Sydney, being the hottest place on earth at almost 49C!  Luckily West Wollongong reached just 35C.

Today I just want to illustrate some of the scope of these fires simply by sharing from my own relatives! I avoid full names for privacy reasons, and have also eschewed link addresses.  NOTE: if any of you want a photo or reference removed, please let me know.

First, my sister-in-law and a niece in Milton/Ulladulla NSW.  Here is a view from my sister-in-law’s home a few days ago:


The most recent post on Facebook: “M***** and her mum have been evacuated to mollymook beach, it got bad in uladulla, she is trying to reserve her battery on her phone.”

Now a cousin who, interestingly, I have only just become aware of through the internet, though we are the same age. James lives in Tahmoor. This photo — and he is an excellent photographer — was taken at little place called Balmoral which was virtually wiped out just before Christmas.


Finally, two cousins — sisters — L and H, who live at Bundanoon. A few days ago L posted: “What does a tired RFS Deputy Captain do when he finally has some off truck time? Well if it is Tim ******** he drives down to the Southern Highlands and spends four exhausting hours in the heat on the roof of his aunts’ house clearing gutters and cutting back overhanging branches to make us safer as fires move closer. You are a legend Tim and we love you heaps. xx”

Sadly, just in the last day Bundanoon has been hit. Eleven hours ago H posted: “My little town of Bundanoon is on fire, houses are being lost right now. We are safe at mums with our animals but our hearts are breaking. Simply devastated.”


I am planning to go to Sydney for lunch tomorrow, to Surry Hills in fact. I will have in my backpack — as indeed I do now — this computer, its charger, my phone charger, and all my medication. Why? Wollongong has been lucky. We all know very well that Wollongong has been cut off from Sydney by fire before today!

See my post of August 16 2019, at the very beginning of this long bushfire season.  Complacency is not an option.

Again from October 2013, from my window:


Australia burning: 1300 homes gone in NSW alone

Here in West Wollongong, intersection of the Princes Highway and Mount Keira Road, at 1.30 pm New Year’s Eve the digital thermometer outside St Therese’s Church stood at 41C. Looking from my window I could not see the escarpment for smoke haze. But that was nothing compared to what was happening 70 kilometres south and onwards hundreds of kilometres down through eastern Victoria. As stated by the NSW Rural Fire Services Commissioner, and others, there has never been in the recorded history of Australia such a fire season, never! And it is far from over.

The fires led the BBC News from London on New Years Day.

As I write this it is a moderate 20C. But the heat returns in two days time… I can’t see Mount Keira from my window. Smoke.

Wollongong has so far escaped serious fire. There is no reason to suppose this will continue. Nervous? Wouldn’t you be? Thick bush is within fairly easy walking distance of where I am sitting.

That New Years Day front page says it all — and I am sure you can explore the many videos and images out there.


Inside that paper one story particularly attracted my attention: “Experts warn extreme weather risk growing”, which includes this reminder: “In 2009, a joint CSIRO and Bushfire CRC study, Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Extreme Fire Weather Events over South-Eastern Australia (PDF), warned these weather events were increasing in frequency and could occur up to four times more often by 2100 if carbon emissions and climate change were unchecked.” And here we are! So that prompts me to bitter laughter at the shallow optimism displayed by Scott Morrison who presides over a government that has been more spin that action when it comes to climate change. Let’s abandon the terms “climate skeptic” and “climate change skeptic” — skepticism is after all not a bad thing. So rather than the flattery those terms involve, as if the holders of such views might have a reasonable case, call them out as “climate change recalcitrants” or “climate change troglodytes”. Because that is what they are.

At the same time I don’t propose to go in for psychodrama, dressing up in strange clothes or glueing myself to roadways. I suspect that such drama too often includes other agendas, not that I am saying that all those taking that path have such agendas. To each his/her own, I guess.

What I will do is use any opportunity that presents itself to present the case for totally taking seriously the need to understand what is happening, to consider all possible options to ameliorate or mitigate the situation, including considering nuclear energy, and to explore all reasonable and doable ideas for adaptation — because change is happening now and the accumulated lack of action in the past renders reversal of climate change unlikely. I am also open to impurity. If I want steel, for example, I probably have to want coke as well, and as you know that comes from coal mines. I continue to eat meat. I have hardly ever flown anywhere in my life, but would not want to make everyone do a Greta and find a high-tech sailing boat to take me to America — if I had to go there.

Mind you, given that country is led by the Arch-Recalcitrant, I do wonder why I would want to…

Meanwhile one cannot but be moved by the many stories that are coming out day after day, minute after minute.


The main street of Cobargo, NSW, before and after bushfires destroyed a number of businesses on Tuesday. At least two people died in the town.

The media coverage has generally been excellent, particularly the ABC. News 24 has been wonderful, and even more so ABC Radio operating as an emergency broadcaster — on the bad days I have had it on most of the day. Looks like next Saturday will again be such a day.


Victoria: A Mallacoota mother, whose photo of her 11-year-old son fleeing bushfires has been splashed across news websites and front pages, says she had no idea how much impact it would have when she took the photo.


Can’t avoid the fires!

Do look at The Gospers Mountain ‘Monster’ — and that is just ONE of the firegrounds in NSW at the moment, beyond which we have South Australia and Victoria. Gospers Mountain is now more than SEVEN times the size of Singapore!

Nearer home we have Green Wattle Creek. Of part of that our Premier said:

There is “not much left” of the township of Balmoral following Saturday’s devastating firestorm through the hamlet south west of Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.  “We have got the devastating news that there’s not much left in fact [in the] town of Balmoral.”

Here is a map showing that the Green Wattle Creek fire is between 30 and 40 kilometres away from me here in West Wollongong. Now that may seem a long way, but “There’s no questioning the facts. During a fire, embers can travel up to 40 kilometres ahead of the fire front and fire speeds can reach over 25 kilometres per hour.”

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And here is what we have seen out towards Lithgow beyond the Blue Mountains north-west of Sydney; this is a tiny place called Dargan:

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And here is my cousin Ray Christison in Lithgow itself. He writes: “Big day for an old bloke. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts and support. I just want to clarify something. I’m not in the RFS and was working yesterday as a museum volunteer. I have considered joining the RFS over the years but know I would be allocated to a communications role.”


I simply refuse right now to join in the political argey-bargey, though I will say that it was a bad Robo-Scomo moment when he doubled down on the government’s rather tawdry record on climate change — unlike the Premier of South Australia this morning, to name but one. Clearly we need to think long and hard as a country about this — but equally we need to avoid slogans and oversimplifications.

It really is complex, but my bottom line is there is no longer any reason at all for a sane person to doubt that global heating, in large measure human-induced, has provided the context in which this unprecedented set of conditions (including the fires) are playing out now.

For example, whatever happened to the North Australian monsoon? That it hasn’t yet materialised is one major cause of the monstrous heatwaves that have been experienced across the country in recent weeks, themselves in turn a major factor in the fires we now experience.

Robo-Scomo, right as he is about the need to be kind to one another — and I don’t regard that as hypocrisy, does need to go back to the drawing board on climate policy, and he does need to squash the baying asses in his own ranks — and one of them is not all that far north of Wollongong — who still think climate change is a heap of shite!


Just found this on ABC Illawarra, who, incidentally, broadcast the fire alerts for all NSW through Saturday morning. Wow!


Now it’s the TWO million plus hectare fire!

Referring to my post of 13 November —  see my tag bushfires.  The immediate area around Wollongong has so far escaped, though there are fires not too far away. But there are months to go as summer is just six days old!

Most of the smoke that blankets Wollongong this morning is probably from the fires to the south, which were horrendous the past few days. This photo is from the Illawarra Mercury.


Peeping out my door this morning: