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Friends at the wrong time Posted by Bernadette on 19 Feb 2013


The ones who betray trust,
neglect nature’s love, that special bond ...
those traitors are eternally devoured.
–Dante, Inferno XII: 61-66 (paraphrased) 


Memory
I no longer know what is true. Is memory just an empty space we fill with longing? I don’t know who is hurt most. Who the betrayer; who the betrayed?

I am eighteen.

It’s my first day at teachers college. She is like a queen bee. Her adorers hover. I hear her laugh and I watch as all the others look at her, smile, laugh at her joke.

I can’t tell you her name, but let’s call her Monica. It’s not that I don’t remember, but she might.

I am not a person who finds it easy to make friends. I suspect that my rural upbringing has something to do with this. We didn’t have much of a social life out on the farm. A few cousins. But until school started, it was just me and my siblings, a sister and a brother.

But sometimes I meet someone and I know immediately that I want to be friends. Mostly, they are Leos.

And Monica is just that. A Leo. She could have had a life on stage. We are all drawn to her.

I am standing at the railing of the verandah of the hostel in the hand-sewn dress my mother has had made for me. It is 1970 and the dress is white, navy and bright green stripes. It’s a nice pattern and suits me in a slightly over-dressed way. But I don’t yet have the regulation jeans and yellow T-shirt that I’ll wear once I settle in to student life.

I think it was proximity that fostered our friendship.

I am sharing a room with two others, country girls from Gippsland. The last door I pass on the way to our shared room is hers.

I stop at Monica’s door. She is wearing a fantastic long dress for dinner on the first night. And I am in my hand-sewn white, navy and green cotton dress.

I say hello. After six years in boarding school I know that hello is important. She smiles and makes a joke and then says, Well, coming to dinner? So I walk down with her and we stand around on the verandah waiting for the six o’clock bell.

As we walk in, I miss the chance to sit next to her. Instead I am at a different table and can only watch her from a distance as she entertains all around her.

We are not in the same course. I’m Primary and she is specialising in Art for Secondary students. We meet only at meal times, but our proximity in the hostel means that we also meet in the corridor, in the shared bathroom, at her door. Slowly the friendship builds.

We go the local pub. It’s Thursday night, pay night on our studentships, the scholarship that gets us an education in return for a three-year work bond. Half of Melbourne is paid on Thursday nights. The pub is crowded. The lounge is large, filled with wooden tables and benches. The lounge bar is just a window, behind which is the bar where all the men congregate.

We women had not yet stormed the public bars, so we pay more for our drinks. The pub is only half a block’s walk from our bedrooms, and we are soon stumbling back. Instantly sobering as we walk in the front door and up the stairs. We fall on the bed in her room and laugh.

Thursday nights become a regular outing for us. I get drunk too often. Somehow we manage never to raise the ire of out hostel protectors. We are always quiet as we climb the stairs.

One night at the pub I meet a man. His name is Fotoski. I recognised his strange name as he had been a photographer on the snowfields in the mid 1960s. He took my photo for a weekly pass when I was fifteen.

I don’t recall how it happened but I finished up without Monica at the end of the night and instead Fotoski was saying that I should come with him. Naiveté perhaps. But I went. He drove me to a parking place. And then it’s blank, until I am crawling from the back of his truck and walking away in a state of confusion.

Consciousness
Where was Monica? Where did she go? What happened to her the night I was raped?

We did not speak of it. I never saw Fotoski again. I’ve wondered about all the photos he took. How many others did he rape on the snowfields and in the pubs?

Just as we had not yet stormed the bars, my own life was not yet touched by feminism. My most radical action in this my first year out of school was to attend the Moratorium marches. Vietnam was on my radar, and the bombing of Hiroshima. It was easy to be against war. The Women’s Liberation Movement was only a whisper in my life. The men I knew thought it was all about access.

Memory
Monica and I begin to go ice-skating once a week and we meet up with the boys who speed skate. Sometimes Monica and I dance together. We have little in common with these boys other than rebellion and our weekly skating.

Some months into the year, Monica is visiting her parents, going for the weekend and I go to parties. I’m soon in a relationship, not because I am in love, not because I am enthralled, but simply because I think that is what you do.


It’s mid-year and Monica has deadlines to meet and not enough time left. She is making a mobile with tiny pieces of copper. She is writing an essay on design due at 9 am. The artwork is due at the same time.

You can do it, she says.

I take the fishing line and the copper pieces to my room and begin. Before you tie it on, you can’t tell if it will balance. It’s guesswork and takes time. From midnight to 6 am I am tying, placing, balancing, retying, replacing, rebalancing until every piece is in position and it doesn’t hang more one way than the other.

Monica gets her work in on time and I stumble around the day.

Winter has come and I marvel at the glamour of Monica’s plastic maxi coat. It gleams as she strides by in her long boots.

I get up one morning and her hair has turned red. She’s impulsive and capricious. I am drawn to her and fascinated by what prompts her to do these things in the middle of the night.

I spend some weekends with my boyfriend. I’ve had enough of institutions for girls: from boarding school to this hostel where they are forever checking on you. I am escaping the routine and the rules. I’d rather spend weekends with Monica but she has other things going on.

My boyfriend, Eddie, has a friend, Terry, who runs a car yard. Terry likes to drink. He offers us whiskey. It would be sensible to refuse. But we are not in a mind to refuse. Refusal becomes less and less likely as the whiskeys are downed.

Eddie and I stagger home.

Another blank.

I am woken by someone turning on a light. I don’t know these people: a man and a woman. I get up and throw my dress over my head. We stand in the hallway and I say, I’ll get a taxi. What’s the address here? He tells me. Oh, I’m just in the wrong flat, I say and walk out the door across the way to Eddie’s flat. Eddie looks at me. And the others too. Where have you been? Oh, just next door.

It’s Monday and I’m back in the hostel at Monica’s door telling her how I climbed a balcony, went under the washing and lay down in the bed of the flat next door. I laugh. She glares at me. Worse. She stands up, directs me to the door. I turn to speak and she slams the door in my face.

I don't get it. I’m okay. No one raped me. I wasn’t hurt. Why isn’t she pleased to see me?

Silence. I now know the meaning of getting the cold shoulder.

I am hurt. But no one can tell me what is going on. Monica won’t tell me.

The year finishes and I leave Melbourne to get away from daily reminders.

Consciousness
I did not put myself in Monica’s shoes. My boyfriend had thought I’d been raped. He’d walked on the beach, called my name. It is hard to imagine all that going on when you are unconscious. He’d called Monica. She was the other side of town. I did not call her the following day. After all I’d be seeing her on Monday. I was fine. Everything was okay.

Time
Monica vanishes from my life. Her course has finished. Our friendship has finished. But there is a great gaping hole.

I write her a letter over the summer holidays, send it to her parents’ address. No response. I return to Melbourne, move into a flat with friends. It’s not the first time I’ve had a friendship end, but the others have been about circumstance: leaving the farm; leaving school.

I turn around and there’s a space, a silence, unanswered questions.

Consciousness
I am in the Gas and Fuel Corporation showroom and I hear a voice. I turn, see her from the back and stand there listening to the sound of her speech. It resonates through me. It is like a lost sound. No mistaking her. I wait. I’ve waited five years, five minutes more won’t kill me.

Okay, she says to the man. Thanks for your help. In slow motion she moves her head like Janus. I can see two of her. Then she is looking at me.

Hello, I say. I heard your voice. I knew it was you.

Time is slowing down. Eventually, she smiles. I can’t be sure if it real.

And then we are talking as if no time at all had passed.

We agree to meet for dinner at her place in a week’s time. She is still calling the shots.

My feet do a little hop as I leave the Gas and Fuel Corporation showroom which I’d walked through as a shortcut.

When we meet the following week we have a lot of catching up to do. We talk of our lives. She is teaching. I am still a student having managed a scholarship to university. She seems weighed down by domesticity, her own. She remains formally unattached though she talks of a man whom she’s been seeing for a while. They ski, they go out, sometimes they go on holiday together.

By contrast, I have become political. I’m a feminist. My lover is a woman.

Before I leave I say, I’m sorry. When I came back that weekend I didn’t know that Eddie had rung you and that you’d been worried shitless for me. That you thought something awful had happened to me. I really am sorry.

She doesn’t say, That’s all right. Just nods her head.

We say goodbye, but the space between us remains unbridgeable. Now I am asking myself, What is it?

Out of the blue Monica rings me. I’m having a party at my place next Friday, want to come?

Okay.

Maybe this is her way of making up.

Dream
Friday night arrives. I am at her door. Music is playing and a young man opens the door, welcomes me in. I see her. She is surrounded as always. Still the queen bee.

She turns, moves towards me, kisses me, takes my hand and leads me to the group. This, she says, is a very old friend of mine. We were friends at university. I think, Don’t they even know it was teachers college. Slippage. She talks loudly. She’s nervous. Around us people are dancing. I walk away towards the kitchen to find a drink. A clean glass, and a splash of the nearest beer.

When I return to the group she puts her arm around me. I wriggle. This is not why I came to her party.

The voices are loud, the music is loud. I would rather not be here. Time is whizzling again. She takes me in her arms, kisses me there in front of all those people. I say, It’s not five years ago. Don’t.

I leave.

Memory
I no longer know what is true. Is memory just an empty space we fill with longing? It was all wrong. All of it. Who the betrayer; who the betrayed? I can’t tell.

The night I was raped. Where was Monica? Why wasn’t she with me? A young woman, vulnerable, naïve, left alone with someone who went by a false name.

How could I tell her? It took me four years to recognise it for what it was.

Consciousness
I worked at Melbourne’s first Rape Crisis Centre. We talked. We spoke of many things in our CR group. Consciousness-raising. A place where your brain opens out, makes connections. You realise that what happens to you is not just personal history. It connects. You realise there is a structure here. You realise that it really was rape.

Time
I ride the waves of consciousness. I am a particle. I am a wave. Time intersects with itself. It is a matrix. It expands and contracts sometimes without reason. I watch as she turns her face that day in the Gas and Fuel Corporation showroom. It takes forever. Like one year finding the doorway into the next. Time overlapping. The frogs chanting like Brahmin monks. And then I wonder, is that what happened? Which is real? Which is dream?

Dream
I’d like to rewrite history here. If I could, I would make sure that I left the pub that night with Monica. I would make sure that I’d have spent the weekends with her. We would not have made it, but it should not have broken so easily. We could have had more time.

But that was before feminism.

It wasn’t possible.

Memory
Our bodies fall away from us. Our memories clamour for consideration. The article I am reading speaks of the way in which a dream is soteriologically binding, salvaging the self. It strikes me as a useful concept. The dream, the waking life. How each affects the other.

The dream helps. I know it could not have worked. We were friends at the wrong time. I had other things to do. Other experiences to have. I needed to take off on those on my own.

The memory remains strong, the pain of loss. Dante says that the betrayers should be found in the deepest parts of hell. Did Monica betray me, not being there the night I needed her? Or did I betray Monica, seeing only the humour the night she thought I’d been lost? Was there something more? Something I am missing? We were young. We had no real experience of love. That would come later. That’s another story.

Susan Hawthorne


First published:susanspoliticalblog


 

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One Billion Rising: imperfect, but don't discard it Posted by Bernadette on 13 Feb 2013
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

By: Danielle Binks 


Today is ‘One Billion Rising’ the day when women around the world are invited to Walk Out, Dance, Rise Up and Demand an end to violence against women. It is a global strike, invitation to dance, a call to men and women alike to end rape-culture and to bring about an end to violence against women and girls.

 
 
 

The movement has been accompanied by a chest-swelling (if schmaltzy) video of women around the world rising up, and the factual-slogans of the movement have been seeping into the collective conscious and news media.

 

 
 
 
Dancing to end violence against women – if that sounds flawed to you, you’re not alone.
 
 
 

‘One Billion Rising’ has been compared to the ‘flash-in-the-pan’ Kony 2012 movement. And Carolyn Gage questioned why we can’t have more earnest discourse about male violence, without dressing it up in pink and setting it to music. 

 
 
 

All valid points. As are those that compare ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign tactics to Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer Awareness – the biggest example of harmful and disingenuous cross-marketing. And, like Pink Ribbon, buckets of celebrities have come on board ‘One Billion Rising’. However well-meaning these Hollywood stars may be, there’s something that doesn’t sit right when Anne Hathaway shows her support by appearing photo-shopped in short-shorts on the cover of ‘Glamour’ magazine, sporting the slogan t-shirt.


 

 
 
 

But does that mean ‘One Billion Rising’ isn’t worthwhile? Does that mean it’s another failure of the ‘new generation’ feminism – the likes of which also spouted SlutWalk and claim Beyoncé in their ranks?

 
 
 

Look, from where I’m standing it’s a sort of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. Most recently, feminists were angered when British food Writer, Mary Berry, came out and said she wasn’t a feminist, and that in fact “feminism is a dirty word.” She was the latest in a long line of high-profile women to come out and declare they were not feminist. France's former first-lady, Carla Bruni, was at it, observing, “We don’t need to be feminist in my generation,” while singer Katy Perry accepted an award with the contradictory words: “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.”

 
 
 
What a campaign like ‘One Billion Rising’ does, despite its many flaws, is prove that feminism is not the dirty word some would make it out to be.
 
 
 

The same way that Pussy Riot inspired balaclava-clad feminist supporters, or Malala Yousafzai became an inspiration and Nobel Peace Prize-nominee … ‘One Billion Rising’, if it does anything at all, will remind people (importantly, the younger female generation) that feminism is not something to be ashamed of and denounced, à la Mary Berry.

 
 
 

If you think that feminism only happens in secreted conferences amongst like-minded women, or is a buzzword slung around in an election year … think again.

 
 
 

What ‘One Billion Rising’ does, is get feminism out on the streets. The Melbourne event is happening 6 – 7 pm tonight, beginning at Federation Square and continuing across the Princes Bridge to Queen Victoria Gardens. And there are similar joyous dances happening in cities across the globe.

 
 
 

After a year that included Jill Meagher’s tragic death, and the Delhi Gang Rape, ‘One Billion Rising’ is asking everyone to come out and rise up against something that affects us all. Julia Gillard has even come out in support, saying that the violence must stop.

 
 
 

Will dancing on Valentine’s Day help? Will Charlize Theron speaking in a heartfelt ad help combat violence against women? Will changing your Twitter/Facebook profile picture to the ‘One Billion Rising’ logo help? No. But I would debate that this campaign is more than the sum of its pink-coloured, strategically-marketed parts.

 
 
 

‘One Billion Rising’ is far from perfect – but it’s a start. It’s a way to show today’s generation of young women and girls that feminism is not a “dirty word” – that feminism doesn't go away, it just keeps reinventing itself across the generations and right now, with this movement, it’s trying to harness the power of social-media and at least try to puncture collective consciousness.

 
 
 

Yes, most feminists would prefer that the more truthful ‘male violence against women’ be addressed, and that such events be women-only and don’t rely on cloying ad campaigns and catchy dance tunes to ‘spice up’ anti-violence against women. This movement is not perfect – and (if it’s anything like Kony) it may not be here again next year. But right now it’s getting people talking – more importantly, it’s getting young women talking and participating. And maybe, just maybe, it will convince some young girl that contrary, to Katy Perry and Mary Berry's belief, feminism is not a dirty word and she might just grow up embracing it. 


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Why and how I wrote 'Unmaking War, Remaking Men' Posted by Bernadette on 06 Feb 2013
By Kathleen Barry




I did not set out to write a radical feminist book exposing the masculinity and war.  But with the US and Israeli wars and invasions come daily news reports that over and over again distinguish between innocent (civilian, but particularly women and children) and soldiers' in combat. The former are recognized under the Geneva Convention as a protected class, even though in reality they are the everyday victims of male violence in combat. The latter, soldiers in combat, as I show in Unmaking War, Remaking Men, are killable in combat.  They go into combat knowing that, realizing that they may not come out alive and that there is no law or human right that will protect them. Further, society, politics and the military conspire to put their manhood at stake if they do not put their lives in jeopardy.  They are filled with aggression and violence as well as revenge and weapons to keep from getting killed, protect their buddies.  They believe they are protecting their families, wives and children, their communities, their country.

As I began to absorb the implications of making a class of people killable and therefore training them to kill, I realized that I had to understand this more fully. I had never thought about war and combat in that way before and upon reflection realized that most of us who never fight in war zones have not thought about it either.  I decided to write an article to expose this.  The more I wrote and then began to interview soldiers who have been in combat both in the U.S. and abroad, the more I realized that the very core of all of the violence against women I have spent my life fighting against is tied up with the masculinity of war.  The article morphed into a book and took me down many unexpected paths.  In order to unearth the masculinity of war from patriotic myths and just plain ignorance held by those unfamiliar with war zones, I had to understand what the experience of war is for the soldier in combat and what that means to all women everywhere subjected to male violence.

From my experiences of feminist-consciousness raising in the late 1960s and through the 1970s where the personal became political for us through our identification with each others' experiences of male supremacy, intense empathetic listening to personal stories while looking for the political forces that frame them has been my "methodology."  It took the world a long time to catch up with feminist consciousness raising and for the social and psychological sciences to recognize that empathy is a basic characteristic of being human. 


I am a radical feminist and human rights activist and a sociologist who is a researcher.  I look for patterns and when I identify them, I analyze them.  In interviewing men who live in war zones as well as soldiers who are sent by their state, and here I look particularly at the United States, surprising to me was finding that men in and around combat speak of protection, protecting your Palestinian family from Israeli raids, protecting your country from the threat of another 9/11 attack, refusing to think of oneself as "occupied" because it means you have lost your ability to protect your family.  I began to see that this "protection" men we are talking about was their justification for fighting and killing. And when they are out of combat they speak of losing their soul the first time they killed another human being, their words, not mine. And as I show in Unmaking War, Remaking Men, it is perfectly clear that the justification for fighting requires a socialization into violence that enables boys and men to protect themselves so they can protect women and children, that is what I have called "core masculinity" because it appears to be a socialized universal of male domination.


But they do not protect us as I point out in my book and as every feminist and most women who have been subjected to male violence knows. Their violence in war provokes more violence against their people; they bring the violence of war home to abuse their wives and partners. And if all women recognized this we would be much further along in dismantling male domination.  The tragic consequence of female socialization under every patriarchy is found in women who believe their husbands instead of their daughters who come to them saying that daddy had sex with them, the women who buy pornography for their husband and watch it with them, the sugar babies, young women who seek out sugar daddies to put them through college in exchange for a sexual relationship, the women who return with their children to their abusing husbands, the women who buy toy guns and plastic drones for their boys, poles for pole dancing for their girls ...  Indeed girls are socialized into and many women act out siding with men over any woman or girl.  It is the complicity expected of women that makes the myth of the male protector work so effectively in sustaining male supremacy.


I did not find it particularly easy to empathize with men in combat in order to understand their experiences which are so foreign to my own. Nor do I recommend it.  Instead, from that empathy I was able in my book to speak to men in the first person, to appeal to them personally to reject, renounce the manhood of male supremacy.  Further for the last 45 years one focus of my work has been to get men to take responsibility for getting violent, aggressive, raping men off of our backs. In this book, I appeal to men from a standpoint of empathy, with a very clear insistence that it is not women's responsibility to take care of men again. That is, I am asking men to begin with their own personal experiences that set them on the path of violence and aggression, raping and killing and to make the personal political by refusing and insisting that other men refuse that kind of manhood, that political and social expectation of masculinity.


That I know some men (far too few) who rejected or never followed the violent, aggressive path to manhood makes it possible for me to believe that men can and must change. I have chosen, in writing this book, to make that a demand of them in my political activism because the liberation of women from them is always my primary focus.  See Prostitution of Sexuality and Female Sexual Slavery and my article of a few months ago on Abolishing Prostitution which presents the feminist human rights treaty I developed. It became a model for laws feminists struggled to win in states like Sweden and Norway. Both books brought me into an activism that has had its costs, but its rewards are in seeing and supporting the women who have freed themselves from prostitution and come to the forefront of a global feminist movement to abolish it. 


Feminism is not one singular set of strategies and commitments. As the movement of liberation it cannot thrive under dogmatic beliefs. Many of us come to feminism deeply harmed by men, and far too many turn their anger against other feminists.  I am keenly aware that many feminists will place their commitments elsewhere than the arenas I have chosen.  It’s the optimist in me that makes me believe that when we are all working for the liberation of women at all levels of society and from every kind of domination, we will eventually all meet up together.


Kathleen Barry


Santa Rosa, California


January 28, 2013

http://www.spinifexpress.com.au/Bookstore/book/id=209/
http://www.kathleenbarry.net/ 






 






 

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Spinifex Book Giveaway for Global Women of Color Posted by Bernadette on 29 Jan 2013


By: Marilyn Dell Brady    

Writings by global women of color have exploded many of my assumptions.  These women, and the characters in their books, are not the homogeneous, victimized masses that “Third World women” are sometimes stereotyped to be.  Neither are they “just like me,” or would be if they’d only “progress.”  They are diverse and particular women, each with her own experiences, choices, and perspectives.  As a woman, I can empathize with their characters’ concerns over husbands, lovers, and children as well as with their involvement in events outside their homes, but their situations and priorities are simply not my own.  Reading about them I can understand how limited my own sense of reality is and expand my own sense of what it means to be a woman and a human being.

My 2013 Global Women of Color Challenge and Blog grew out my experience reading books which these women have written.  I created it to encourage others to read them and to make a place where we can share what we are feeling and learning.  People can sign up at various levels: 1) Structured reading of ten books from different continents. 2) Unstructured reading. 3) Not committing yourself to particular books, but following the blog and entering relevant reviews and commentis.  We are putting together a master list of the books we read and review.  I am also working on an easy way for us to discuss what we are reading.  Come join us at gwcbooks.wordpress.com.

Of course, global women of color may choose not to write about the women in their cultures or countries.  Any author chooses whether or not to write about how race, gender, religion, and all the rest play out in the society they know best.  Really good authors can write about a range of people and places, if they are willing to be sensitive and learn about them.  Most authors, however, draw on their own experiences and can give us nuances and details that outsiders miss.  That is part of the unique power of their writing.

More importantly, wherever they live, women of color bring their own perspectives to their writing.  African American historian, Elsa Barkley Brown, suggests that we can “pivot” into the lives of others.  We don’t need to become who they are, but we need to taste what their lives are like in order to honor and learn from their experiences.  Books by global women of color allow us to do just that.  We can learn to accept and celebrate our differences rather than fear them.

In the globalized world we live in, many women of color no longer live in the societies and cultures in which they were born.  Their books often deal with immigrant and expatriate experiences.   These women are literally and figuratively at the boundaries of the new and the old.  As Gloria Anduzala, a Chicana raised near the boundary between the USA and Mexico explains, living in borderlands is often painful, but it provides an unique perspective.  We can all learn from what authors from borderlands can teach us. 

“Western” feminists (usually white, financially secure women of North America, Europe, and Australia) often seem to understand the need for their movement to address the needs of women across lines of race, class, religion, and nationality.  Yet understanding in the abstract lacks any concrete information of the actual lives and  provides little empathy for real women.  Books by global women of color can help us fill that gap in our knowledge and in our understanding.  Reading novels pulls us into the hearts and minds of diverse women so we empathize with their choices and honor the decisions that are different from what ours would be.  

And the writings of global women of color are often simply very, very good.  Seldom is learning something you need to know so enjoyable.

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Spinifex Press is helping the  Global Women of Color Challenge by offering up five books for a give-away. More details can be found here


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Remembering the Canberra Fires: Being there Posted by Bernadette on 23 Jan 2013


By: Julie Lewis
 

On 18 Jan 2003 Julie Lewis was caught up in the Canberra fire. There were no warnings and the fire took off in a built up area. I read this as an email on a list-serve several days later and have never forgotten the impact of the writing. When I saw the tenth anniversary of the fire on TV last Friday, I immediately thought of Julie's email. Fortunately, she was able to find it. Given the impact of fires on so many communities in Australia this summer, this is a reminder of how it feels. Susan Hawthorne, Publisher

 
______________________________________________________________


My power only returned about 15 minutes ago – after 36 hours of no power, water, phone and sewers backed up everywhere ... I was about to go into my work, to get access to a hot cup of coffee and enough power to check to my e-mails etc, when the power returned.


The worst hit areas of the fires, were in my district – I live next-door suburb to Duffy – we evacuated along with everyone else in a calm controlled panic – one carload of several thousand fleeing for their lives – I'm still freaking in a quiet way.


I only saw TV news for the first time at my sister's place over north side late last night, it was much, much worse – worst in the nation's history, and no exaggeration, and a miracle that more lives weren't lost– as there were no warnings, there were no firemen ... (we found out later they had been caught on the other side of the fires when they jumped 5,10,15 km in a matter of minutes ...)


A cliche maybe – but it happened so fast...


All week, huge fires raging to the west of us in the mountains, about 50-60 km away – no great drama, pink/orange smoke haze casting peculiar light, eerie shadows – could look directly at the sun, a neon orange ball. Sorta alien and pretty in a way.  Saturday was no different – a bit windier perhaps, a bit smokier maybe – the shadows in the weird light and dimmed orange sun, maybe a bit more peculiar.


At noon – I was returning home from the nearby Weston RSPCA puppy classes and the car radio news mentioned briefly (about item number 3) – that the fires to the west of us had moved closer, about 25-30 km away and firefighters were stressed up in the ranges having been fighting all week to contain them.


At 2.30 pm – my daughter Kara returns home from work, we mention the strange eerie light as most people had done all week.  Still no concern – but we found out later, that some mild "alerts" had gone out at 2.30 pm – asking people in 23 suburbs to return home and make preparations, but no major panic – just a "precaution".


At 3 pm – I hear low-flying fire choppers and look outside and it is as black as midnight on a moonless night, the power flickers, the street lights come on – I wander outside to see what’s happening, its thick with embers, wind screaming – can't see a metre and start choking with the smoke – (I thought I must have blacked out or fallen asleep for about 8 hours it was so black, so sudden – there was no sun, there was not even so much as a pale spot where the sun should be) but at first I wanted to laugh at my neighbour panicking and soaking their house and hurrying their family in their car etc – we are relatively far in from the open bushland a few km away up the ridge above us – those up the hill backing onto the ridge behind us are in danger and then it will burn itself out – if it was a "normal fire" --- but it wasn't a normal fire ...


Until I turned around to look at the western ridge – that sight is burned onto my retinas ---- Holy F&*&*!!! I screamed – a huge wall of flames was racing down the ridge, less than a km away – and huge balls of fire - bouncing like a basketball down the hill...moving so fast ... bounce, bounce ... taking 5 houses here, bouncing another km to the north, then south, then east  – just bouncing and taking another chunk of neighbourhood on each bounce – just engulfing with a *whoosh*....then the explosions, one huge one like an atom bomb a few blocks away – (later found out it was a petrol station – that whooshed in less than 60 secs, taking a 4-storey block of flats with it) ... other explosions were cars, trees etc exploding.


Still there were no alarms – indeed, most of us were told to stay in our homes – I screamed at Kara to pack essentials in the car and we started hosing down the house – she called her fiance – he also lived nearby and was returning on the bus from his work after his workplace relayed an alert for his suburb.


He called to say he was dumped by the bus at a nearby shopping centre – and could go no further – so we were going to pick him up there.  My son and other daughter I thought would be safe on their side of town.  I rang my sister over north side and told her we were on our way just seconds before all the power went down, and phones and water. 


Still the radio was saying for people to stay home – but my entire street had all gone, and we joined the queue – only one road out still clear – and the fireballs were still bouncing, several kilometres inside the so-called "bushland outer suburbs" – then even the mobile phones went down – no signals, and network busy for the next 12 hours ... (the nearby mobile towers had whooshed) it quickly became clear that I wasn't going to get north side in a hurry – with only road out – but no phones made it impossible to get a message through to my sister – one road blocked – all street lights, traffic lights gone – unable to see more than a vague ember lit outline of the car in front or to the lanes each side – but the radio mentioned an evac centre nearby – so we headed there.


My son-in-law to be ... found his parents friends who he was living with at the evac centre – lost everything, so many, so many pouring in to the centre – people we know, families my kids have grown up with – 2 young women I've known since Kindergarten pour in – they had stayed in their house because the radio told them to, their parents at work couldn't call in or get their in time – they had run down the hill for their lives following fleeing cars when the fire-storm reached the house next-door –


5.30 pm – the light clears up – from midnight black to pinky/orange twilight – calls from my neighbourhood have said it’s eased, I choose to head back. Kara and Jessie are collapsed with his family – their whole street whooshed to ash in less than a minute –


I said I was going back to my place – by this stage I was frantic about looters as well – still no fucking phones to be had for love or money.  My son shows up however – he was on the bus to come over to my place to visit for the afternoon when the buses dumped him out at the nearby evac centre bus-stop! 


So my son and I head back to my house – my fence is scorched, and the entire neighbourhood is layered in ash – the bouncing basketball missed us – but still no phones etc – road-blocks everywhere – reports coming in of the bouncing basketball having moved further in to the east – shopping centres over 10 km from any bushland are exploding. The bouncing basketball has jumped 5, 10, 15 km across the city in each bounce flaring every ridge, hilltop and mountain to the south, and east of us. 


At 6 pm – I still can't get through by phone – my sister over north side must be frantic wondering where I am ... the traffic has eased. So Reubs and I head north to my sister's, since I can't call her I may as well tell her in person! She feeds us, but I head back and drive my son to his home which has power at least in a safe area.  Still can't get through to my daughter – but headed back to the evac centre to check with my other daughter and her fiance and his family.


The radio says the evac centre is being evacuated again to the east! The fires have jumped the freeway into the centre – the city-wide emergency defence force coordination centre itself is down! Also, 5000 people have poured into the centre in the hour I was away up north side! 


Couldn't get through on her phone, and thinking I'd never find them amongst a crowd of thousands either by 8 pm – and still worried about looters at my place, I finally get through a dozen road-blocks back to my place (Duffy the worst hit is next-door to me, and like hundreds of others I'm aghast at the devastation) – most of my immediate neighbours have returned by 8 pm, and so I went next-door to my friend and stayed with them glued to a tinny walkman radio until about 2 am, before trying to sleep.


Sunday – the neighbourhood is bad, – I meet up with many more driving around in a daze looking for a shop, a cup of coffee, fresh milk, bread –anything – power was out to about 10,000 homes over a wide section, and even those with power weren't open with so many in confusion and no communications – sewerage had gone, some backing up – no water – although some did – but filthy – phones are patchy – one house has a working phone, next-door doesn't ... mobiles are still all out over a wide section ...


I literally run into my other daughter at the nearest shopping centre with power – apparently, she had been freaking out and looking for me all Saturday afternoon/evening, returning to my house, obviously missing me on each pass through – and had stayed the night at a friend’s house nearby to mine! (I thought she would have been sensible and headed home to her place over north side which was safe, so didn't give her a second thought :) 


We spent Sunday buying some clothes for Jessie, crying with friends and neighbours, trying to find ice, petrol, cold drinks etc – but the entire district for many miles is down – and with so many affected, many workplaces even with power have no staff and are closed till further notice.


But anyway, power returned this morning, but its a sad place – there are still sirens and choppers screaming everywhere.



Mon, 20 Jan 2003


Julie Lewis, armchair feminist, Canberra


______________________________________________________________ 


It took many years for much of the Canberra bushland to recover. Many parts of the National Park bordering the western suburbs remain closed ten years later as the damage was so severe, from exploded rock escarpments and mountain earth-slides from the extensive deforestation. 


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