The ‘Red Emergency Warning’ on our Alert SA Apps is the one to fear if the map covers your home. Unless you have a house that is defendable you should have already left the area. By this stage, the roads out may be blocked. Safety now lies remaining in your home and you hope that the CFS (Country Fire Service) will come and help you. The CFS publish recommendations on what to do when a firefront goes over your house. You just hope you have read and remember them.
‘You are now in danger. Take shelter in a solid building. … For updates listen to your local ABC radio station on a battery powered radio.’
Yesterday, a fire started in the Adelaide Hills, 17 kms to our south-west. The fire quickly exploded into the Cherry Gardens’ eucalyptus forests and the hills and steep valleys of the precious Scott Creek Conservation Park. Many koalas and other slow-moving animals have perished.
It is now reported that the fire was deliberately lit. There were various ignition spots. The alleged perpetrator was apprehended at the scene – a 60 year old man 3 times over our legal alcohol limit.
Over 400 fire fighters battled the fire on the 42 degree day as it spread towards some larger towns. The fire quickly burnt 2,700 hectares destroying 17 out-buildings and at least 2 homes. No deaths reported. People evacuated their horses and other animals onto cricket ovals and many messages of support went out on social media. The fire had a perimeter of 28 kms.
This morning, still hot, we awoke to the strong smell of smoke and the sight of Adelaide covered in grey. Many people posted pictures of the immense clouds forming over the Hills.
We watched the weather maps for the promised rain. At first the weather system slid past us to the south, to Kangaroo Island, but in the early afternoon the rain came: over 30 mm fell over the fire ground. It was most welcome. I took our dog walking in the warm rain. However, it will take more than one day of rain to put out this fire. It will smoulder in the forests, in the burning logs.
They have not yet counted the cost in terms of the conservation park and its wealth of native creatures.
Images taken from the Channel 9 News and on the right, a waterfall on our driveway.
First, I have to record my joy at the events of 20 January, 2021. What a relief!
When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this
When you don’t need to worry there’ll be days like this When no one’s in a hurry there’ll be days like this When you don’t get betrayed by that old Judas kiss Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this
When you don’t need an answer, there’ll be days like this When you don’t meet a chancer there’ll be days like this When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit it Then I must remember there’ll be days like this …
Surely, Van Morrison had in mind one of those rare times when (unexpectedly) everything comes right. When you can live fully in the moment, be somewhere special with those you love, and suddenly realise that what you are feeling is contentment and it might even be the edge of happiness.
I have to say that when Biden and Harris were sworn in and there were no untoward incidents, I felt we (those who felt Trump was a disaster for the USA and for the World) could not ask for more. It was a rocky ride from election night, with the uncertainty of the following days, waiting through the 62 election law suits Trump raised (61 failed and he raised US$200 million to fight them). The courts held firm, the electoral system held firm and finally Mike Pence did not roll over in the face of the attacking mob, enraged by Trump.
So, for a little while, we can bask in the sense that we might be heading to a more stable, sensible, kind USA, led by a team of people prepared to roll back Trump’s xenophobic enactments.
On the other hand, here at home in South Australia, today is one of those summer days when the temperatures rises over 40°, we draw the curtains against the glare and the hot windows, we huddle inside and hope the power is not cut.
It is hard to describe just how strange it is when the temperature is 35° at 8.30 am with a strong gusty wind and the humidity level is around 14%. These are dangerous numbers. We were up early watering and switching on the sprinklers. We put out basins of water for the birds, the koalas and the bees. I noticed our resident koala climbing down out of a tree. They know what kind of day it is going to be. In the mid-afternoon when the temperature was 40 degrees C (104F), I looked for and found him – or found his grey furry back as he is buried deep in a pile of succulents at the base of the tree – seeking some sort of shelter.
We have not had rain for weeks and the countryside is brown and tinder dry. The eucalyptus trees around our house are dropping their leaves and our gutters gather their wind-blown drifts.
We are all recommended to have an emergency ‘Bushfire Survival Plan’ for days such as this. ‘Be Bushfire Ready!’
The first decision is whether to go or to stay and that decision must be made long before any fire front is close. Most deaths during catastrophic fire events are due to people leaving their properties too late. Some of our friends, who live in the Adelaide Hills surrounded by forest, pack their dogs, cats and other precious items in the car and spend the day in town with relatives. They realise there is no way that they can defend their houses which are surrounded by towering eucalyptus.
Our plan is to STAY and defend, in the event of a bushfire. We are on the fringe of the city fringe facing north. The dangerous fires come from the north with a hot wind out of the centre of Australia. We are sort of prepared. But most dangerous is an ember attack and that can come from any direction.
On the top of our house there are water sprinklers. The plan is that the water will fill the gutters (we have to block the down-pipes with sand-filled socks) and prevent flying embers getting sucked into the roof. But the sprinklers are powered by an electric motor and in the event of a fire in this area the power would most likely be turned off.
We also have a petrol fire pump, which I would struggle to start! In the house, we keep a bucket in the laundry filled with the gear that you would need in the event of firefighting: leather gloves, cotton long-sleeved shirts, blankets, etc. (No artificial materials that melt on your skin).
Finally, we have a ‘bolt hole’ under the house with a fireproof door and backed by the water tank – where we store our wine!
We all have smart phone apps (Alert-SA) that warn us of any fire within a circle of say, 10 km. You can see from the image where the current fires are in South Australia. At the moment, there are 12 fires listed and only three of these are ‘contained’. Every time I look, there is another fire listed. One larger fire, Cherry Brook, is on the edge of getting into a precious national park called Scott Creek. They also list how many ‘units’ (think fire-trucks and aircraft) are attending the fire and what type of fire it is. (grass, forest, vehicle, building …)
This time last year Australia, was ravaged by fire like never before. Since then, with La Niña we have had rains in most of the country and the drought is over but for a few isolated patches. Even so, summer means fire season for us in South Australia – the driest state in the driest continent in the world. ‘On a continual quest for water’.
UPDATE ON THE 2021 AUSTRALIAN OPEN.
Today it has been reported that 10 of the 72 people associated with the Aussie Open (players, coaches and supporters), all who are in quarantine, are infected with Covid-19 and 3 of them have the new UK Covid-19 variant strain. The player, Paula Badosa, who complained about quarantine rules, has now tested positive. She is now apologising profusely. Three of the 15 flights chartered by Aussie Open Admin for the players had infected people on board.
Victoria State has had 18 days without community transmission, they certainly don’t want any infection to escape due to the 2021 Aussie Open being held in Melbourne.
In the days to come, more news will surely evolve from this tennis story!
Our son, David, was a professional tennis player on the ATP Circuit for 15 years until 2003. Every January we would be at the Australian Open in Melbourne supporting him: sitting on the sidelines anxiously watching match after match. David succeeded as a Men’s doubles and Mixed doubles player and won two Grand Slam titles and 19 ATP titles.
The Australian Open (AO) is one of the ITF’s four Grand Slams on the circuit and a ‘must-attend’ for every professional tennis player. Just getting into the main draw is a huge achievement. The money and points they can earn at the Grand Slams is a major drawcard for all players. The players all say they love coming to Australia and the tournament is well run. Sometimes they would play run-up tournaments in Brisbane or New Zealand or in Dubai on the way.
I need hardly explain how big an event this tournament is for Australians, for all tennis enthusiasts and for sports fans worldwide. If you did not get tickets to attend Melbourne Park, two weeks in January were spent watching the tennis on TV. The sound of the ball smacking back and forth was a backdrop to our days. We did not have to stay up until the midnight hours as we had to for the French Open or Wimbledon. The AO is our local Grand Slam.
With Covid-19 changing our world, holding the Australian Open was put in doubt. How to bring players, their coaches and their entourage to Australia safely? How to manage the crowds?
It was finally negotiated that the AO would be delayed to begin on February 8th, that players would come in early and quarantine for 2 weeks and then play. Qualifying rounds were to be held offshore in Dubai (men) and Doha (women). All teams would be tested before they leave, and when they arrived on our shores. During quarantine they would be allowed out to practice and exercise for 5 hours a day in controlled circumstances. What could go wrong?
Tickets have gone on sale with special arrangements in place. ‘The Australian Open has a new game plan to ensure the safety of everyone onsite. As part of this focus, the Melbourne Park precinct will be divided into three zones, each including one of our three major arenas. Each zone offers its own unique combination of live experiences, food and beverage and tennis action. Please note that your ticket is specific to a zone, and travel between zones is not permitted after entry.‘
It all seemed set to go ahead smoothly. Except ….
The new covid-19 strain is very infectious. Apparently three people on the first tennis-player charter flight tested negative when they left LA and were found to be positive when they landed: one crew member, one coach and one journalist. All the people on that flight have now been put into HARD quarantine. Since then, passengers on another two flights with AO players and supporters have been found to be infected and all passengers have joined the others. Now 72 players are in hard lockdown quarantine. (Some of these details are now in dispute – were the infected people really infectious or were they just ‘viral shedding’ and not infections? A fine point.)
This means, no practicing, no leaving of their hotel rooms. There is much complaining! Tennis players don’t like being confined. They have honed their skills and their training to reach peak performance at the AO, the first of the four Grand Slams. The difference between winning and losing (often after 4 hours on court for the men) might come down to one or two points. You have to be on top of your game.
And there is the money!
A first-round loser in the main draw wins $100,000 (USD 76,850). The total pool of prize money is $80 million AUD. The prize pool has increased 12% from last year. And your chances of getting past the first round are enhanced if you are seeded. Seeding depends mostly on ranking and ranking depends on your ATP points. Here is the men’s ranking.
Ranking depend on points earned in tournaments. More points means higher ranking and less chance of being knocked out in the first rounds. The points are accumulated and drop off when you play the same tournament the next year. Thus, all those players who did well in the 2020 AO will be defending those points this year. They don’t want to miss out.
And players are skittish. They are highly tuned physically and mentally and the idea of being subject to HARD lockdown is causing great anxiety. Based on the timing, they will have one week to get back into fitness before the tournament begins.
Novak Djokovic, the former president of the ATP Player Council, and no 1 ranked men’s singles player, has demanded that Tennis Australia provides ‘equal and better conditions for all players stuck in quarantine’.
Here are his demands:
Fitness and training material in all rooms.
Decent food for all players, after a number of players complained about their food on day one of quarantine.
Fewer overall days of isolation for the players hotel quarantine, while also carrying out more COVID tests.
Permission for players to visit their coach or physical trainer, as long as both have passed COVID tests.
Permission for players and coaches to be on the same floor of the hotel, if they pass COVID tests.
Relocation of many tennis players as possible to private houses with a court for their isolation period.
Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, was NOT sympathetic. He has said that the rules applied to the tennis players were the same for everyone else: that they were advised of the conditions before they left and they knew the risks. There’s no negotiating with him!
Some media are saying that the AO will not go ahead, others say it must be delayed. And then there is a vocal outcry about allowing ANY players in. After all, 37,000 Australians are struggling to get back home. Emirates airlines have cancelled all flights to three major Australian centres (they will still fly into Perth) due to ‘operational requirements’. They say it is not economical. No more Emirates. Our government is now promising they will charter 20 flights to bring Australians home. Due to arrival restriction in major cities these flights will land in Northern Territory, Canberra and Tasmania.
At first, in March 2020, all Australians took careful note of the dos and don’ts, the rules and regulations – as a nation. There was a unity between the states.
And then there wasn’t.
On April 3rd last year, Premier Mark McGowan closed the West Australian border to the eastern states for the first time in Australian history. And suddenly, Premiers found their higher calling. Each one could now command their state like a mini-nation and this would only increase their popularity. Just too tempting.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was not slow to realise this. Her Labor government faced an election in October. In August 2020, with the LNP, the Opposition party, gathering strength and with Victoria still in lockdown, the Queensland premier closed the border. Labor won the election with an increased majority. They are calling it the ‘border wars’.
Each state premier is mirroring Palaszczuk’s statement: ‘And today is the day that we say we are putting Queenslanders first.’
The thing is the borders of the mainland states are not sharply defined, particularly between Victoria, NSW and Queensland and to a lesser extent, South Australia. The border towns are now beset with problems of access to services: to schools and hospitals. Farms extend across borders.
At no stage have the number of infected people reached the percentages of Europe or the USA but we all realise that the virus is so infectious that it does not take much relaxation in the rules for it to become uncontrollable.
So now we have 7 sets of rules and specific use of language from the 7 states and territories to be considered. And more specifically: your own state’s rules, which change regularly with the ebb and flow of outbreaks, and the rules for states where you plan to travel or where your family are.
It’s plain confusing.
South Australia: as of January 12, all travellers coming to South Australia are required to complete a Cross Border Travel Registration. Our authorities have declared areas to be ‘High’ and ‘Low Community Transmission Zones’. Rules apply to each of these if you desire to enter South Australia. There are special rules for border areas – a ‘Cross Border Community Travel Zone’. Applications are required.
Rules are changed so often and are so confusing that often the police and border officials get it wrong. And this is quite apart from mask-wearing rules.
Other government COVID-19 website travel information
Victoria has just come up with a brilliant new idea: coloured zones! They have green, orange and red zones. Like a traffic light. Which means everyone entering Victoria must apply for a permit – even from WA or South Australia. We have had no community spread cases since mid-November last year.
‘These are the rules as per the Victorian government. If you have been in:
a green zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and enter Victoria. Once in Victoria you should watch for symptoms and get tested should you feel unwell.
an orange zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and will have to take a coronavirus (COVID-19) test within 3 days of your arrival in Victoria and isolate until you receive a negative test result.
a red zone, you will only be able to apply for a permit as a permitted worker, or to transit through Victoria to another state or territory. You may also apply for an exemption. Exemptions are only granted in special cases. If you try to enter Victoria by road without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be turned away. If you attempt to enter via an airport or seaport without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be fined $4957. Victorians will be required to quarantine at home, and others will be sent back.
a NSW-Victorian cross-border community. If you are a resident, you will be able to enter Victoria without a permit, but you must carry photo ID and proof of your address. ’
The Australian newspaper makes the comment today: ‘The extreme approaches of Victoria and WA are out of all proportion with Australia’s COVID-19 caseload. The nation had four new cases of community transmission on Monday, all of them in NSW. Nobody is in intensive care. The maze of confusing, costly, job-destroying over-regulation by some states is now intolerable…. But … the commonwealth (government) lacks the constitutional power to force states to open borders or abandon their ludicrous red tape.’
We were hoping to holiday on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria at the end of February. It’s not looking very promising. Point one: can we get through the border? Point two. When we are there, will South Australian stop us coming back home or make us go into quarantine?
To travel or not to travel, the decision awaits us.
It’s been hot and dry and rain-less for weeks. Not ultra-hot – which is defined as a series of days over 40C but oscillating around 30 degrees C. The soil is hard and even if you dig a foot down, there is no moisture. We are watering daily: sprinklers and drippers in a series of timings around the house. When I go out, I fill six 2litre old milk bottles with water and take them in my car to water the smaller trees along our driveway.
Note the liklihood of rain: On Tuesday, 5% chance of less than 1 mm … so it goes.
We fill our bird baths twice a day for the bees that gather around the edges and for the birds that congregate early and late. No koalas have yet come down to drink in the daytime this summer.
La Niña is indeed bringing cooler weather and rain, but not to us in South Australia. It is raining almost everywhere else. The map of Australia is no longer filled with emergency red coloured areas of desperation. Drought remains only in isolated unlucky spots.
‘The presence of La Niña increases the chance of widespread flooding. Of the 18 La Niña events since 1900 (including multi-year events ) 12 have resulted in floodsfor some parts of Australia, with the east coast experiencing twice as many severe floods during La Niña years than El Niño years. Typically, some areas of northern Australia will experience flooding during La Niña because of the increase in tropical cyclone numbers. The relationship between La Niña strength and rainfall is closely linked.’
Sadly, this rainfall is not reaching us, but at least we have not had the fiercest of summers, nor a winter without rain. However, we are all very conscious of water availability and usage. Metered water is not cheap in Adelaide.
All evening, a single yellow-tailed black cockatoo has been flying around our house and the valley calling and wailing. It sounds desperate. These cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are monogamous and mate for life. For sure this cockatoo had lost its mate. We often see flocks of them in summer. They are most elegant flyers with a taste for the nuts inside the cones of radiata pines. In the past, fishermen used to shoot these magnificent birds to get the grubs from their gizzards – grubs that the birds had extracted from eucalypts. Our bird cried mournfully. I hope the mate has not met some misadventure.
A Painting of the Outback
Yesterday, I went to the cinema to see a film called ‘The Dry’ based on the eponymous book by Jane Harper. It is a murder mystery set during drought times in a small town in the desolate wheatlands of NW Victoria – the Mallee Wimmera. For anyone who has no concept of how drought affects Australian farming communities, watch this film and you will get an idea of this country of extreme weather.
There is no problem with going to the cinema at the moment. We all checked in at the cinema entrance with our phones against the QR code reader, we sanitised our hands and we were allocated seats according to some social distancing formula. No one was wearing a mask.
This all might change. This long weekend, greater Brisbane is in total lockdown. 2 million people. It’s all because one worker, a cleaner in a medi-hotel, contracted the new UK strain of the virus from a quarantined UK traveller. During the time before the cleaner become ill and was tested, she wandered around and they say up to 800 people might have been in contact. So, everyone is holding thumbs.
How can we seal our borders to this virulent mutated virus (501 and 117)? We are told sad stories of Australian families desperate to return home. Yet already we are in catchup with the virus escaping in NSW from an international traveller and the same happened in South Australia 2 months ago.
Today PM, Scott Morrison announced measures that they hope will reduce the odds of this happening. Masks on international and domestic flights are now mandatory (that does not seem to be much help for an 8-12 hr flight). Flight numbers will be reduced; testing pre- and post-flight are required. Pre-boarding rapid tests will be required for UK travellers to Australia. Surely this will make it harder for the virus to find its way in. Once more, I am not hopeful!
Update. Our Australian state borders are closing once more. The fight continues as countries try to stop this virus killing more people. There are numbers I have read in the media, from the UK, from the USA, from South Africa that tell a story of more infections than ever before, of more deaths per day. Numbers.
And every one of those infected people facing possible death holds a personal story. My daughter in Seattle said her friend’s father, aged 80+, is dying of Covid-19 but won’t go to ICU because he refuses to leave his wife. How many children in South Africa cannot find a hospital place for their infected father or mother because there are no beds available? No oxygen, no remdesivir, no comfort in their final hours.
Back to Sydney, NSW. It appears that the virus has spread into greater Sydney. There is now a ‘Cronulla’ cluster and various more cases where the connections to known cases is unclear. Yet still Premier Gladys Berejiklian has not mandated masks (Victoria has) and continues to stand by her decision to allow the New Year’s cricket test (Australia vs India) to go ahead at the Sydney Cricket ground. Up to 20,000 spectators will be allowed (50% capacity). This seems reckless. You only have to look back to Europe and the February 19 soccer match in Bergamo, Italy, between Altlanta and Valancia. This is now regarded as a ‘super-spreader’ event.
True, our numbers are low. 10 more cases today in NSW and 3 in Victoria (after 2 months of no community spread). But, by now, we all know that it only takes a few infected people to explode the virus into the community.
World News. The problem with world news is that its seldom happy, seldom uplifting. We wake up for the 6.30 or 7am news. For months it has not been a good start to the day. Too efficient, our ABC find every bad event around the world. Maybe that is the nature of this pandemic year; maybe, being anxious, we home in on bad news that confirms our night-time fears.
Behind all this news of the virus, the environmental news is likewise miserable. Are the harvesters and destroyers of our wild animals and wild places getting bolder under cover of the pandemic? It is likely.
Before I was a bird-watcher in South Africa, I was interested in native orchids and trees. Durban, semi-tropical with a rich soil, had many remnant native forest reserves as well as magnificent old street trees.
I have this distinct memory from some time in the 1960s, of being driven around Durban North by an estate agent when we were looking to buy our first home. We drove into a street of flowering erythrina trees (the coral tree).
My estate agent said, ‘Erythrina crista-galli’.
‘WHAT? Say that again?’ I said, for I had never heard the scientific name of a tree said out aloud. It was beautiful, like a three-word poem.
I didn’t buy a house, I learnt the name of a tree.
I was hooked, mesmerised. At some stage, we collected the brown bean-like seeds of this tree and my young daughter planted them outside her bedroom window. Very quickly one took and grew big enough to hold a bird table, big enough to develop its own generous cascades of red blooms.
My life-long interest in trees had begun. The street trees of Durban are a year-round spectacle, a demonstration of the fecundity of immigrants: avenues of Latin America’s jacarandas, of Madagascar’s flamboyant, Delonix regia, of India’s golden shower, Cassia fistula, of the dark and solid Natal mahogany, Trichilia emetica which housed the roosting flocks of feral Indian Myna birds.
When you are a birdwatcher you appreciate trees and the rest: the wild places. Hence, when we retired in South Australia, almost 20 years ago, we bought a larger property on the city edge with lots of bush and we set about removing feral olive trees and planting native trees and bushes.
The bird life we now have is nothing short of delightful. We are an oasis on the hillside.
Superb blue wren, New Holland honeyeater
We were helped by an organisation in South Australia called Trees for Life. They supply appropriate native seeds, the wherewithal to plant them and the advice of how to care for them. In such a manner you can easily raise 60, 120 seedlings in one season for your own property. A gift for the future.
Ancient eucalypts near Adelaide, Australia, surviving drought and fire.
Maybe as you get older you become more determined – and fierce – in your views. I get most unhappy when I hear about the clearing of old-growth forests. Australia is guilty – big time – forests are still being cleared in Queensland and in other states. Our record is not good at all. The land cleared in Queensland is for agriculture – mostly for beef production. The (cruel) live export trade remains strong.
This week the news contained a non-virus story but still upsetting. Ancient, remnant trees in NE Namibia, in the semi-desert lands near the Okavango, are being cut down and exported to China. An investigation shows criminal elements in conjunction with Namibian elite are destroying in wholesale fashion these valuable ancient, African rosewood, Zambezi teak, and Kiaat trees.
Humans come and go, each of us takes from the world, from the environment. Huge trees are survivors, bearing the marks of their efforts. To harvest 700-year-old trees from marginal communities is criminal.
I wish you all a Happy New Year. I am sorry, it is hardly likely to be so.
There is always poetry. Here is a poignant one to finish the year.
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, All felled, felled, are all felled; Of a fresh and following folded rank Not spared, not one That dandled a sandalled Shadow that swam or sank On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew — Hack and rack the growing green! Since country is so tender To touch, her being só slender, That, like this sleek and seeing ball But a prick will make no eye at all, Where we, even where we mean To mend her we end her, When we hew or delve: After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve Strokes of havoc unselve The sweet especial scene, Rural scene, a rural scene, Sweet especial rural scene.
December 27. UPDATE. So Christmas is over and we are still (holiday-less) in Adelaide while the virus bubbles away in Sydney, NSW. The numbers testing positive are low – yesterday 7, today 5 more positive cases have been diagnosed in the ‘Avalon’ Cluster that now stands at 130. NSW Health have conducted over 4 million tests. The Northern Beaches area of Sydney has gone back into lockdown. Our famous New Year’s Eve Sydney fireworks will go ahead in a shortened 7-minute form, but no public will be allowed on the foreshore lining the harbour. (Often a million people gather). Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant, said that people are testing positive 11-12 days after infection so she justified the requirement stipulating 14 days of isolation after contact with an infected person. Serological testing is showing that the majority of cases are connected to the Avalon outbreak.
Obviously, we remain vulnerable to infection outbreaks with any international arrivals. All arrivals into Australia are significantly down but still enough people are arriving for it to be a challenge for quarantine management at ports of entry. In November 2020, just under 30,000 people arrived from overseas, divided almost equally between Australian citizens and others. (Compare with a year ago: November 2019, 746,080 Australian citizens arrived and 978,440 non-Australians arrived).
Tonight, it was announced that the new strain of the virus, B117, from the UK, which is shutting international borders has been detected in six travellers arriving into Australia from the UK: two are in South Australia. These individuals are all in hotel quarantine. Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, says Australia will not be banning flights from the UK.
I note that our neighbour, Indonesia, is requiring all international arrivals to have a negative Covid-19 (PCR) test done within two days before arrival. Hotel quarantine is also required. But no international tourists are allowed into Indonesia. Australian immigration do not require arrivals to show recent test results but there is media discussion asking, why not?
All the recent news and discussions about the virus shows how we are all learning more and more: how it is highly infectious; how better to treat people; how poorer countries are suffering and their death rates are under-reported, how we need to worry about the rise of mutations. We are all learning the language of epidemiologists and vaccine research. Experts abound!
I am reading Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen, (Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe) a history more about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire under Emperor Justinian (527-565CE) than the pandemic. While only part of the book is about this bubonic plague there are many parallels to reflect on.
‘During these times, there was a pestilence, by which the whole human race came near to being annihilated.’ (Quoted by William Rosen in Justinian’s Flea by historian, Procopius of Caesarea.)
The medical treatment of the 6th Century was ‘weighted towards spells, folk remedies and charms’ including saint’s relics and magic amulets‘ (page 212). Application of cold and hot water was suggested. The only possible respite seemed to have been in the use of the opium poppy juice! Procopius of Caesarea blamed the plague on Emperor Justinian. Other Christian leaders blamed the plague on peoples’ wickedness. Millions died: between 20 and 50% of the population over the 200 years as the waves of infection criss-crossed Europe and Middle-eastern empires.
Nowadays, we too have magic treatments and strange advice: Trump’s internal UV light treatment, alternative medications (Chloroquine), garlic, drinking water every 15 minutes to wash the virus into the stomach; saline nasal washes and avoiding 5G networks.
The Plague of Justinian arrived in 542 CE with the ubiquitious rats on the grain shipments from Egypt and thence through the Mediterranean shipping lanes to ports and onward along the Roman roads (in carts bearing grain with the hidden black rats carrying the fleas) into the interior. The main plague was zoonotic so depended on the movement of Rattus rattus.
At first, our Covid-19 pandemic spread through air travellers – so much faster than Justinian’s plague.
William Rosen argues that Justinian’s plague changed history: it weakened the waring empires of the Romans and the Persians (the Sassanid Empire). Justinian was unable to extend his initial reconquest successes in Italy. The way was open for the rise of the Islamic people led at first by the righteous caliphs.
And so with us. It is arguable that both the USA, UK and hence the EU have been weakened by recent events coupled with popularist leaders in the UK and USA. It has hastened the rise of China to world economic significance and power. But on the other hand, without Covid-19, Trump might have been re-elected. His and his administration’s mishandling of the pandemic was enough in the forefront of citizens’ concerns to persuade those vacillating voters to cast a vote for Biden.
The Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was an H1N1 virus originating in birds, probably in North America. My father, Mervyn Smithyman, (1911-2008) loved to tell stories of his childhood in Nyasaland (Malawi) where the family moved after the First World War. But before that, my grandfather was with the South African Army in German East Africa fighting General von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces and he did not return until late 2019. My grandmother stayed in Wepener in the Orange Free State with her 7 young children.
My father was 8 years old when the Spanish Flu swept through Southern Africa. He and Harold, his elder brother, had vivid memories of those days.
Harold. ‘At the end of the war, before Dad got back, the Spanish Influenza arrived. I was a Wolf Cub and we had to go round to the Market Square where they had clothes boiling in a huge cauldron. These charity workers had a big billycan to take from door from door and people went in and cleaned out and I waited outside. I wore a little packet of garlic round my neck and then Mum said, ‘No! I had to stop!’ I was then sent away to get away from the infection.’
My Father. ‘One by one the rest of the family got sick except Mum and me. Then she got sick and I can remember she was telling me how to go the kitchen to get soup. People came to the door to help but she said that she would not accept charity. Mum told me from her sick bed how to get to the kitchen to get the soup.’
‘That was all fine for a little while and then I said, “Mum I have a headache!”’
‘Now she had to get up, otherwise there was no way we were going to survive. But she got up. She could not stand so she crawled to the kitchen. I remember she gave us some soup to bring back. Every one of us survived the influenza. The carts were passing the door with the corpses of hundreds of people.’
We are not at the end of the Covid-19 story. 2021 will be a long year as we wait for vaccination and desperately hope that a nastier strain of the virus does not develop and catch us before it is dampened down into the furthest little corners of the world. But I fear that we will all harbour a new anxiety about our world.
We are still in Adelaide. Sadly, we cancelled our booking to fly to Sydney as the situation got more complex. The cluster hot-spot in Sydney’s ‘Northern Beaches’ became more problematic as it was ascertained that infected people had visited locations across Greater Sydney and even the Central Coast. All other Australian states and territories began tightening the rules for arrivals from the hot-spots, Greater Sydney and from NSW. There was a rush of people leaving NSW. Flights full. At the very least, we would have had to quarantine on our return to South Australia. Most likely that quarantine would be allowed to take place in our own home but we might have been sent to a medi-hotel.
As of today, South Australia has not made our border with NSW a ‘hard’ border as other states have done. What we also feared was that the border would be firmly closed and we would be stuck in NSW for an indeterminate period of time. Once the announcment is made, you get very little time to rush home – most often 12 hours.
Our granddaughter was hoping to travel from Canberra (ACT) to NSW to join the family for Christmas, but she is now unable to do so.
The situation is complex and changes every day. It is hard to keep up with the various directions and the language used. ‘High community transition zone’. What does that mean in regard to new rules? Our South Australian state police were confused a day ago: they incorrectly turned back some arrivals from NSW at the road borders and told others they had to go into quarantine – when it was not mandatory until the midnight deadline, six hours later. Compensation is being sought.
Stars and Rainbows.
Last night, we waited for sunset hoping that the horizon-wide clouds would clear. They did! At about 8.15pm (sunset is now 8.29pm as it’s the summer solstice time) we could clearly see the bright star in the south-west. With our binoculars Jupitar and Saturn were distinctive. Jupiter was larger but we could not pick out its moons through our bird-watching binoculars (10×42). Out came our birding spotoscope which has a magnification of 20x and is stabilised on its tripod. Then we could see 3 of the 4 of Jupiter’s bigger moons in a line. One was surprisingly far away from Jupiter – probably the beautiful Ganymede. I read today that Ganymede is the largest but not the brightest and is bigger than Mercury. Jupiter has 79 moons – that have been discovered so far.
Saturn looked squashed and perhaps that was due to its rings.
I remember that the bushmen of southern Africa had such amazing eyesight that they could see Jupiter’s moons without any aid.
After another 20 minutes, as the sky darkened, the stars were even more outstanding. However, my camera could not handle the lack of light and all I got were hazy pinpricks. We shall try again tonight.
Many are excited about this planetary ‘Great Conjunction’– the best night-time conjunction sighting in 800 years. It is astonishing that in the 17C Johannes Kepler calculated how planetary orbits worked and found there was a triple conjunction (including Mars) in 7BCE. Could that have been the star that the wise men followed to Bethlehem? Who knows, but it’s a lovely idea.
This morning, after the overnight rain, and our sighting of the Christmas Star, a double rainbow hung over Adelaide. One rainbow end seemed to position itself at the bottom of our hill. We think a rainbow is a fortuitous sign. Is it a godly promise that he/she will inflict no more total-world natural destruction – by floods or any other way?
However, instead of a world-encompassing deluge or fire, we have a pandemic and there is little sign of it ending.
But these were positive signs in the heavens and morning skies. My husband said he remembered a negro spiritual about the rainbow sign given to Noah. So, we found the song.
God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign sung here by the Carter Family.
(James Baldwin used a line from the lyrics for the title of his 1963 book of essays: The Fire Next Time).
‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign No more water, but the fire next time Hide me over, Rock of Ages, cleft for me.’
Corruption and violence have not gone away. Maybe what we are enduring across the world really is the ‘fire next time’.
Tomorrow at 9.55am, we should have been aboard an early flight to Sydney with luggage filled with Christmas presents and our beach clothes for our 9 nights at the coast north of Sydney.
Today, we postponed our departure for two days. Sydney is partly in crisis over an outbreak of Covid-19 on the ‘Northern Beaches’, an area along the coast north of the harbour from Bondi to Palm Beach – 21 beaches and their suburbs extending a long way inland. This area has been declared a ‘hotspot’ by all other states and territories.
Once more it is partly a case of poor management. You would have thought that councils, states and governments would learn from one another, would have their antennae alert to the mistakes and successes of other jurisdictions, other countries. Not so. Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria state made a few blatant well chronicled mistakes but he did not stand down. Now it’s the Premier of NSW, Gladys Berejiklian’s turn to admit they have made another mistake (not an acknowledged mistake – they are merely changing their ways. A major error was the handling of the docking and disembarkation of the passengers from the cruise ship, ‘Ruby Princess’ in March).
Until now, crews from international flights have been required to self-isolate either in hotels or private homes for 14 days or until they left on their next flight. More than one hundred international flights have been arriving into Sydney Airport per week. This comes as there has been great pressure on the Australian government to facilitate the repatriation of Australians ‘stuck’ overseas.
Often its not what they did, but what they did not do. Crew members have been seen wandering around Sydney. From next Tuesday, airline crew will be taken to two designated hotels near the airport and the hotels will be monitored by the police. Don’t move out of your hotel room! No more taking in the sights of our marvellous harbour city!
What was the source of this outbreak, this new cluster?
They don’t know. However, a Sydney Ground Transport bus driver who transports international flight crews tested positive this week but he is not regarded as the source of the new outbreak.
Could the source be one of those airline crews who has since returned overseas? This is possible. NSW Health are doing extensive genomic testing and announced that they believe that the strain is from the USA. But ‘patient zero’ has not been located.
We cannot stay isolated from the rest of the world for ever but it is apparent that a sprinkling of international passengers are carrying the virus and it does not take much of a slip up in the process of their quarantine for an outbreak to occur.
What is obvious is that our tracing abilities of contacts have improved no end. Every few hours various locations and transportation routes are announced on the NSW Covid-19 site to alert the public to the fact that a positive case was there at the time indicated. In an attempt to restrict the spread to the Northern Beaches, all residents have been asked to stay at home as much as possible for 3 days. QR codes have been used in NSW since November 22. There are hour long queues at the new testing sites across Sydney. So there is hope with such improved processes.
I told my daughter in Seattle, USA, about the outbreak.
‘How many cases?’ she said.
’28,’ I said.
’28!!’ she laughed. ‘Overnight in Washington State we have had almost 900 new cases.’
(Population of greater Sydney is 5.3 million, Washington State, USA, is 7.6 million)
So, we must put our outbreak into perspective. However, we have all learnt this year that it takes only one busy, undetected, infected person in a city for the virus to totally escape. Our Australian state premiers and our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, have learnt that its necessary to overreact to outbreaks. We don’t want to get complacent when vaccines are just over the horizon.
December 14. The year is almost past. We have survived so far. For those who love books, the reading life has been an activity that has helped us get through the worst times. The Economist magazine agrees. In their business section of the edition, ‘The World in 2021’ I was pleased to see an article, ‘Books bounce Back’. Book buying – print and digital has increased. We cannot be sure that books have been read, but they have been bought!
‘The year 2020 is on track to be one of the best for print books in America since 2004.’
eBooks and audio book sales have recorded double digit growth and print books sales increased by 7%. 2021 is also forecast to be another positive year for book sellers. And it’s not just Amazon that has benefitted: a newish online bookseller which routes sales to independent bookstores is doing well.
I often wish I had kept a running list of the books that I read each year. Because I forget. Maybe that is why I don’t like to give away the books that fill our bookcases.
I usually have at least a couple of books on the go. The mind can do that! At the moment I am reading The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, (due out in the UK in January 2021) a fascinating, dark, imaginative novel by Richard Flanagan, (he of the Booker Prize, Winner 2014 with the Narrow Road to the Deep North).
Interesting title. Some of you, unlike me, will be ultra-aware and recognise it as a quote from a poem by English poet, John Clare (1793-1864). Ignorant, that I am, I did not know about John Clare until David Vincent (also a writer in this group of bloggers) introduced me to him. It’s a very sad, very beautiful poem written when Clare was bereft of love and hope (as some are during these times).
‘Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, Into the living sea of waking dreams, Where there is neither sense of life or joys, But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems; Even the dearest that I loved the best Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is a strange novel for strange times. It is set in Tasmania during the 2019 summer where 3 siblings gather around the bedside of their dying mother while Australia burns. Ignore the darkness and read it. It will take you away to wonder at many things: of hope in the face of disaster, of our threatened natural world, of vanishing wildlife, of the nature of kindness and of family dynamics around a dying parent.
‘Is translating experience into words any achievement at all? Or is it just the cause of all our unhappiness?’ (Flanagan) All writers might ask this. What is there left to write in this new world?
I too am a writer: attempting through imagination translated into words to create a believable story. I feel what Flanagan has done is to take us into the Covid-19 future of an unravelling world. He uses magical realism and the disturbing ‘vanishings’ of The Living Sea to place us in that world.
It is worth listening to the excellent podcast of Richard Flanagan talking to Richard Fiedler (another author and an excellent interviewer) on ABC’s Conversations. Even if you don’t see yourself getting this book, do listen to this podcast. Amongst other things, It will take you away to a distant lighthouse island; to the idea of Tasmania being a Jewish safe zone during the 2nd WW; to the dying rainforest of the SW of Tasmania, to the politics of denial.
How lucky we are as readers to have such resources at our fingertips.
This part-poem from Mervyn Peake comes from one of his Gormenghast books (Titus Groan). The poem may not be about books, instead it is about loneliness, imagination and exploring ideas. And, of course, it keeps us exploring and paying attention to things that are vanishing.
Will thou come with me, and linger? And discourse with me of those Secret things the mystic finger Points to, but will not disclose? When I’m all alone, my glory Always fades, because I find Being lonely drives the splendour Of my vision from my mind.