Friday, February 9, 2024

'Objects can appear closer than they are': a week in diary

 Feb 2. Tower. Time 1507 called in another inlet fire eastern end this time thanks to spotter S. No lightning for two weeks. Weird. Ground crews out and dozer tender. Listened to all radio channels. Crew found an unaccompanied vehicle on the track in to the fire. "Details please". Bombers reported someone sitting on granite at fire's tail. So ... an investigation then. Rangers shut Bib track and huts. Cops involved, found marron nets, chook pellets and a charred cooker with the man.

Feb 3.Tower. No visibility  4s and 5s all round. COLD. Max 18. No smoke in Fire 4. Crew out by 1300. Contained and under control. Fire 4 investigation on Monday.

Feb 4.Tower. No smokes in Fire 4. Met a nice German couple. They both had big teeth and amazing skin. We talked about sharks and bears

Feb 5. Tower. Smokes from Fire 4. Had phone chat with the nearest tower to me. Told him I tried to visit last season but no one was there and that was fine because his tower is freaking terrifying. He agreed which made me wonder why he climbs it everyday. Told him I even brought a thermos of tea and custard pies that day.

Feb 6. Day off. Food shop. Post office. Appt w Silver Chain nurse. Remote area nurse FIFO. Told him my eyeballs were fried from work. He is amazed firetowers still exist. Why not hotspots and AI? I can see smoke an hour or so before it turns up as a hotspot. Early detection. And AI still needs human interpreters ... so far. Bailed on lunch with A. Spider bite making me feel mumpsy and fried eyes. Tired body. Pharmacy on way home for eyedrops.

Feb 7. Tower. Called in fire at Greenrange 150 km away. Thought it was 50 km, then maybe 80. Wildest smoke I've ever seen. Talked to MP. He said that high pressure can even flatten out your retinas (!!!) which makes objects appear closer than they are. Like an eagle. Wild optical illusion. Met tower mouse so not a mardo or honey possum.

Feb 8. Tower. HOT 35 degrees 27% RH. Winds SE 30kph. Smoke coming over from Greenrange fire. Heading along the coast and then inland with sea breeze. Fried eyeballs again. Horizon glare and smoke. Spoke to Y on phone about a writers workshop we are doing. March flies after weeks of none. They still smell sweet like marri flowers on my palm when squashed.

Feb 9. Office. HOT. ML rang, just shooting the breeze. What son even does that? asked S. Read Fire 4 investigation. Sister J got into town for event, doing lightshow. We had ginger beers @ pub after work. Talked about Juliette, death, livers and the Moodjar tree where newly dead go to rest before leaving forever. That moment when they truly leave us like an elastic band snapping. Publican gave us party pies and tomato sauce. A man sitting nearby was wearing satin Christmas themed boxer shorts. Shire worker told me I'd made a friend of the grader driver after I gave him a pear from my lunchbox and a thank you card for grading my road to work.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Unwelcome nope ropes

There's been two tiger snakes hanging around the house recently. I throw things at them sometimes, trying to persuade them that this is a terrible place to hang out. Like raw prawns left under the couch cushions, they've become rather unwelcome guests.who will.not.leave.

'It's mating season,' a friend informed me. 'So you've got to get rid of one to lose the other one.'

'Agh!' I squeaked. 'So now they are gonna have lots of tiny tiger babies on my veranda too?'

'That's what your baby kookaburras are for,' he grinned.

A clutch of kookaburra chicks have been hanging around here too. The normal dusk chorus of the laughing birds is instead a series of desperate squawks as these fluffy boofheads try to emulate their millennial ancestors, like preschoolers forced to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the recorder. Kookaburras are voracious carnivorous ferals in Western Australia. Just seeing them beat a native fairy wren to death against a log incites a unique kind of sandgroper eco-fascism. But they are really bloody good at killing tiger snake hatchlings. I saw a kookaburra perched on the shed a few years ago, watching the ground intently and ambushing a nest of baby tigers. All day long. Bang.Bang.Bang.

Tonight, Selkie was trotting back from her evening beach visit, grinning, tongue lolling. As she passed the chopping block with its axe handle perched atop like a dancer's leg, she leapt sideways and I saw a black hose streak towards her and then retreat, like one of those slinky toys. 'Selks! Selkie!' I yelled at her and she ran to me, still grinning. She rubbed her head against my jeans and I patted her flank. My heart was racing. It felt hard to breathe. I checked her feet, her legs and couldn't find any bite marks. The snake curled itself back into the wood heap.

I'm watching her closely tonight and she seems okay. But bloody hell, I just want these mum and dad snakes gone, let alone their little hell-babies.


Here is a photo I took from the tower on Wednesday. It was the storm that sent me scuttling down the mountain. Lightning was forking all around this system and the steel ladders on the way down were not terribly inviting. Re my previous post 'It was lightning dickhead', it's the same storm that started the bushfire out near my place.

Friday, January 19, 2024

It was lightning, dickhead

Yesterday's tower day began with me driving my new 'tractor' with Southern Cross tattoos to the carpark early. I'd been expecting some drama after a night of lightning strikes in the area. I always take the bush roads in as a short cut that involve crossing the Weld River bridge (more about that later) so I was suitably dusty on arrival.

A kangaroo watched me as I walked up the trail. Can you see her? She has a joey in her pouch.


Later in a quiet moment in the tower, I was on the phone to a man from the Shire about the condition of the road I drive every day. 'I'm in tears halfway along the track,' I said. 'The corrugations are so bad now, they are getting dangerous.'

He was one of those people who make you feel like a confidant. An Olympic version of a public servant on the phone to some random woman complaining about roads. His voice was calm and friendly. He promised to have it fixed 'by Wednesday next week.' 

Not long after that, with a trashy thriller audio book thrumming from my phone, I looked over to the west and spotted a tiny white smoke that looked like a cloud on the horizon. Except that it didn't quite look like a cloud. Sometimes clouds over that way stand up like smokes, depending on atmospheric pressure. This one was different. I thought about the lightning strikes, the ones that had sent me scuttling down from the tower the afternoon before, and then I started plotting it on the map.

By 1215, I'd radioed in a Bravo Two One Two (medium density, columnar, white) and given the coordinates. It was kinda freaky, moving around the map table and trying to work out exactly where it was. As the wind increased, the smoke began to change. The wind turned suddenly from a mild north westerly to westerly and quickened. I rang the duty officer. 'Smoke description is now a two three three.' (Medium, billowing, brown) They knew exactly what I was talking about. This fire was taking off.

On the radio channels, I could hear the DO calling all trucks in the area to head out there and summoning the spotter pilot from Manjimup to give us the exact coordinates of the fire. First and Second crews from our district have been away at other fires in the north, so it was a harried response of gathering up returning fire crew and managing fatigue levels to assess who could go to this new fire.

After all the excitement, I rattled home along the corrugated track to see water bombers flying overhead and smoke touching the karri canopies. There were two Coulson water tankers dropping water at the fire, plus the nimble bombers and crew, who I knew were working all night on foot.

This is why a facebook post from someone who should know better sparked my interest. He is part of a group that thinks we shouldn't mitigate fire, only respond to fire. Apparently, yesterday's response to the fire I've talked about so far was not up to his expectations:

His 'summary' is problematic. The date is wrong for a start. It was the 18th. I called the fire in at 1215 not 1245. The decision of it being a Donnelly fire was a collaborative one, being a border country fire. Frankland district trucks were first responders anyway. Everyone worked together after that and today there are fire fighters from Albany, Manjimup and Walpole.

Old mate's post served his MO of early detection, early suppression. (Yes,that is my job and I did my job well on Thursday.) We are working to contain a wild fire in difficult country and that's why they put so many fire bombers onto it, because it's hard to get trucks in there. That's why we are are back burning. It's a big-ass fire, caused by a lightning strike. It's in country where there are no roads, so they can't just drive up to the fire and put it out.

This afternoon I was ready to leave my other job in the office when an email came through.

'Yep. Always a 4pm on Friday,' The DO sighed. 'Main roads have decided the Weld River bridge on Beardmore road is unsafe to the public. They've told us to shut the road immediately.'

'But that's my bush road short-cut to the tower,' I said, shaking my fingers with anxiety. I always drive this road to work. It goes through jarrah, marri and karri country. This is my track.

Pete looked at me. 'Unless you're planning on river fordings, you're a highway woman now,' he said.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Tourist towers

 So we are now full swing into fire season and up at the fire tower, people are taking selfies. 

It's a thing for some, a compulsion for many. Climb a mountain and it must be documented, at best livestreamed or at least facetimed.Two years ago, the thing was to get naked and take a selfie at the top of a mountain. It was an Insta moment apparently and no I'm not sharing. Thankfully for me, this craze has slowed down, since I spend most of summer at the top of a mountain. I felt like a creep every time I picked up my binoculars to look for smoke.

Today in the tower I could see the Stirling Ranges, which meant I could see clearly for about 150 kilometres. I called in a smoke 60 kilometres away. 'Plus or minus' I said on the radio. 'Maybe dust.' I was calling in dust because a fire that far away could be someone working a paddock, sending plumes of dust into the air. And it turns out that it was just that, a farmer, not a bushfire. The spotter pilot went overhead, let me know and I went back to the tourists taking selfies and my weather recordings.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Southern Cross neck tattoos

 So ... after numerous mechanics I know giving me *that look* about the oil light and the inevitable bang bang bang demise of Queen Ben, I began to feel like I was in the docks for manslaughter. Please see the previous post if you need some context.

Tonight I went to Brownie's bush camp with some corned beef wrapped in alfoil. *That look* has been banished to the dark days of New Years Eve for him because I'm now the proud owner of a Toyota land bruiser and apparently, these old utes excite young nostalgists, old rev heads and pragmatic farmers alike.

And this is where my post takes a sideways lurch. I drove the tractor beast home and was walking around my new car, checking out the decals that previous owners had stuck on the ducco. 

'This one's gotta go,' I said to my sister.

'Oh, just put a swastika in the middle of it and she'll be right,' she said, laughing.

Her words burned. It's something I've been thinking about for years. When did the Southern Cross become an emblem for white nationalists and racism in Australia? It's always been an abstract thing for me until I bought this car, with Southern Cross decals on both sides of the rear pillars like some kind of statement.

The Southern Cross in our southern hemisphere skies makes up the head of the dark emu and further stars outline the body of the emu. Her body is literally delineated by stars. Once you've seen it in the night skies, you can never unsee the dark emu. 

So now, I've bought a car with this emblem stickered all over it, but it is meaning something quite different to a wonder of old knowledge and seasonal change. It's meaning 'Fuck Off We're Full' and 'White Power'. 

Maybe it began with Cronulla, maybe it began with the internet, I have no idea. The appropriation of the Southern Cross by right wing organisations in Australia is something I'm curious about.

In the meantime, I've just murdered Queen Ben and perhaps that is more pressing. She's sitting where I towed her a few days ago, waiting to be resurrected or wrecked, piece by piece.

* And Selkie! She's still on three legs but recovering after her encounter with that boar at Pig Bay.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Oil Light and the Bay of Pigs

I was on the phone to my sister when Brownie and Doogs arrived from the bush camp, their dingo-looking hound Flex in tow. 'So yes, I've found a $1500 shitbox with no windscreen wipers or muffler.' I said to my sister, waving for the men to take a seat, 'It drives great and looks like sin apparently ... and Queen Ben is probably bound for the wreckers. What a fucking day.'

'It's about to get even better,' said Brownie after I'd ended the call. 'Have you heard about the Bay of Pigs?' 

'Drives great, look like sin.' Doogs nodded. 'Sounds like me.'

The oil light in Queen Ben came on yesterday on my way home to the inlet and then flickered out. This morning, with my dog Selkie still not home from her pre-dawn date with Flex, I headed out for another tower day, and the oil light came on again. In the mistaken belief that the oil light works like a fuel light, giving me a few more kilometres, I continued for another two or three hundred metres. (Yes I know, shut up. I've been self flagellating all day okay?) A terrible knocking sound. I stopped. Under the bonnet and off with the oil cap. Smoke curled out of the sump.I poured in some oil and heard it sizzling against the heat.

Queen Ben turned twenty last year. The five years that I've had her have been about replacement and good husbandry. A new head, replacing the turbo, ironing out dented panels, gearbox issues, idler arms and wheel alignments. My philosophy is that a diesel four wheel drive can last forever if you treat her right. 

Yes, I'm a terrible husband.

I walked for a while until I came into range and texted my boss that I couldn't make it to the firetower today, with some brief details of my poor car's demise. Cicadas chanted in the forest and parrots flitted around me, colours of karri leaves and bottle-brush flowers. Then I turned and walked home, patting Queen Ben's bonnet as I passed. It was surreal, walking through the forest that I drive through every day. Walking is when you notice things.

Smoky red dust rose up on the gravel as a car approached and I found a welcome ride home. Selkie was back, soaking wet, smelling of the inlet and limping badly. 'So that was quite the excursion,' I said to her. She looked at me in that way dogs look when they've done some bad things. I turned on the wifi. 'Oh no! Are you okay, do you need a lift?' My boss had replied. I told him I was okay and then I rang my sister.

I managed to borrow a car for the day and make it to the firetower eventually. I'll leave out the bits about the missing firetower key, the long drive to retrieve it, the firetower nerd I met up there today who was really cool, and that snake. But I have to have a car and the Queen Ben is dead. So I got busy on my phone, bought a car ('drives fine, looks like sin'). I live 35 kilometres from the nearest town and the firetower is an 78 kilometre round trip. There's no public transport and getting on a bicycle is a bullshit option, dammit.

I made it home close to dark and asked a mate to help me tow Queen Ben home from her unhappy perch on the gravel shoulder.. My reasoning was that the RAC will be badly stretched over the next few days of New Year's Eve chaos in our little seaside holiday town. 

I was just having a self-congratulatory glass of wine on the back veranda and updating my sister on the phone about the new car I was buying, when Brownie and Doogs turned up. They growled at Flex as he dawdled innocently towards Selkie's food bowl. Selkie looked up and didn't even complain or harry Flex. She was still limping. She looked very, very sore. 'So, the Bay of Pigs,' said Brownie.

Flex and Selkie took off before dawn this morning. They often do this when Brownie and Flex are staying in the bush camp. Selkie and Flex go off for hours and I never know where they go. Sometimes they'll come back streaked with charcoal and I'll know they've been into the firegrounds. Sometimes, while looking for them, I've followed their tracks along the beach for miles. Selkie always comes home exhausted and she's sore for days. There are few roads and no fences around here. It's dog heaven but I always worry about them taking baits.

This morning, Doogs went down to the boat ramp and heard the two dogs barking. It was an early easterly and so he could hear them, their voices calling along the inlet shore. I was mourning the knocking piston death of Queen Ben and beginning my dejected walk home, by the time Brownie and Doogs walked east along the beaches and rocky outcrops to find Selkie and Flex bailing up a huge black boar. Apparently, the pig was standing in the water facing off the two dogs. He was in the inlet, water around his shoulders and nose to nose with Selkie and Flex. 

'This pig was huge, Sarah!' Doogs said. I put my head into my arms. Oh. My God.  'Much bigger than these two,' he motioned to Flex and Selkie. 'They were crying and barking like babies though.'

'What a fucking day.'

'We're calling that place Pig Bay,' Brownie nodded over his beer. 'It's something that's happened here and that place needs a name. Never seen that before. Never. A pig facing down some dogs in the water. Never seen it.'

So Pig Bay it is.

This stuff all happened here on New Year's Eve 2023. It's been another mad year yes? Happy New Year Bloggers xxx


Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Very Towery Christmas


On Thursday it rained and at the top of the mountain little pools filled with water. This is my favourite, obviously!

Below is a more treasured local than the reptile in my previous post (eek!). We call these little dinosaurs bobtails or blue tongues. In the eastern states they are called shinglebacks. All appropriate descriptors, really. There are a few babies hanging around as well. Too cute.


Below is of a bushfire sixty five kilometres away. This was a particularly nasty one, only a few kilometres away from a town that suffered a terrible wildfire a decade ago. It was started by a machinery fire in a paddock and roared straight into the forest.

Gunsight, reflection, binocs, map and my very cool little weather station - the red gadget is called a Kestrel and takes recordings of wind speed, humidity, temperature etc. Around me the real kestrels whirl and shriek. They have the most acrobatic aerial courtship ever, tumbling over each other in the sky, using the updrafts to race around and around the tower.