Deer-netting in the 90s.

Now that I am old and irrelevant, it’s clearly time to divert the focus of this blog to unreliable memories of ‘how things used to be’.

I was talking to a friend and fellow dog walker on the beach this morning. She recounted how she’d confidently told her niece (years ago) not to worry about school because she obviously wasn’t going to do well at it, so she should focus on something fruitful with her life.

Fair enough, I suppose. After all, as proof of her prophetic advice, the niece went on to manager a video store, very successfully.

It got me thinking about jobs that no longer exist, or at least wondering if they do.

As a teenager, stone broke, I got a job on a ‘farm crew’. Now, my memory of the details is hazy at best, but I think basically we got fed and had a shearer’s quarters to stay in, and in return we did three main jobs – shearing and associated tasks, deer-netting and shooting rabbits.

Let’s begin with deer netting because it’s perhaps changed the most. Most people, when you say ‘deer-netting’ think you’re hanging out of a helicopter with a .308. And indeed, this used to be the case. However, New Zealand’s shift to neoliberal austerity in the mid 80s spelled the end of bounties for pest animals. This, combined with another regulatory peculiarity – that New Zealanders could ‘maintain’ their own helicopters – meant that by the time I was in primary school deer recovery (as it was known) was pretty much finished. It was said at the time that one in three helicopters in NZ crashed. In hindsight, it was probably ambitious to expect that the personal characteristics of; ‘able to shoot a rifle’ and ‘able to resurrect a Robinson R22 without having an ice cream container of bits leftover’ would overlap.

So, deer-netting in the early 90s looked like this;

Get up very early in the morning. Eat a bit of bread and jam (the shearer’s quarters ran on a bank of old car batteries and an ammonia fridge that required laps around the paddock in a trailer to redistribute the gas).

Climb up onto a tractor trailer. Bounce over a river bed in the manner of a mining grader, in the vain hop that your teeth will end up on the top. Freeze. Climb out on the edge of the river bank.

Here’s where the trick is. The previous crew had been in one year earlier and cut a large swathe of riverside grass and bracken right down to the nubs, and built a large, high fence with a ‘maze’ as an entry point. The young deer make their way into the maze in search of the delicious new shoots. Some find it impossible to get out. There’s enough food growing in there to keep them alive and gradually, over the course of a year, the netted area fills up with the silliest deer in the south island. Then, a helicopter comes in and collects the deer by netting them and choppering them out to a nearby farm. They are then kept on the farm for a year or so and then slaughtered for venison, or used as breeding animals.

I can’t remember exactly what time of year we did this, but I think it was summer, because although it was freezing, we were in the high country and it was always bloody freezing (I also worked on the farm during the roar but that was shearing).

So, the job of the netting crew is to remove the fence so it can be moved to another location. Now, as I said, it sits on the edge of a river. With a kind of crow-bar thingo, you go around and in thigh deep, freezing, tannin stained water and then remove the staples (also underwater) from large tanalised poles that are about 8 metres high but half submerged in water. I fondly recall whacking my ankle against something sharp and it gaily bleeding into the river for ages before I noticed, as my legs were completely numb.

This is a couple of day’s work. Then, at the end, when all the fencing is removed, you roll up the wire into long bouncy rolls and load it onto the trailer and then sit on it, all the way back to the farm.

From memory, this is about where we were working. This is the junction of the Ahaura and Waiheke Rivers.

It sounds like hard work, and it was, but it was also beautiful, and compared to some of the shit jobs I’d had up until that point, it was borderline heaven. I loved being in the back-country and by the age of 14 I’d been out tramping (as it is known in NZ) on my own in the bush many, many times. It still amazes me to this day that people get anxious about being ‘away’ from civilisation, as if it’s not safe. What’s truly dangerous is people. The further away you get from humans, the safer you are. Like Australia, the main danger comes from the elements – certainly hypothermia was a real risk. In Australia people perish every year in the heat when their cars break down or they get some silly ideas about directions from the sat-nav thingo on the dashboard of their 4WD rental car that isn’t actually 4WD. Likewise, any number of tourists plunge to their deaths or shiver themselves into extinction in the New Zealand wilderness, but generally, these are things you can prepare yourself for. Nature is not out to get you.

The other jobs on the farm were simpler – shooting rabbits with a .22 or shotgun, riding around on small, gutless motorbikes on the most foolish of pretences and tagging, crutching and drenching sheep. Maybe I will recall them another time.

So ends story time with Old Cranky. STAY IN SCHOOL.

Thatcher, Reagan and a little country in the Pacific

I’ve been watching The Crown. I was enjoying it for all the reasons I should – the opulence, the soap opera melodramas, the depictions of the politics of Britain in the post war period. Thatcher’s Britain came as a kick in the guts.

I think this Scottish woman’s eulogy for Mrs Thatcher sums it up nicely;

I am a child of the 80s. My first memories are of thin leather jackets, bad perms and cigarettes. Thatcher’s Britain was not too far removed, in terms of ‘look’ from New Zealand at the time – lots of shambling poverty, cups of tea and unemployment. Thatcher renovated the British economy from top to bottom (as she put it). Basically, as Britain’s colonial power declined, and with it, the money extracted from milking ‘real’ resources in its overseas territories, the country was increasingly ‘domesticated’. That is, reliant on making things within Britain. This wouldn’t be such a problem, if Britain had kept up its technological dominance, but it hadn’t, lulled, as many before it, into a false sense of security provided by a healthy stream of income from its resources obtained overseas.

Thatcher knew this. Britain was becoming less competitive and was suffering economically for it. Thatcher’s Britain aimed to shift the very structure of the economy to emphasise the one thing in which Britain still retained supremacy – a hub for financial trading. The City (of London) drew in enormous wealth for Britain. Thatcher decided to hitch the country’s fortunes to this horse, and, at the same time, embark on a radical monetarist inspired restructure of the welfare state. This was what we now refer to as neoliberalism. ‘The Washington Consensus’ and Britain’s structural adjustment signalled an enormous shift in the basis of the economy. I’m not going to summarise the details here, as many have done a far better job of that than I. However, what I think The Crown gets right is the cultural oeuvre of neoliberalism, Thatcher’s words piped into the existence of its downtrodden, penurious protagonists as they stand in line waiting to be ritually humiliated at the dole office, or in their shabby council flats.

Neoliberalism presented an economic idea as a cultural one – the idea that the economy and society were one thing, and that the individual was a discrete, atomised actor, completely in control of his or her own destiny, regardless of one’s circumstances. Success or failure was based purely on personal, individual gumption and hard work. Society, according to Thatcher, ‘did not exist’. It’s worth noting that all this individualism did not extend to taxes, which were still collected by the state.

Citizens were endlessly re-educated into this new way of thinking, the language of individualism. It was a mean-spirited thing that viewed all the workings of society – housing, healthcare, education – as economic products rather than social goods. There was no longer any ‘social’. Everything was privatised, speculated on, governed by the ‘invisible hand’ of economic rationalism.

The impact, of course, was to reduce transfer payments from the top of the economy to the bottom, thus concentrating wealth upwards. The rich got a lot richer.

New Zealand, with its dour, pinch-faced Scottish Protestant-Calvinist tut-tutted Thatcher for her gentle touch. In 1984, faced with a similar ‘traditional’ economy in decline, New Zealand embarked on a massive neoliberal experiment, known today, in the fine Kiwi tradition of austerity in naming, as The New Zealand Experiment. This was an extreme version of neoliberalism, carried out even more radically than in Britain. The country floated the dollar and embarked on a massive overhaul of the public sector. Unemployment shot up, poverty flourished, homelessness and social alienation became entrenched by the early 90s.

The results, of course, were devastating for ordinary people.

I think what’s most striking to me, having mostly grown up during this period, is that this represented a new way of thinking about ourselves as political, social and economic beings. It seeped into the way we thought about ourselves. For instance, in the 90s in NZ there was an incredibly strong stigma attached to being ‘unproductive’. Neoliberalism had unleashed an extant cruelty that fostered hatred amongst friends and neighbours. Using terms like ‘working class’ or, ‘benefit’ was openly sneered at. Working full time was the only way to be fully human, and in my opinion, this element of neoliberalism remains. For women, having a child was judged harshly and women should ‘get back out there’ as quickly as possible. Unsurprisingly, the economic arrangements of the day had the harshest judgements for women. My mother, for instance, was a ‘solo mother’ *gasp* after her husband left her. She struggled to get work and eventually, through friends, got a full time position as a telephonist (yes, in one of those phone offices with the long cord and plug thingos). Her relief was enormous as it meant she could pay a mortgage on the small house she’d managed to buy (after being refused several times by the ANZ bank because she didn’t have a husband on the paperwork.

The problem, of course, was that she had two children, which was somewhat incompatible with working full time, in the age of zero childcare. We attended every single day of school, no matter our condition. She simply had no choice otherwise. Mum had 5 days of sick leave per year, and the fact that I remember this from the age of 5 is testament to how it dominated our lives. Mum had an illness that eventually required an operation and she rationed out those sick days like gold.

In the afternoons I went to a Barnardos home and my brother went to a neighbour who had other children his age. We collected food boxes (in another woman’s car) from what Mum called ‘the vege co-op’ but I now realise was a food bank. I remember sitting cross legged in the back of an HQ stationwagon with several other kids, all of us woozy with the petrol fumes, with next to boxes of food as the car made its way around the neighbourhood. The irony is, of course, that we weren’t even considered particularly poor. I remember my Dad picking us up for a visit and discovering that Mum hadn’t packed us any clothes and he took us into Wellington city, at night, and bought us new clothes. I got a pair of jeans and a jumper. Until that point all my clothes came from my cousin Glen, who was the only cousin bigger than me. I wore boys’ clothes for my entire childhood, including Y front undies. Shoes were optional.

Unless you lived in a household with a full time employed husband, you were fucked. There were plenty of people in our situation.

New Zealand prior to 1984 wasn’t exactly rolling in cash either – there was a strict division between rural and urban kiwis, and money was almost hermetically sealed amongst those in the farming sector. Liberalisation and the removal of tariffs knocked that on the head.

I think what’s interesting to me is that Neoliberalism, for many New Zealanders under the age of 40, is just a given. It was presented as an incontrovertible set of natural laws that would govern the fortunes of the country and enable success. It tapped into New Zealanders’ Calvinist leanings, their inherent distrust of their neighbours as bludgers and leaners, their cruel racism.

There was no ‘citizenry’, no longer any sense of social contract or licence. All there was was the cut and thrust of economic primacy and success. The idea that government should support, foster, regulate, ameliorate, prime or undergird economic activity was an anathema. The government should not ‘pick winners’. Of course, this was because the winners were picking themselves. No one laughed longer than I did when New Zealanders chose John Key as their Prime Minister, a man who had colluded in the fevered currency speculation following the floating of the NZ dollar that almost bankrupted the entire country, overnight.

From https://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/249633/Who-is-John-Key

So suppose what I want to flag is something hopeful. Neoliberalism has, as predicted, has not guaranteed the stable economic success it promised. It was brought increased inequality and poverty. But, and this is a big but, I am now old enough to recognise changes. People are increasingly seeing it for what it was and is. They’re aware now, especially in the wake of massive social spending following the GFC and more lately, the pandemic, the role of strong governments that are integrated into the economy in a more traditional Keynesian, interventionist way. There are arguments about what this means economically, but what’s changed is an awareness of the separation of the economy and society, and that one must serve the other. As I live in Australia I increasingly witness the political consensus coalesce on what we might recognise as something like ordo-liberalism, rather than neoliberalism. It’s clear that there’s no point in simply working very hard to tip money into the top end of a FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate).

I’m just dribbling on now, but part of my 2021 resolution was to write more, and reflect more through writing, and so now I’m doing just that.

(I’ve written about The NZ Experiment before – here)

Lockdowns do work.

A friend sent me this video. It’s an Irish ‘youtuber’. He would be broadly categorised as a Covid Denier, but I think what’s most interesting to me is that he’s a perfect example of how a complex situation (the global spread of an infectious, partially deadly disease) can become simplified into silliness.

His two main conclusions, backed up with data, are:

– Sars Cov 2 has been most deadly in countries who’d had a recent mild flu season, therefore leaving many more people vulnerable to Covid (the dry tinder effect)

-All countries will experience a ‘Gompertz curve’ (a ‘hump of older people dying first) of infections regardless of lockdown measures. Lockdowns, apparently don’t work.

He uses many graphs from countries in Europe to show the spread, including classic curves. The virus goes nuts and then tapers off as the community reaches a level of immunity, over and above any extant T cell immunity. The graphs look familiar:

What he doesn’t do is show the graphs for a country that had two states with graphs that looks like this:

Yes, this is cases, not deaths, but the deaths are in line with cases because NSW and Victoria have a very high rate of testing. As you can see, the trajectories look completely different. NSW had a spike in March/April, Victoria less so. Then VIC experienced an outbreak and all the Australian states closed their borders. Victoria’s outbreak continued unabated, whereas NSW (and the other states) kept their numbers low enough for testing and tracing to be effective.

Australia had a severe 6 week lockdown in March, and this is what drove the cases down. Victoria has just had a second lockdown to contain its spike in cases.

Clearly, lockdowns work. NSW didn’t reach ‘herd immunity’ or anything like it and yet the community transmission cases are down to zero and have been now for a week. There’s still disease circulating but it’s at low numbers.

You can’t argue (as Mr Youtube does) that lockdowns don’t work and that the typical Gompertz curve is inevitable no matter what ‘us humans’ do, and still explain what’s happened in NSW (and all the other states except VIC). It’s impossible.

Yet, you can argue that some populations will have higher background immunity than others, that Vitamin D status might have a role in disease trajectory, that variations in the numbers of vulnerable people in the community prior to an outbreak will lead to a spike. This is where things get murky with these guys. They’re all going for a ‘let it rip’ strategy, because the semi-lockdown is both costly and ineffective (because the virus rips anyway). But they never consider the hard lockdown followed by lesser restrictions model.

Here in NSW we have had an economic decline, for sure, but many things are going back to normal, kids have been in school in March, businesses are open, some with restrictions. There’s an aggressive test and trace program in place. The intention I think, is for Australia to tread water like this until a vaccine comes along, something that is looking increasingly feasible in 2021.

What these youtube denialists should be doing to holding their elected representatives to account for their ‘worst of both worlds’ strategy.

Identity, oppression, fascism and drivel

This blog isn’t a blog, it’s a diary. I use it to think through problems, to ruminate on whatever iteration of neo-fascism-Lite we’re currently nurturing like a multi-tiered sprout-maker in the sun. It should be immediately apparent to anyone who read this blog that I write as I talk – completely unedited drivel. And I truly mean, unedited. I don’t revisit. I can type almost as fast as I can talk, which surely must be the crowning achievement of my ignominious ejection from third form typing with Mrs Wilson during my one unremarkable year at Wellington Girls’.

I’ve been thinking a bit about the US. I’m not given writing about US politics, in the main because I’ve noticed that most New Zealanders seem peculiarly fascinated with it, which is an odd cultural artefact in itself.

No, I’m thinking about it because of Facebook, most notably, the sheer number of friends who’re moving back to either Australia or New Zealand. It seems, generally, that my friends in the US entered some form a lockdown in around February and thought; ‘let’s just sit tight, this will be over soon’. But it wasn’t, and the pandemic, coupled with the prospect of an unwinnable election – that is, it doesn’t matter who wins, the outcome will result in destabilising protest and social unrest – has rather galvanised their thinking. New Zealand, with its cutely grandiose, homely politics and largely functioning justice system provides an irresistibly appealing realpolitik.

Alarmingly, they’re talking of fascism in the US. Good old fashioned fascism.

It’s a great word but I don’t think it will come to pass. Rather, I think the US will end up with a situation resembling Brazil. Or, I should say, even more like Brazil, with uber wealthy captains of industry flying their choppers over the rioting slums, straight into their luxury compounds. The US is already a peppercorn of ‘worlds’ – parts of the American south have been listed as ‘third world’ since the early 1980s. For every matcha tea drinking Californian hipster there’s a grimy 8 year old in Missouri with rickets. The diversity of the US is so self evident it’s not noteworthy and so I won’t either.

Fascism requires broad appeal, consent and consensus, none of which are available in tipping-point quantities in the US. Also, we receive a very jaundiced view of US politics here in the antipodes – a sort of a caricature of a failed state, complete with a cartoon leader and manichean narratives of righteousness. Broadly, the US is drawn as a cautionary morality tale illustrating the pitfalls of unfettered individualism, both economic and cultural. This is why we’re exposed to so much crowing about their lack of a public health system – it’s the embodiment of a failure of the true meaning of citizenship. They only care about themselves! No wonder they’re so fucked!

It’s not true, of course. Americans are politically engaged in ways that Australians and (to a lesser extent) New Zealanders are far too lazy to countenance. Many Americans – ordinary, lower to middle class people – think hard about their personal connection to politics. To be sure, sometimes this leads to perverse outcomes, where large groups of people come to believe that the entire show is being run by lizard people from outer space, which, quite frankly, might be a bit of an improvement.

Americans also give a shit about their ‘fellow man’. They believe in charity – real, genuine charity, often motivated by (largely) Christian impulse. Churches in the US provide an enormous amount of social support. Many if not most Americans also believe in free speech and freedom in a way that would make Australians squeamish. I guess my point is – there’s no point in thinking about America in the simple dogmatic terms we’re presented with in our media.

So what of fascism? Is the US headed for fascism? And what might like look like? I’ve long been fascinated by how and why countries head into fascist dictatorships. What’s interesting is that although the authoritarian dictators, everyone from Hitler to Mugabe, look more or less the same, the methods by which they come to power are historically bound and necessarily different.

Yesterday some clever sausage on Twitter posted a letter in which Roald Dahl’s publisher roundly told the author to fuck right off for being an annealed turd. Most odious was Dahl’s lazy anti-semitism, having casually stated that he thought that the Jews retained something in their character that made them responsible for their persecution. I’ve written about this before, but I think the point to be made is that it’s no good wringing our hands over Dahl’s personal shortcomings unless we’re prepared to look at the social and cultural milieu in which he came by them.

Roald Dahl was expressing a view that was quite common in the middle of the 20th Century, and something we like to quietly sush-up about now. He would have been familiar with what was known as ‘the Protocols’ and ‘the Elders of Zion’, a laughably facile co-ordinated campaign of misinformation with terrifying parallels to today. And I think it highlights something important about where we’re at politically and what that means for galloping ‘fascism’.

To explain Dahl’s anti-semitism as a personal failing is simple. It appeals to us on contemporary terms. He was a shit and should be cancelled forthwith. To make sense of his anti-semitism as a structural failing is a different matter entirely. We see this dualism emerge again and again – a binary between a cultural explanation and a structural one. Take this article, for instance, that contrasts African American theorists talking about oppression in the US.

I’ve used this example because the ‘right’ is often more engaged in cultural explanations of social dysfunction and decay, being more invested in explanations for inequality that blame the victims rather than the structure. Is it the individual’s fault? Or is it the society in which they find themselves? It’s a tawdry question and importantly, the answer is less important than the format of the question.

It’s obvious to anyone that society and the individual are inextricably interwoven but when we focus on ‘the individual’ we come to see the solution to all problems as the responsibility of the individual. This is the danger of identity politics. Identifying oneself as racist or ‘anti-racist’ is pointless unless you’re willing to engage with the structural, institutional arrangements that make racism possible. We’re not though, because we’ve been told we can’t. We have personal power – all the narratives about ourselves are personal ones – but not political power. The collective is dead. It is boring and unfashionable. The only social capital to be made or found is through identifying oneself as unique in some way. An influencer.

We haven’t eradicated questions of social injustice, inequality and oppression, we have shifted our language to preclude them.

Initially I was incensed that so many people would spend so much time engaging in the pointless internecine war of gender politics over say, JK Rowling’s rather pedestrian public article about women’s rights. I thought it was a distraction from the huge, looming catastrophes like climate change and destruction of the environment. And it is, but it’s more than that. It’s a training module, yet another way of encouraging people to think deeply about their identity, to focus their attention inwards.

Foucault saw this coming. The techniques and strategies of the self are myriad but all moving in one direction: inward. We are being trained in ever more subtle ways to accept power. I’ve mumbled incoherently about a personal example of this before, the time when everyone in my office cheerfully donned an ankle bracelet for a week.

I suppose I’ve got a lot more to say and think about this, but I’ve also got work to do and yet another computer program to learn (seriously, why can’t we just agree on one program and stick with it? This is why I still do (some) equations by hand).

I have one other observation this morning. Although me this seems like a completely banal observation it came as a shock to the dog walkers on the beach this morning: I think Trump will win the 2020 US election, just like I thought he would win last time. In fact, I thought he would win more or less from the moment he received the nomination. I think this time he will win with a more convincing majority, largely due to a higher turn out on Republican voters.

Just while I’m crowing about my prescience…I never predicted Brexit, ostensibly a country and system I should be more ‘familiar’ with, living, as I do, in a British colony.

Identity politics, the ultimate ‘own goal’

Yesterday I furiously wrote about an article that described that way that public health posters perpetrated stigma against people with a disability.

It made me think, once again, about the so-called left and perils of identity politics. This is well trammelled ground, but it’s increasingly striking me how dangerous it is.

I consider myself left wing, both economically and socially. This means that I believe in social and economic justice (broadly, the provision of welfare, including public health for citizens, not just because it makes them productive economic units). I am anti racist and I am a feminist. I am a secular humanist. All these things aren’t surprising, given that I grew up under the ‘New Zealand Experiment‘ – a failed attempt at operationalising the neo-liberal economics of the Washington Consensus.

Yesterday’s article on disability demonstrates the worst excesses of identity politics. It completely overlooks the colossal impact of mass vaccination campaigns against terrible diseases such as polio and smallpox in favour of a fine-grained, revisionist textual ‘reading’of posters used during the campaigns, between 60-100 years ago.

The imagery, it argues, depicts disabilities as negative and contributes to the stigmatisation of people with disabilities. Rather, we should depict people with disabilities as representing the ‘full spectrum of human difference’. Which of course, we do.

This is the long shadow of neo-liberalism, a cultural artefact that so individualises our thinking that all issues are refracted through the lens of ‘the person’.

As our politics is increasingly shuffled into the hands of technocrats – economists and ultimately, the authors of sophisticated currency trading algorithms, we search for meaning and engagement in the political sphere. We’re constantly told that decisions are made by technocrats, opaque and delineated along complicated economic (or epidemiological) modelling. It is beyond our ken.

And so, we’ve turned our agency inwards.

Now, I’m watching as the neo liberal machine encourages the flourishing of increasingly stupid ‘identity politics’ which is designed to disempower. Young people, disenfranchised both socially and economically, are encouraged to direct their agency inwards. Can’t change the world? Can’t get a job? Can’t earn any money? Constantly told the world is an unsafe place for you?

Look inwards. Look to yourself. Think very, very hard about your gender and your body. Spent hours on Twitter arguing about JK Rowling, threatening to kill or rape one another in some embarrassingly facile internecine war over the intricacies of your gender and ‘lived experience’. This is all you have left – this is the fetishisation of the individual when there is nothing left available. It’s tragic.

We often hear how the cult of the individual is the result of indulged, narcissistic young people, raised by helicopter parents, unable to function as adults. This misses the point. Late stage neo liberalism creates this narcissism. It fosters it, unintentionally, in the same way that heat opens a seed pod. Neo liberalism exists and thrives on the disempowerment of collectivism. The more individual we are, the more atomised we are, the less we combine together to demand change.

The irony of identity politics is that it promises personal freedom, the realisation and actualisation of one’s ‘true’ self. In reality, it just reproduces old inequalities and injustices.

Take the article about the vaccination posters, above. It might seem, on the surface, to be about empowering people with disabilities. Sure, it’s easy to see how these images could stigmatise disability. The author is no doubt lauded for her work.

But what are the real consequences? What does the article really tell us in terms of age-old injustices?

  1. It is wrong to connect vaccination with the absence of a paralysing or debilitating disease.
  2. Disability doesn’t exist, it’s simply the ‘full spectrum of human difference’. Everyone is different, therefore, no-one is. Don’t stigmatise disability by offering help or sympathy.
  3. Overlook the material reality of mass public health campaigns (posters convey pictorial information to literate and non-literate people) in favour of focusing on unpalatable imagery that is, in some cases, almost 100 years old.
  4. We should privilege the individual (stigmatisation, hurt feelings, prejudice) over the collective (ridding entire countries of a painful, disabling and traumatic illness).

The author is basically pointing out that some 60-100 year old imagery of disability presents a pretty nasty picture by today’s standards and reminds us that people get disabling illnesses and we should consider their lives and feelings. I’m one of them, so I agree. Fair enough. That’s nice.

The real consequences, however, are more sinister. If you convince people that disability is ‘just another way of being normal’ you undermine attempts to address it. It’s a direct substitution of ‘feelings’ for ‘doings’.

Second, focusing on the individual (hurt feelings) instead of the collective (e.g mass public health campaign to eradicate polio) privileges one over the other. The first thing I thought when I saw this article was that it was written by the anti vax lobby.

Who loses? As usual, poor people, the least franchised.

Examples of the individualisation of political agency abound, and each and every time they serve to replicate existing disparities and reward the wealthy and powerful.

Yesterday I mentioned NZ’s shift to a midwife-led model of maternity care. Again, this was because of a sustained campaign based around identity politics – women as strong and capable, and birth as a natural process. Healthcare as a consumer item, a fashion of the body rather than essential, lifesaving technology.

The result, perhaps unsurprisingly, was that this cheaper model of care wasn’t as good for babies and mothers.

Here’s a classic example of the pitfalls of individual politics. Good healthcare is obtained through sustained collective pressure. If you can’t make the case on utilitarian grounds (the negative consequences cost more than the intervention itself) then you must make them on social justice grounds (I am a citizen and I deserve to have a healthy birth on those grounds alone). Here, women were undermined by a campaign, run by women, to shift their entire maternity model to a cheaper, more dangerous version.

Perhaps what is most striking is that no-one even thought to check and see how it was working along the way.

Once again, we recognise a structural inequality (being a woman) at the heart of poorer health care.

Identity politics convinces people to work against their own interests in a way that a monolithic government could never do.

Cancelling disability. (I’m very angry about it).

I was chastised this morning on Twitter and told I ‘need to read this article again’ in that imperious tone that academics sometimes use to express their own righteousness over someone they consider to be less able and educated than them.

The article in question is this from the Wellcome Trust.

I’m so angry (not really about the tweet, about the article) that this blog post may not make much sense so feel free to abandon ship.

The article describes how public health campaigns, circa 60-100 years ago, are guilty of perpetrating able-ism against disabled people. Disabled people, it argues, “display the spectrum of human difference”. They’re not errant, or broken or wrong, simply, different. To suggest otherwise is to stigmatise them.

These posters are ‘problematic’ apparently because they portray a sense of guilt and shame that accompanies the acquisition of an illness, thus stigmatising the patient as carrying something of the guilt or shame of their lack of vaccination. To be paralysed by polio, for instance, carries the regret of not vaccinating against polio:

“The use of disability to shape public health behaviours was not restricted to sexually transmitted infections. Smallpox vaccination campaigns often played on the fear of scarring and other disabilities. A Soviet poster from the 1930s shows a young man being vaccinated while the figure of an older man with a severely scarred face, his cane and blank eyes signifying his blindness, looms in the background.

The disabled man is a warning: his blindness and disfigurement are presented as the consequences of failing to vaccinate. Public health posters that use explicitly disabled figures to influence health behaviours only reinforce the existing stigma around disability. Historically, this stigma has contributed to disabled people being shunned, neglected, discriminated against or being socially isolated. 

My point (and tweet) was that public health campaigns like the the eradication of polio often used posters to encourage take-up of vaccination or inoculation because they portrayed the message clearly. Importantly, posters don’t require many words, important in an era of lower general literacy. Indeed, the eradication of smallpox was in part engineered through radio – the ability to spread spoken, rather than written, material was very helpful. It is an astonishing story of success over a terrible disease, involving the co-operation of many countries and a general faith in science.

Nothing to see here, move along people.

Yes, the images in the posters are dated but are they ‘stigmatising’ of disabled bodies?

Some are, for sure. The image of the young girl ‘blighted’ by syphilis is a shocker by anyone’s measure,

It’s also almost 100 years old but thankfully, through articles such as these and the magic of the internet, we get to reconstitute the stigmatisations associated with some diseases. Otherwise this nasty little image might have just faded into obscurity.

I tried to think about why I felt so angry about this essay. I think it started with the sentence;

The disabled man is a warning: his blindness and disfigurement are presented as the consequences of failing to vaccinate

The reason blindness and scarring are ‘presented’ as the consequences of of failing to vaccinate is because they ARE the consequences of failing to vaccinate. I think this is what got me furious.

So often we’re told to keep an eye out for government authorities telling us lies. Yet, the time to really shit ourselves is when we’re told that the truth is unacceptable.

Smallpox was a hideous, extremely contagious disease. It’s easy in 2020 to argue about the niceties of a campaign for eradication but it was the 1930s in Soviet Russia and people were a bit……preoccupied. Revisionism aside, I struggled to work out why I felt so angry about this article.

In my early 20s I had a bit of time to think about how disability is constructed, mostly during the long months when I was completely paralysed on a respirator, unable to blink, and being fed through a tube while I came to terms with being a cripple (my word and I WILL NOT be chastised for claiming it) for the rest of my life. I had been advised that I would not recover the ability to walk, nor pilot a wheelchair on my own. I was in a hospital ward with many other people who were in a similar situation, many of whom had MS, but there were others too – stroke victims and victims of motorcycle accidents, all of us washing around in the too-warm soup of the therapy pool, into which we were lowered like crayfish in a pair of tongs, shucked of beige, prosthetic limbs. There we were, cheerfully living on the ‘spectrum of human difference’.

I had the rare good fortune to not end up totally paralysed but it gave me an insight into the world of disability and the importance of speaking plainly about it. I’d heard this idea before – the idea that my body was on a spectrum of human variability – from the physio, to which the guy from the room next door snorted and said, ‘Yeah, the fucked end’. He would know – he died a couple of months later. THIS IS REALITY.

I think the spectrum idea is offensive because it flattens and conflates the experiences of disabled people with those of non-disabled people, thus eliding the unique and often extremely difficult challenges they face to perform the simplest tasks of living. It’s kind of like the ‘nice’ physio who chirpily told several of us patients that we weren’t ‘sick’ before she hopped on her expensive racing bike she’d parked in the hallway and whizzed off into the outside world. I get where she was going with it, but fuck it felt like being cancelled.

And I guess that’s the point. If you normalise ‘human difference’ it’s a quick step away from saying, ‘you’re fine’. But people’s physical realities ARE part of their personalities. Go and tell someone with end stage bone cancer that the pain they’re feeling is just another way of being human. It’s true, of course, but it’s also most specious and egregiously heartless. It’s also selective. I note that we don’t tell someone who feels they’re ‘in the wrong body’ that actually, it’s not ‘wrong’, they’re just on the spectrum of normal human difference. Our physical beings, our physical bodies, matter. We are embodied beings. And sometimes those bodies are a bit on the shabby side. I know mine is.

When you plot everyone on a ‘natural scale of human difference’ you erase the singular fact that some people’s lives and experiences are incredibly difficult. They present unique and painful challenges, challenges that should be recognised. I know that some people treat people with a disability poorly – they talk dismissively, or, more commonly, they don’t talk to you at all. They design buildings that are fucking impossible to navigate in a wheelchair. It’s humiliating, sitting, waiting for someone to help. We need to fight this stigma. We need to treat people well. Telling people we’re ‘different like everyone else’ (and therefore all the same – thanks Fantastic Mr Fox) doesn’t help.

I find the vaccination argument in the essay particularly offensive because it suggests that not wanting to end up paralysed from polio is a bad thing. If there’s any ‘able-ism’ rocking around, it’s the idea that people who are at risk of polio should embrace the opportunity to live on the ‘spectrum of human difference’. It brings to mind all the other times that vulnerable groups are manipulated into thinking that preventable pain and disability is good. New Zealand shifted its entire maternity system to a midwife-led model and did not study the impact of the change for 20 years. Because who gives a fuck about women and babies, right? How about the cults that convince people that childhood vaccinations aren’t necessary. Because who gives a fuck about children, right?

* I can walk and use buildings in the mainstream way now but constantly make complaints about their lack of accessibility, which happens ALL THE TIME and in places you really wouldn’t think would be so bad, such as museums, public art galleries and train stations. I am informed that this is called ‘being a Karen’ which is a good example of how women get cancelled for trying to improve something important.

Choose your own apocalypse: COVID and bushfires.

As many others have noted, the coronavirus pandemic is illustrating the peculiarities of our relationships to one another as individuals within a society. Indeed, most historians would argue that communicable diseases initiated the modern state as we know it. In short, there’s death and taxes but the buck stops at plumbing.

I used to live in California, and my friends give an interesting and troubling insight into daily life in the age of the pandemic. Most of my contemporaries have children, all are educated and financially secure, and all have been self isolating to various degrees since about February. I should say, I haven’t lived there for years so I can only make statements on what I see from my friends and in the news.

School goes back in California this month and Governor Newsom has declared that children will return to online learning only. For my contemporaries this means they continue to live in isolation whilst working from home. In some ways our lives are similar – I’m working from home, although I could go into the office and be relatively safe. I would be temperature checked, logged in and there would be a limit on the number of people I could be in a room with. However, in other ways I’m realising that we’re on quite different trajectories.

For us in NSW, schools closed for 6 weeks early on in the pandemic (about March). Despite some local cases, schools have remained open with some restrictions around adults on campus, hand hygiene and group gatherings. Mostly though, school is back to normal.

I can go walk down the street in my local town and see maybe only one or two people wearing a mask. I can go shopping more or less as normal. I can visit friends for a cup of tea. e’d probably sit outside. Many councils are now relaxing rules on outdoor seating so cafes can close their indoor spaces.

In areas where social distancing is not possible, people are asked to wear masks, and almost entirely comply. In short, the government has explained the risk and the conditions under which masks are appropriate, and by and large, most people follow the guidelines. Our local supermarket is sometimes quite busy and has asked all patrons to wear masks. Everyone does. It’s not ‘required’ and no-one will be thrown out of the shop, but so far I’ve not seen anyone without a mask. Other smaller shops, the butcher for instance, have limits on customer numbers. People wait outside until they can go in. It makes sense – you’re just waiting anyway.

Mostly though, people aren’t wearing masks unless they’re asked to (the chemist for instance, asks people to do so, and people do). Aside from a bit less social interaction, our lives are more or less unchanged.

For my friends in California, life seems to me to be more restricted. People appear to be consciously living in ‘bubbles’, children largely remain within their family ‘bubble’ and food/supplies is managed either through online ordering or strategised procurement.

A friend’s online posts on show her hiking in the wilderness with a friend, for miles in solitary wilderness, both of them wearing cloth masks. I wonder if the cloth masks (rather than N95 masks) are to protect others – it seems to be the case, signalling inclusion in a community of likeminded people who care about one another and have a sense of social solidarity. When venturing out of this community, however, they will encounter much larger groups of people who’re not wearing masks – generally poorer people who’re performing essential work (like delivering groceries) and will likely get the virus soon if they haven’t already.

And this is the point: In essence, my friends are waiting in virtual gated communities for the virus to reach some level of herd immunity in the surrounding population. In other words, at a certain point, rumoured to be around Christmas, the virus will reach a tipping point between susceptible and infected in the population at large.

Let me tell you about birds.

Last month a flock of black cockatoos stripped every nut off our huge macadamia tree, screeching and dropping the shells onto the driveway. We’ve always had black cockies in the trees out the back but this is the first time they’ve been hungry enough to have a crack at the tree.

They’re here because we live in a small patch of unburned bush, not more than about 20 square kilometres in size. The fires that ripped through our area on New Year’s Eve and then twice more in the coming weeks were stopped by the river, a natural firebreak, on our northern boundary.

This small oasis of bush, which is now a refuge, groaning with hungry birds and animals, is now considered ‘safe’ – because it’s been effectively back-burned. Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 10.59.08 am.png

I can’t help thinking of my friends in California, living in small, largely COVID-free havens where people work hard to reduce both their personal risk and the risk to others in their small, likeminded community, waiting for the surrounding population to backburn an ‘asset protection zone’ around them and effectively reduce the risk to zero.

Of course, you can’t account for a random lightning strike.

In Australia, we’re all more or less susceptible to COVID19.  The numbers of cases in Victoria are shocking for us, but they’re actually comparatively small. In NSW for instance (my state) we’ve recorded 3 new cases today, all linked to existing clusters. The numbers are declining daily. We may get to ‘effective elimination’ where we assume the disease is still around, but in very low numbers. There’s an enormous, continuous testing effort, and an elaborate contact tracing and testing program. We are unburned forest. Our ‘asset protection zone’ is the ocean. It’s no surprise that so much focus is on Australia’s borders. New Zealand is in a similar situation.

In a way, California seems more like a tale of two cities – a small, relatively wealthy community of people living amongst a much, much larger service class. This itself isn’t new –  California’s economy is often described as suffering from a form of Dutch disease – there’s a huge discrepancy between the small, high income elite and the much poorer, much larger majority who’re participating solely in a domestic economy (both working and consuming in the service and retail sectors).

Will these ‘two countries’, one ‘letting it rip’, the other ‘waiting it out’ make it to the Christmas herd immunity, with a small non immune population surrounded and protected by a much larger immune population?

In Australia we’re all sitting it out, waiting while the rest of the world ‘burns’, only our borders between the two groups is physical, whereas in California, it’s simply money and fragile networks of separation.

Interesting times.

When ‘both sides’ are faces of the same coin.

Increasingly, the management of COVID19 has become politicised. With that comes the usual ‘both sides’ arguments. In some countries and contexts, it’s impossible to have a ‘both sides’ discussion. For instance, if you’re in the US, one side might claim that the disease is caused by God or pixies or lizard people or something. With a population of over 300 million you’re going to suffer the effects of critical mass pretty smartly. It’s not a situation given to nuance.

In Australia and other nominally secular, science leaning nations, COVID19 has been managed by the technocrats. Broadly, the politicians listen to the scientists and follow their recommendations – even when they might seem extreme or draconian. In these contexts, ‘both sides’ are generally engaging with one another on similar terms, to the exclusion of lizard people.

Unsurprisingly the argument ends up over over the details. To what extent should states ‘lockdown’, and to what end?

I like to think I’m not hide-bound by dogmatic thinking. This means, necessarily, that I read widely on topics. The one thing that occurs me about my reading on COVID19 is that generally, there’s little debate about the numbers themselves. What differs is their interpretation.

For instance, this Swedish ER doctor has written about his experience in a large hospital in Stockholm. His post is widely circulated on what might be called ‘contrarian’ sites, that is, people who think various governments’ reactions to COVID19 have overreached. Lockdowns, they generally argue, cause more deaths, through medical neglect (failure to treat patients with other problems) and economic decline.

Dr Rushworth argues that his hospital saw an initial spike in cases and deaths, followed by a steady decline. Dr Rushworth suspects that although antibody tests show that only relatively small number of people have had the virus, more than 50% of people have T cell immunity, which is much harder to test for. Broadly, he surmises, Sweden has reached a type of herd immunity (although this is not strictly the definition of herd immunity).

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Dr Rushworth cites around 6k deaths from COVID19 in Sweden, a number he expects to top out at around 7k, as the (short) tail comes to an end.

His numbers and logic work out, and are not in dispute. Here’s the bit that struck me:

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Let’s repeat that. Sweden has around 700 deaths from the flu, every year. Sure, if you average out COVID19 over a year, now that it’s run its course through an immunologically naive population, it ends up with a similar CFR. But what happens before you get there?

And here’s the rub. Australia has just over twice the population of Sweden. This death rate would translate, pro rata, to around 12k in just a few months. That’s twelve thousand dead people by now. And that’s assuming that our hospital and health system would cope and we’d still be able to treat all the other people who staggered in through our hospital doors.

It also assumes one other thing: a relatively healthy population. In New York city, where the virus ‘let rip’ initially, the death rate is almost three times that of Sweden’s. Three times. 

88% of Americans have metabolic disease, a significant risk factor for COVID19 morbidity. Swedes are much healthier. It’s worth noting that the majority of younger deaths in Stockholm were concentrated amongst its (large) immigrant population, many of whom have worse health in general that Swedish born Swedes.

What does all this tell me? Where you sit determines where you stand. Your country’s basic level of health and healthcare should determine how you deal with COVID19.

Currently Victoria is undergoing a serious and wide ranging lockdown to reduce the case numbers. This is predominantly because Australians are shocked by the large numbers of deaths as the virus moves through aged care facilities. Dr Rushworth is more cavalier – many of these people would have died within the year anyway. This ‘harvesting effect’ certainly does account for some of the deaths, but not all. In Britain, for instance, where the general level of health is far below that of the average Swede, fatalities are losing many years from their lives.

I think, from what’s emerging now, Dr Rushworth is possibly right about T cell immunity. COVID19 is hugely infectious, and even with Sweden’s low level of restrictions it should be assumed that infections have reached 50% in Stockholm.

In my state of NSW that’s not the goal we’re aiming for.

It seems the aim is to allow for a small amount of community transmission and to limit the virus’s access to aged care homes especially until effective treatments are found. This does require borders to be closed for another year or two, at least, but there’s simply no way to ‘let it rip’ in Australia that doesn’t result in unpalatable political casualties. Australia will remain largely immunologically naive probably until a vaccine is developed, which could be a while. There will be ‘spot fires’ and some deaths. Australians will accept that.

The US, on the other hand, has a completely different scenario on its hands. Having lived in the US what’s striking is the general level of ill health. If there’s one country where a total lockdown could be justified, it’s probably the US. And yet, it’s the least likely to get one.

I’ve got no insights into the ‘rights or wrongs’ of lockdowns. I personally agree with NSW’s epidemiology informed approach at the moment, and its commitment to changing things according to the level of risk.

My point is that there’s little doubt now in my mind about the actual dynamics and pathology of the disease, because both the public health hawks and bulls seem to be using the same numbers.

Outbreak!

I was going to write a short round up of all the interesting things I’ve read about in the previous week, from Polynesian colonisation to retro-viruses.

But instead, I’m going to write a little post about what it’s like living with the omnipresent shit-fight of Covid.

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The Soldiers’ Club at Batemans Bay

Let’s be clear.

Covid saved my town.

Well, kind of.

In my regional area, badly affected by bushfires, the ‘covid money’ (doubling of the dole and job keeper) stopped many businesses and residents from leaving. Many businesses had suffered through the summer downturn due to the Currowan fire raging to the north of Batemans Bay. Many of these businesses are wholly seasonal – they rely on the summer and easter trade to break even. And, many had stocked up for the Christmas rush – cafes with freezers full of food etc. All of this was lost, at huge expense.

Then, after the loss of the Christmas business, January’s ongoing bushfire disaster (we evacuated three times in January) rung the last drinks bell for many local businesses. A lot of people employed in the service industry were struggling to pay rent. the ‘Covid money’ meant they could stay in their home, send their kids back to school in early February and generally get their lives back on track – albeit without much paid work.

In my little coastal settlement, close to Batemans Bay, people began to go back to work. Shops opened, restaurants opened. The outbreak in Victoria scared us, but then the borders were closed – causing an endless stream of caravans heading south, just like during the fires.

School begins tomorrow and many parents are looking forward to a bit of time without listening to FFS (Fucking Frozen Soundtrack).

And then two visitors from Sydney brought the Cove!

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The two men, a father and son, stayed in the Big 4 Caravan Park in Batemans Bay. They dined, one night, at the Soldiers Club bistro, also in Batemans Bay. They’ve gone on to infect another 6 people – so far. One of these cases is a staff member at the club, who worked another three days before finding out that they’d worked on the ‘Covid night’.

Importantly, there was a lag of around 5 days between when the men visited the club in Batemans Bay, and when they got test results from testing after they went home to Sydney. In that time, the staff member worked three shifts, on three days.

The Batemans Bay Soldiers Club is huge. Like most Clubs in NSW, it primarily exists to facilitate gambling on the pokies. The gambling lobby has real clout in NSW, which is of course why the Star Casino wasn’t closed down after an outbreak there, despite being a festering den of iniquity.

The local impact of our small outbreak has been significant. The two ‘index’ cases stayed at the Big 4 caravan park for three days. This caravan park houses both visitors and permanent residents, many of whom are elderly and very vulnerable. It’s not a tower block, but there are shared places. The risk, however, would be low.

Then there’s the club. The Soldiers’ Club is enormous. I don’t know its capacity but it would host hundreds on any given day. Friday and Saturday nights it’s a pub, in the truest sense of the word. In terms of a vector for a contagious disease, I can’t think of a better one. It has a large pokies room, where, according to scurrilous facebook gossip, the machines are not regularly cleaned between users. This should not come as a surprise, as the sheer number of staff required to meet this requirement would be untenable.

So, all the staff who worked on the same days as the infected staff member are isolating for 2 weeks, which means no work, and no money. It also means they’re at home with their kids, grandparents, friends and flatmates. All those people will still attend school, work and the pokies. There will be people who work at the Soldiers Club who also work at other venues.

Batemans Bay itself has been testing hundreds of people every day. First, the Club staff, and all the people who were at the Club on any of the days that the staff member worked. That number is in the hundreds. Then, all the people in the families of all those people. Remember, this staff member, and anyone else infected by the two index cases was circulating around the community for 5 days before they knew they were infected.

School goes back tomorrow. The local facebook noticeboard is on fire with speculation – who is this infected staff member? Who is their family? Do they have kids, and if so, which school are they at? Should I send my kids to school tomorrow? Should I let them take the bus and mingle with kids from other schools? Or is it safer to drive? Should I pack a school lunch with finger food? Or only cutlery food?

Local rest homes are on high alert. Did the infected staff member live with someone who works at one of the many local rest homes? Are they a close contact of someone who works at the hospital?

Where does the staff member live? What’s their local supermarket? Do they live in the Bay? Which petrol station do they fill up at?

For me, I keep thinking of the cost. Two people pay around $120 for a couple of nights at the Caravan Park, and about $40 for two meals at the Bistro. Now, the Southern Local Health district has to employ literally hundreds of medical staff to test people at pop up clinics. These staff cannot then work in the two local hospitals.

The Soldiers Club has lost three or four shifts worth of workers as they all isolate. (edit: I’ve just seen that the Club will be closed for two weeks under a public health order). And literally thousands of residents are lining up, in their cars at testing clinics at the sports ground.

And finally, what are the chances that the staff member passed it on? Well, NSW Health recently said that infected cases were becoming infectious within one day. How many people did that one staff member come into contact with in 5 days? Not just work, but friends, kids, kids’ friends, shopping…..?

Then there’s all the usual talk of failures in the system:

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It’s obvious that the risks are heightened when sharing meals, and the restrictions are largely being followed. We went for a day trip to Bermagui a few days ago and visited three food places (cafes/takeaway). All were fastidiously following instructions and NSW Health requirements. If temperature is a factor, then we’re better off than Melbourne – most daytime temps are around 20c at the moment. We’re also a sparsely populated area. Workplaces are small, with few staff. There’s enough room to move. Schools are on high alert and children are washing their hands and sanitising constantly. Many older teachers retired at the beginning of the pandemic, which I found quite interesting/depressing.

But if the lag between infection and infectious is only a day, that makes the chances of community transmission very high. Moreover, 35% of our population is over 60 – the oldest Shire in NSW. We don’t have an ICU (there’s something that more or less functions as one, but it’s not suitable for highly infectious Covid patients). So, infected patients would need to be moved to Canberra, Nowra or Bega. A friend who works on the choppers told me they’d geared up at the beginning of the pandemic to fly people to Canberra, and that NSW Health and said this was the first choice for local people, due to Canberra’s large capacity.

If Covid gets into a rest home in our region it will be a holocaust – there is simply nowhere to evacuate infected residents to.

Most people in NSW think a second lock down at level 3, the same as the first, is inevitable in Sydney but are hoping to avoid one in regional areas. I’m quite confident that a local outbreak in our region could be contained, but not without significant infection and possibly deaths, especially given our demographics.

So, that’s a roundup of what paranoia looks like on a daily basis.

CARRY ON.

 

Bushfires and kids

Just before school finished for the holidays the RFS and ‘State Mitigation’ (such a great Orwellian name) undertook a controlled burn in the bush immediately to the south of our suburb. These burns are not usually advertised in any way, except on facebook which means most people don’t know about them. Obviously then, these proscribed or controlled burns usually elicit some level of panic.

We knew about the burn because we know the landholder. However, many did not. In fact, the first we knew that the burn had started was a flurry of frantic text messages from friends in the area – ‘where’s that smoke coming from? what can u see from your place?’

The kid was on the school bus. As it wound its way alongside the river, the schoolkids caught sight of the huge plume of smoke rising out of the bush behind their homes. They all began screaming and crying, and asking the teens on the bus (who had phones) to call their parents to find out if the fire was coming to burn their houses down.

Imagine sitting on a bus with 30 odd kids screaming and crying at the sight of a controlled burn.

That’s the impact of the 2019/2020 fires. I know kids who can’t sleep, still. Kids who started wetting the bed. Kids who became overly worried about every small thing. Then, when Covid came along, these particularly anxious kids were affected particularly badly. Others, often those who hadn’t experienced the fires (many families had left the area over Christmas as the air quality was so poor) mocked and teased the more anxious of their number.

We’re fortunate – our lives are relatively un-touched by the fires. We’re adults, we can monitor and mitigate risk, and had a sense of control over it. We knew, for instance, that we needed to stay awake and monitor the bush behind us for fire, as the RFS comms was not reliable. We also knew that our suburb was one of the safer areas, skirted by a large river that acts as a fire break. Finally, we were prepared to GTFO. We had several options, so if roads were closed there were other ways we could get to the river or the beach. We’d been thinking about this for literally years.

Kids don’t have this adult thinking.