This morning I got off the train at East Richmond and crossed under the tracks via a dirty, graffitied subway to a narrow street of tiny, terraced Victorian cottages. Once, factory workers lived in them but now they have paper blinds in the windows, yuccas in the front gardens and silver BMWs out the front.
Down the street, the houses give way to small industry. A growling roar came out of an auto repair shop where an engine was being wound up on a test bed. Farther along, a circular saw in a cabinetmaker’s warehouse screamed as it bit wood. Across the road a refrigerated van reversed, beeping, into a seafood wholesaler's.
Towering over all of this like a fortress is the old Bryant and May match works. Factories like this once spewed smoke day and night over the suburb, known then by some as Struggletown.
There was haze over Richmond again today as I walked through it, but not from any factory. A capricious breeze had finally ushered smoke over the city, days after the fires. The sun rose this morning and hit the haze and at 6.30 it was a giant limpid-red ball, like a wet eye that has cried too much and doesn’t know why.
My sister has lost one of her best friends, who died from severe burns and grief. The friend's husband didn’t make it out of the fires on Saturday.
The helicopters flew across last night as usual. There were three, flying in formation. One of the pilots talks about the fires here.
Germaine Greer is the loud aunt in the corner. No-one really likes the loud aunt but they never care and they never shut up. They're the kind of woman whose voice can be heard at the back door, down the driveway, at the front gate and as she is driven away in the taxi.
On Monday in the Times of London Greer dragged the fire debate out of its green ‘noble savage garden’ comfort zone of the last thirty or forty years, and took it kicking and screaming back through the 1939 and 1926 fires, past Captain Cook almost to the beginnings of time 60 millennia ago.
Last night she was back in the corner again causing awkward, if not shocked, silences.
She said the failure (to) accept that fire is an intrinsic feature of eucalypt bushland would ensure that tragedy will occur and re-occur. "It can't be prevented but it can be managed ... until there is a fundamental change of policy across all levels of government in Australia, there will be more and worse fires and more deaths," she said.
"I was born in 1939 and Melbourne was under black clouds of smoke with cinders sifting down everywhere and we were already there on Black Friday," she said.
Well said, loud aunt. She may not be well-liked but people sure as hell listen to her. (My mother was 10 – almost 11 – on that January Friday. She remembers the horror. And there were vastly fewer people in Victoria back then.)
Food? Is that what this blog is about? We’ll get back to food in due course.