ON a hot September day in 1957, I arrived in Nambour to find the town ringed by bushfires. Big areas of forest and farmland were burnt out, but there was relatively little damage to buildings and no loss of life … human life, that is; I hate to think how the wildlife fared.
Why was it so? Because the great tree change was still well in the future, and most land-holders in the surrounding districts were farmers. They well knew through their own experience, or that of their seasoned neighbours, how best to protect their properties and themselves.
Those were the days when the local bush fire brigade, largely unhampered by all the bureaucratic limitations that go with government funding, used only an old ex-army blitz truck and its members' experience in the prevention and the fighting of fires.
A finger held up to the wind was enough to tell the local fire warden it was either a good time or a bad time for a precautionary burn-off, and if a fire broke out or got away, a few phone calls always brought the neighbours, who were probably brigade members anyway, with their wet bags and beaters.
I give full marks to today's professional and volunteer fire fighters for their ever-readiness, and often, their heroism. Sometimes, though, I have thought that if more funds went directly to the front line rather than top-heavy, over-arching bureaucracy, the results (or outcomes, as the spin doctors always call it) would have been even better. Now, though, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Rural Fire Service staff cuts and office closures just announced will not make the job of the front-liners even more arduous.
As recently as September 2009, I noted that over the years since 1957, the risk of property damage and even loss of life from bushfires had soared, with so many houses having been built in bushland settings without enough thought to fire danger.
"I share the tree-changers' love of the bush and understand their yearning for a refuge from the rat race," I wrote, "but for some, this dream has come between them and their wits.
"On the wooded slopes of the Blackall Range and its foothills, for instance, one can see houses closely surrounded and in some cases even overtopped by inflammable eucalypt forest.
"Even in suburban Buderim, I have seen such places with their gutters fill of tinder-dry leaves just asking to be ignited by a floater."
Well, now it's September 2012, and at time of writing, the prospect of a full-on bushfire season worries me.
I have fought the odd fire in my day … including several in the Lockyer Valley and one that seriously threatened my own home in Nambour.
These experiences were foremost in my mind on a trip up Hunchy Road to Montville the other day, when I was struck by the wealth, and the danger, of roadside bushfire fuel, the result of a couple of unseasonably wet months followed by one of our driest Augusts.
Thanks to climatic differences, we may never experience anything like Black Friday 1939, Ash Wednesday 1983 or Black Saturday 2009, but even one home destroyed or worse, one life lost, is a tragedy, so if you have the slightest concern about the safety of your bushland home, get some practical, local advice from your experienced long-term neighbours and put a bushfire survival plan together with the help of the website ruralfire.qld.gov.au/