Temperatures soared to 43°C (109.4°F) in our area of the Adelaide Hills—usually known for its cooler climes—and a northwesterly wind gusted unpredictably. It was a recipe for disaster and we all knew it. We were mostly packed and ready to evacuate, an annoying way to live if nothing actually happens (please read irony here). As the Cudlee Creek bushfire raced towards our small town, we ran from our homes. In 84 cases, those homes would have become tombs if the owners had stayed. The fire was a visible fury, a fearful beast suffusing the horizon with white, grey and yellow smoke. It imbibed everything in a feeding frenzy, relishing in its power and was headed straight for us.
We all hugged, huddled, and gathered in someone else’s home, far from our own. Our dear generous friends paused their day to support us. We held hands, consoled, entertained, ate, drank and waited out the disaster. Together. We somehow detached our hearts from the land and said it’s just stuff, we have everything we value right here.
We undid our sense of place and looked at it objectively. After all, we were not in control.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created closures as big as a continent and we are the lucky ones, our island home is safer than many countries right now. The Australian Government closed all international borders and the South Australian Government closed all state borders. But when I say closed, I don’t mean blocked like a triple-locked front door and security screen with nanny-cam spying down on you. No. I mean that you can still come home but you will be monitored: your whereabouts, contacts and temperature will be known.
At home we will not hug, huddle and group together. We will not hold hands, clasp each other or touch. But we will console, entertain, eat, drink and ponder in time and our place, waiting out this disaster. Together. Our home is our castle once again and however meek our moat and delicate our drawbridge, we are safe. Safe within the confines of our looming walls. Safe until the invisible invaders crawl in on the shoe of an unsuspecting ‘designated’ shopper or the palms of a lax-hand-washer. This is an invisible fury, a fearful tiny beast, imbibing our health, our sanity, and our loved ones: relishing in its power.
In three short months, we’ve undone and redone our sense of space, time and place. And, after all this, we are still not in control.