Stepping out the front door of my apartment block this morning I immediately took note of a scent familiar to many Australians: the acrid tang of burning eucalypts that invades ones nostrils and tickles the back of the throat.
The streets were shrouded in that familiar, and yet haunting, greyish blue haze.
You know when it’s a big one: hundreds of kilometres away you know what kind of beast it is. Out there, in the east it rages.
Perhaps all mega fires have this same smell, but for me the smell of burning eucalypt forests is a quintessentially Australian experience. Words are barely adequate to capture the scale of these fires.
“Yeah, it’s a big one mate…”
For me it conjures memories of catastrophic fires, when whole towns are wiped out and far too many innocent lives are lost.
Even though I was in my very early teens, I vividly recall the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.
Those fires came after a prolonged El Niño, record drought and severe heat wave. I remember the dead, brown lawns and the dust storm that presaged Ash Wednesday as it rolled across Melbourne’s suburbs.
Standing in the school yard, playing cricket with mates an unfamiliar rain began to fall: black shoot and fire blackened leaves, carried by the same winds fuelling the firestorm.
Perhaps my memory betrays me, but I recall those charred and partially burnt leaves twirling and spinning, hitting the asphalt like small black daggers.
The current Gippsland fire has burnt more the 59,000 hectares and destroyed homes. At least one person is dead.
And there is that smell: of burning eucalyptus.