fire control is now exemplary
but Ash Wednesday smokes on
There were no mobile phones in 1983.
Mal Batkin, a Tollana Wines rep was about to join us when he was called to the telephone by a barman. He came came back flushed. "The wife just called," he said. "There's a bloody bushfire coming down the gully over our back fence. I gotta go."
I'd arranged months earlier to that evening entertain Tessa Sayle, the legendary London literary agent. Former 'organiser' of J. P. Donleavy and agent of Tom Kenneally and the gonzo illustrator Ronald Searle, amongst others, Tessa had been famously married to that legendary hardarse of the far east press corps, the Tokyo-and-Hong-Kong-based Murray Sayle. He called her The Austrian Princess. Star-struck, I expected to collect somebody with eccentric tendencies at the very least.
Many folks are going nuts wishing they could water their parched vines, but the power lines have been burnt so the pumps don't work.
Some folks died in their cars on Greenhill Road in 1983. The wheels had melted into the bitumen. Miraculously, a busdriver with a load of schoolkids drove along this track, through this blaze at its peak; all survived. My mate and colleague, the crack journalist Murray Nicholl, famously reported his own home burning down on this ridge. Murray died of leukemia in 2010. That was another sad day.
PS: While some of the hottest spots of the fire still rage within kilometres of the family vineyard at Paracombe, Kathy Drogemuller was back burning shoe leather, delivering wine in the city this morning, while her husband and son and neighbours stood vigilant at home, watching, waiting, preparing, helping. When I asked after their wellbeing, her message was "Oh thank you Mr White. I'm out on the road today. Yes, we must remain strong and life goes on."
Part of the beautiful Paracombe vineyard on a better day ... it's in a basin on a plateau high above the Torrens Gorge, which can act like a giant chimney when fire begins below ... photo Philip White