My start to 2013 included a week long, family holiday in a house near Port Arthur (Tasman Peninsula). It was a much anticipated trip as my brother and his wife and kids were joining us from NSW and some dear friends had leant us a stand-up paddle-board to play with! We certainly didn’t anticipate the way things turned out.
After 24 hours enjoying the usual holiday house luxuries such as flushing loos, cold beer and lights at the flick of a switch, the fires burnt out the power lines that supply the Tasman Peninsula and we were suddenly glamping (camping with flywire screens and comfy beds). Along with other visitors and locals we found ourselves having to haul water to flush loos and wash dishes and use torches and candles after dark. Despite the change to our plans we realised how lucky we were to be safe from the fires and comfortable and the kids (mostly) adapted to the loss of their electronic entertainment.
One side of the fire situation that interested me was the issue of food (surprise, surprise). On a personal level, we had brought plenty of fresh supplies to suit the varied dietary requirements of the family (vegan/coeliac/FODMAP intolerant) but clearly, without access to ice/refrigeration, there was a need to use up as much as possible before it became inedible. The last thing we wanted was 10 people dashing to bucket-flushed toilets due to food poisoning.
We swiftly cooked up the frozen veges, left by the shack owners, into a soup that we figured could be left out for a day or two in the manner of our pre-electricity forebears and spread our sole bag of ice into three eskis with salt water to lengthen the shelf life of our milk/yoghurt/cheese and fresh veg.
The 40 degree temps rapidly sucked away the residual cold from the fridge and it was ceremonially renamed: ‘the frantry’.
We were fortunate to have arrived with cars stacked with non-perishable foods, and the holiday house cooktop ran on gas, so we only had to buy extra snacks (muesli bars, tinned fruit, UHT custard), UHT/powdered milk and matches to make ourselves pretty comfortable.
After a couple of days the evacuation centres at Nubeena and Port Arthur were heaving with generously donated food and water, and locals with fuel to spare were turning up on our doorstep with mini UHT milks, bread and fruit for the kids.
Some houses were hooked up to generators, which I suspect were safe-guarding their frozen goods and fridge supplies, but many must have had to throw out a large quantity of spoilt food. In addition the growers on the peninsula who rely on pumps to water their crops would have had to make some difficult decisions as to which varieties to focus their attention on (hand carting water or limited watering with generator support).
The main realisation for me from my experiences during the fire is how vulnerable we are to power/fuel loss in our modern day communities. Without power our perishable foods would only last a day or two and most people, especially in isolated areas without good public transport and shops, rely on fuel to gain access to these foods in the first place. In our Tasman Peninsula scenario people with vegie patches, off-grid solar, gas bottles and water tanks with hand pump back up and header tanks would have been relatively comfortable, as would those who preserve their own food.
At least I am heartened by the knowledge that our Tassievore community is doing it’s best to support our communities to reduce the reliance of our current food supply on carbon by: encouraging home-grown fruit and veg; reducing food miles by linking Tasmanians with Tasmanian grown produce, and providing re-skilling workshops to teach us all how to use and preserve the great foods we have available.
I am also inspired by the amazing work that volunteers and emergency service personnel do everyday and especially when times are tough.