My faster half became briefly famous for his alternate view of the 2003 Canberra bushfires. By way of introduction, the SMH wrote on 19 January:
“Mr Howard cut short his summer holidays today to return to Canberra to inspect the burned out remains of hundreds of homes destroyed in the ferocious firestorm that ripped through the ACT yesterday.
He thanked scores of firefighters, police, volunteers and army personnel as he visited the Emergency Services Bureau.
The prime minister then tried to give some comfort to residents who had lost their homes in the ravaging blazes as he made his way through the fire-hit suburbs.”
‘Day of Terror in the Suburbs of Canberra’ by Richard from Weston
My day of terror began on Sunday morning when I tuned into a local radio station. The previous day I had been busy inhaling ash, hosing houses, watching flames come towards me from three different directions etc etc etc. But by 10pm Saturday night the fires had moved on and it seemed that everything had worked out well for my street. When I woke up on Sunday morning we still had no electricity, but the cooler weather and lack of wind gave plenty of reason for optimism.
So nothing could have prepared me for that sickening moment when I turned on the radio and heard that John Howard was rampaging unchecked and unstoppably through the suburbs of Weston Creek, engulfing the bodies of hapless residents in hugs and stifling their senses with grating small talk.
At first he seemed to be safely contained within Duffy, two whole suburbs to the west, and at that point it still seemed unlikely that he would get anywhere near Weston. But in the unprecedented conditions we were facing, he moved quickly and unpredictably. Suddenly, without warning, his appearances flared up in Waramanga, barely a kilometre to the south. It was obvious that even my own seemingly safe street could soon be in danger.
I wished I had time to do some preemptive backburning to block off his progress, but there was no time. Instead I just stood nervously on my front lawn armed with a hose and a rake – ready to fight him off and protect my home and loved ones even if it took my final breath to do so.
But my luck was still in. Whether it was due to a change in the wind, or whether firefighters intervened, I don’t know. But his course changed and he left my part of Weston mercifully untouched. By mid Sunday afternoon I was finally able to feel confident the crisis was over. I could go back inside and relax, knowing that I could probably live the rest of my life without ever seeing him come anywhere near my neighbourhood again.
It went the tiniest bit viral.
After Annabel Crabb
published it in her column with appreciative scepticism (she called the piece ‘cheap’ and ‘funny’ and said it was ‘allegedly’ written by a Canberra local), he contacted her to confirm that he was both (a) real and (b) the author. Pleasantries were exchanged.
He maintains only a shadowy presence on social media and did not take up Annabel’s career advice so I’m unable to confirm his identity. But I have been living with him for a decade: he’s legit.