My home town continues to experience the worst spring weather in more than twenty years. As those folk overseas who keep an eye on international news may have heard, the entire State of South Australia lost power last Wednesday. That’s 1.7 million people without electricity, apart from those who installed solar panels on their roof and are no longer attached to the networks that (supposedly) feed us power.
As the light faded, my partner used a torch and candle to illuminate the work he needed to complete. I wondered, when I saw his image reflected in our dining room window, how my neighbours, friends and family would cope with the long, dark night ahead.
Later that evening I ventured out into the street. I could almost smell the silence. The dark houses were preternatural sentinels harbouring what I imagined were perplexed and slightly apprehensive neighbours. Fascinated by, rather than fearful of, the absence of light, I stood under the low, distended clouds. The wind streamed around me as I contemplated the neutered urban landscape. What, I wondered, was behind the desperate rhetoric of this storm?
Back in the house, the night was punctuated by the wind and the occasional waul of distant sirens, ambulances and police cars heading for a fresh accident or other urgency. I stood by the window and watched as the light of an incoming aircraft, sixty degrees North East of my home, descended from the clouds. I often watch planes coming in to land at night. From where I stand they look like remotely controlled miniatures under the guidance of a celestial pointsman. I tried to imagine what the pilots, crew and passengers thought of our grid shaped, eldritch shadowed city, dark except for a few public buildings and the spindles of light cast from cars threading their way along the black ribbons of road.
A day or two later we visited the river once more. Already swollen, the Torrens steamed along the abraded river bank like a water dragon pursuing its mate. People came, stood, watched, lifted their phones in supplication then, shivering, lowered their arms and retreated from the monster that was once a mere creek.
After a day’s respite the cold, the wind and the rain has returned. Sandbags bolster threatened homes; rising waters smother the roads and the extraordinary women and men of the South Australian Country Fire Service ignore the cold and the wet, busy themselves with preserving our lifestyle.
Meanwhile, in Canberra, men in dark suits and blue ties argue about what caused the blackout. No one is able to admit that, lest they confirm its truth, the very cities, the generators powering them, the cars scurrying through them, the planes circling them and the greed fueling it all are slowly, inevitably, relentlessly destroying everyone’s home.