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The bushfires of 1851-52


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There were bushfires recorded most years since white settlement in 1788 and no doubt there had been previously.


One of the most remarkable circumstances peculiar to the country i.e. in contradistinction from England (and we believe it prevails nowhere to a greater if to so great an extent as in New South Wales) and which must be viewed as a phenomenon by the new settlers, is the conflagrations which are constantly witnessed throughout the summer in every part of the country. Seldom a night passes, but the horizon is illuminated by the tremendous fires which rage in every direction of the compass, and blaze in a greater or less degree according to the nature and thickness of the bush, and the degree of wind blowing. (Sydney Times, 14 January 1837).


Through the 1830s and 1840s fires burned every summer. Unusual heat and dryness were recorded in the summer of 1849-50, leading to bushfires around Sydney and Adelaide.


We leave the extraordinary fact, as to the coincidence of large tracts of country being simultaneously affected by conflagration, at very distant points of latitude and longitude, to those who have more leisure than ourselves for the interrogation of nature. Whether it be the stockman's pipe, or the bullock-dray fire, or the wilful incendiarism of kangaroo hunting aboriginals, or whether it be the fragments of glass bottles, which act as so many lenses, that are assumed as the cause why the bush is frequently ex-posed to the destructive element, is beside our object. (Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 1850).


There was an intense drought in 1850, so fires burned again in the summer of 1850-51. Newspapers published warnings such as


All those who have a low and inflammable scrub in the vicinity of their habitations should lose no time in preparing for the fearful visitation of a bush fire. A little exertion at the present time may perhaps save them from utter ruin a month hence. A space should be cleared all-round the fencing, or at all events there should be such a clearing in the vicinity of the buildings. The width of the cleared space must depend upon the height of the surrounding scrub. (Maitland Mercury 4 Dec 1850).


However, no one was prepared for the terrible bushfires that swept through Victoria on Black Thursday in 1851.


The temperature became torrid, and on the morning of the 6th of February 1851, the air which blew down from the north resembled the breath of a furnace. A fierce wind arose, gathering strength and velocity from hour to hour, until about noon it blew with the violence of a tornado. By some inexplicable means it wrapped the whole country in a sheet of flame — fierce, awful, and irresistible. (Picturesque Atlas of Australasia published in 1886)


The Wikipedia entry on Black Thursday says the weather reached record extremes.


By eleven it was about 47 °C in the shade. The air cooled to 43 °C by one o'clock and rose to 45 °C around four o’clock. Survivors claimed the air was so full of smoke and heat that their lungs seemed to collapse. The air was so dark it made the roads seem bright. Pastures and plains became shrivelled wastelands: water-holes disappeared, creeks dried up, and trees turned into combustible timber. Clouds of smoke filled the air; forests and ranges became one large "sheet of flames". The hot north wind was so strong that thick black smoke reached northern Tasmania, creating a murky mist, resembling a combination of smoke and fog. Homes, crops and gardens were consumed by the rushing fire leaving a quarter of Victoria in a heap of desolate ruins. The community fled to water to escape the suffocating air around them, returning after everything was over to the sight of "blackened homesteads" and the charred bodies of animals that could not escape.


Black Thursday was the worst bushfire experience in Australia up to that time. Only twelve deaths were reported due to the sparse population, though stock losses were severe. The dry season continued, with fires burning through late April in NSW and Victoria.


We are in a truly awful state from want of rain: we have not had any for the last ten or eleven months, if we may except a thunderstorm some months ago, which was very local and of short duration. (Goulburn Herald, 26 April 1851).


In the summer of 1851-52 it was again dry, and Tasmania’s turn for bushfires. Victoria and NSW had heat and thunderstorms, but attention had turned to the gold rushes in both colonies.



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We seem to have forgotten the need for a reduction of fuel in the bush. I would dearly love to burn some excess fuel on my property and could do it safely, but to apply for a permit would result in an immediate knock back.


I travelled from Gladstone to Albury on 22 Dec and came back yesterday by Qantas.


On the trip down the ground was obscured the whole way by smoke, worse in NSW and VIc. ON the return trip we had a delay of five hours, before we left Albury as the incoming flights could not land. Only just made the connection in Sydney and between there and Brisbane we flew at 29000' and could see massive thunder heads away to the West, probably over Barrington Tops and the great dividing range. They looked as if they would have to get good rain. Now here there is hardly any smoke.


A lot of fuss has been made about Scomo not doing the right thing and people have been deriding him, but I think the blame should be shared by all the pollies.


We really need some control on the fuel situation and also on the methods of fire fighting. It seems stupid to me for a fire to be burning downhill for a couple of days and for it to engulf the towns at the bottom of the hill. If the bush had been lit up from the bottom of the hill, to burn uphill and meet that fire coming down, there would have been little fuel in the towns.



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That's the problem (from a NON firey)


They keep lighting up (backBurning) more fires but loose control of them.


Saw a beauty  on Magnetic Island Fire bombed the national park and set the whole Island on fire.


Kicked every one off , back to the mainland.


Us yachties  were given a free berth at the newly made (ponds),  they call marina.





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Reports of extreme temperatures and droughts in the early 19th Century make one question the claim that it is the burning of fossil fuels that is the major culprit. The amount of coal burnt up to 1850 would be minuscule compared to the daily burn rates of the present.


You also have to look at volcanic activity. In 1815 Mt Tambora was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. All through the 19th Century there were massive volcanic events throwing all sorst of muck into the atmosphere.


The question that needs answering is why do we get these periods of extremely hot air.



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...The question that needs answering is why do we get these periods of extremely hot air.


It's down to where that air comes from. We've had a long period where most wind has blown out of the hot, arid interior of our continent, bringing desert-like conditions to eastern Australia.





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the Hole of England


Oi! England has its problem, but it aint that bad ;-)


I get the idea that thtoughout history, Aus has gone through sever heat and drought.. the nature of the beasrt.. However has anyone noticed, as was discussed in the ABC clip, that the country is getting more sustained periods of heat, drought, etc.. so the underlying pattern is changing from bursts to sustained.. and accorfing the ood professor in the ABC report, it certainly being influenced by climate change.. However, a few newspaper clippings don't make a statistically valid population.


What would be more interesting is the frequency and intensity of bushfires emperically measured over a long time period, correlated to the IOD and SAM events and correlated to the gradient temperature. Then I think we may get a better picture of the trends and possible, well, correlations.


I don't think anyone disputes that climate change is happening; what is in dispute (but less so than previoulsy) is that human activity is a fundamental contributor the the rate of climate change - and lets be real about it, heating up and drying out the earth. I don't even think anyone disputes it is a causal factor - it is a question of how much.


In my book,  it doesn't really matter.. if we are faced with a threat to our lives an we have the ability to at least reduce or delay the effects of that threat (i.e. reduce the rate of climate change), then why wouldn't we takesteps to do that and prolong our existence... (little dramatic but you get the idea). Just sitting back and saying, well, human activity only contributes x% of the problem so lets do nothing.. and accept our fate.. Doesn't seem like what we revere as human endeavour that separates us from other species.


I don't know of too many scientists that want us to return to cavemen lifestyles... far from it. Most advocate investing in new technology to reduce carbon emissions, etc.. Maybe they all have shares in renewable energy companies and Tesla.. And also, reducing our consumption and increasing recycling (although the latter obviously positivelycontributes to carbon emissions)..  can't be a bad thing. in terms of resource preservation, although articifial resource (i.e. money) proliferation would suffer.



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I find it interesting that a number of civilisations in earlier centuries, died out in dramatic fashion, after reaching peaks of development and culture that were quite amazing.


In many of those cases, it seems climate change or extended drought was the major driver that destroyed those civilisations.


But nowhere have I seen mentioned that the climate change or extended drought, was caused by that civilisation.


In fact, most archaeologists and paleontologists seem to have no idea what caused those dramatic climate changes that brought those civilisations undone.


I'm a little surprised that someone hasn't done some serious investigation and searching to find out if the dramatic climatic events of those centuries were natural, or man-made.


I have never seen drought or climatic change mentioned in any recovered stone or clay tablets, or any other surviving records - even though they have found extensive recipe books from the era of the Pharoahs, with the onion in particular being praised as food of the gods, and a mainstay of much of their diet.


There has been measurement of megadroughts recovered from trees from recent centuries - and the only civilisation that I have seen mentioned as being destroyed by a megadrought, was the Pre-Inca Tiwanaku civilisation.


But no-one has defined or delineated what actually causes these megadrought periods.



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I find it interesting that a number of civilisations in earlier centuries, died out in dramatic fashion, after reaching peaks of development and culture that were quite amazing.


In many of those cases, it seems climate change or extended drought was the major driver that destroyed those civilisations...


A fascinating area of study, 1T. I believe quite a bit of work has been done to explain the demise of several ancient civilisations and the topic is generating lots of debate among researchers.




The causes? I've read of several causes, ranging from meteor impacts to super volcanic eruptions. Long-cycle earth movements and wobbles also play a part in climate changes. At least some ancient cultures buggered up their environment or used up its resources.


As you say, mega droughts are now seen as a major factor. It's thought that the waves of migrants who overran the Roman Empire were displaced by a domino effect of changing climate. (I see many recent signs that this is happening again.)


A few sources:







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Prof. Connie A Woodhouse, a paleoclimatologist, was the originator of the term "megadrought", in the mid 1990's.


Below is one of her initial study papers (1998) on megadrought, as it affected, and affects, the Continental U.S.


It's 22 pages of fairly heavy reading, but essentially, what she is summarising, is that the droughts we know of in recent recorded, and reasonably-accurately measured climate history, may not be showing us the full gamut of megadrought conditions, and it is entirely likely in the not-so-distant future, that megadroughts of greater magnitude than those measured in say, the last 200 years, may occur over an extended period (20 years or more), and we need to be prepared for such events.





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Given the increasing alienation of most modern humans from the land they depend on for survival, I'm pessimistic.


Only three days after Qld roads were cut by a cyclone, ordinary Aussies started looting.


Our supplies of milk and ice cream are already under threat by this drought 




How is our society going to survive decades of drought?



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We should start a thread on what we can and can't live without; what you would pack in your quick-escape bag.


People often laugh at how many bottles of water I carry in my car.


Reminds me of a surveyor I once worked with. He'd made a hobby of bush survival, learning all about bush tucker and survival skills. He had a little Suzuki 4WD with water and food squirreled away everywhere, inside the door linings and body trim. Every little nook and cranny held something. He even had a complete oil change in oil stored inside his bullbar.



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In remote areas, your self-sufficiency can certainly be put to the test, and only a few survive a dramatic test, such as having your transport fail on you, leaving you to figure out a way out.


Harold Lasseter comes to mind as one of the older examples. His camels bolted on him in one of the most remote regions of Australia (on the Eastern edge of the Gibson desert) and he lost all his supplies and equipment, leaving him to try and make it back to civilisation on foot, with very little.


He was found by a small Aboriginal tribe who helped sustain him for a while, but 1931 was a very bad drought year, and the Abo's were struggling to find enough to survive, without the burden of Lasseter.


When the Abo's found their favourite yam patch had failed due to drought, the leader of the tribe cast Lasseter off, trying to save his tribe members.


Lasseter made it on his own, as far as a cave at Hull River (N.T.), back towards Alice Springs, but died of starvation there. Even that was a pretty incredible effort. But the bottom line remains, that Lasseter was poorly prepared for Outback survival.


When I was working in the W.A. Goldfields, we had a campfire discussion with an exploration geologist who got caught out in a very remote exploration region with a flat battery. This would have been the late 1960's.


The exploration geologists were very resourceful blokes and usually travelled well prepared. This bloke told us he set out on an rock-kicking exploration mission in a V8 Ford F100 ute (only 2WD in those days), and told everyone he'd be back in 2 or 3 weeks. He had adequate food and water, but had not set up any contact arrangements, or SAR arrangements, typical of that era of poor communications.


He set up camp in the remote spot for several days (he had a tent), and spent that time examining rocks. But the F100 had an AM radio in it that he'd been listening to whilst travelling - and he'd turned it down and left it on, unbeknowns to him.


After several days, he decided to shift and then found the battery was totally flat, thanks to the radio left on. It rapidly dawned on him, that he could be stuck there for an awfully long time, as no-one was organised to look for him if he didn't turn up, for even a month or more. He could he out of food and water long before any alarm was raised.


So he set to, trying to figure out how he could crank up the F100's big V8, with a starter motor that was useless. He tried numerous things, he said, such as wrapping a rope around a jacked up wheel, and pulling on it with top gear engaged (with no success) - before he decided the only course of action was to try and start it with a rope wound around the crankshaft pulley.


He removed the fanbelt, plus several spark plugs, to reduce the effort of pulling it over on compression - and even had to warm the installed spark plugs, before he finally managed to get the engine to fire up!


He reckoned the sound of that engine running - even though it was running badly and noisily - was the best sound he ever heard! He re-installed the missing spark plugs after running the engine for about an hour, to ensure there was enough charge in the battery to re-start it.


There's little doubt a very large majority of the population would perish in the event of a major disaster that disrupted food production and transport and water supplies.


There would certainly be a rush to acquire as much canned and dehydrated food as possible, but even that would soon run out, and the survivors would be back onto pure survival techniques.


I've read stories of downed aviators during the WW2 and their survival stories are interesting. American fliers lost in FNQ/Arnhem Land rarely survived, although a couple of them did. Finding stock animals would be important.



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There's a lot of little things you can do. In the 80's we had water type stored pressure fire extinguishers. I always made a point of filling them with drinking water only, no salty water or detergent/dispersants. From memory they hold 9 litres, about two days worth of water. It paid off as I had to drink mine just north of Lake Eyre. It tastes a bit stale and musty, but it's fresh and kept me going until we got through to an area with drinkable water.


Not sure how well it works, but an old bloke once told me how to interpret cattle tracks to determine if they are heading to or from water. I can't remember which way around it was, but his theory was that cattle will walk around a small log or branch going one direction and step over it going the other way.



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I once helped someone on the dirt road between Ivanhoe and Darnick. He had a flat tyre and the little Holden spanner wouldn't undo the nuts. Mid day, mid summer and he was carrying no water. Was quite stressed.


You could be in real trouble if there's no shade trees in that situation. I remember once waiting with a mate on the Birdsville track for someone. It was January, around 50 degrees+ with no trees, on that Sturt's Stony Desert section. Very few locals travel that time of year and we were there for a few hours and saw no cars go by. If you had no water, you might not make it through the day in those conditions. Even laying under the Toyota wouldn't have helped as the stony, gravelly ground was so hot. Only option was to sit in the Toyota with the doors open. We had plenty of water, but it got me thinking how quickly someone could be in trouble without it.



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I don't know of too many scientists that want us to return to cavemen lifestyles... far from it. Most advocate investing in new technology to reduce carbon emissions, etc.. Maybe they all have shares in renewable energy companies and Tesla..


Yes.  I am always amused by the notion that anyone who accepts the science must want to bring down the economic system 


Everytime I get involved in a discussion with a denier I take an action, I have moved my banking, super, electricity company and tomorrow. My solar system gets installed tomorrow, all prompted by discussions with deniers.


The other thing I do is invest tech. As a direct result of discussions on this forum I have bought shares in several new tech companies.  Funny you should mention Tesla, I bought some shares 6 weeks for $297 US per share and it is now worth $535 per share around about an %80 profit or about $346 Au per share. Not bad, thanks deniers ?  



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 The sunlight will fall on the earth whether you use some of it or not. A certain degree of independence is available in such action. Nothing before has offered such an opportunity to individuals in remote areas. Just think what sort of roadhouses can be established in the desert hinterland with no reliance on diesels roaring away at great cost till they die and the lights go out, and everyone cheers as the silence is terrific. I was in the shower and wasn't so impressed. Nev



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Developing nations are still building big Hydro dams with the stated aim of building power grids to link their whole country, despite rapid development of off-grid technology. I bet it's already cheaper for villages to install PV/wind or mini hydro systems than go into hock to foreigners for a massive power line.





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The other thing I do is invest tech. As a direct result of discussions on this forum I have bought shares in several new tech companies.  Funny you should mention Tesla, I bought some shares 6 weeks for $297 US per share and it is now worth $535 per share around about an %80 profit or about $346 Au per share. Not bad, thanks deniers ?  


OK - now you have got me pi$$ed off...


I contract to an investment bank.. When TSLA dipped, I wanted to fill my boots... But, I had to get what we call Personal Account Dealing clearance.. so that a compliance officer can say there is no conflict of interest and we are not going to unfairly profit from inside information we may have. Our US arm must have been doing something with them as it flatly denied my request and said wait, ironically, 6 weeks...


Congrats.. But I still hate you! (Not really... I am looking forward to those Triangle lessons you promised me ;-))



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