‘Banished’, a new BBC drama about the first British penal colony in Australia has had the CBRbound family gripped for the past few weeks. Written by the excellent Jimmy McGovern, writer of Cracker, Hillsborough, The Street, The Accused and many other outstanding series, the show attempts to depict how Australia would have been for those very first European arrivals.
As well as connecting these new arrivals with the story of those early settlers, the show also serves as a reminder of how brutal this land could be, and still can be – something that, as born and bred Europeans, still takes us by surprise.
A few weeks ago, there was a Gungahlin community fair in the town centre. There, alongside booths for sports teams, social clubs, arts and crafts and local services, was a tent dedicated to ensuring residents are ready for natural emergencies and disasters.
‘Are you ready for storm season?’ one leaflet asked. ‘Are you bushfire ready?’ queried another. ‘Do you have an emergency kit in case you need to evacuate?’
Such questions are fairly alien to us. The last time we had an emergency bag at the ready was when Mrs CBRbound was waiting to go into labour with Mini and Maxi-CBRbound. The last time I thought about an emergency plan was in the early 1980s, when the UK government ran its ‘Protect and Survive’ campaign to prepare the population for a possible nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Before that, it was when my grandfather explained why he still had an Anderson air-raid shelter in his garden.
“Because of the Germans,” he’d said, cryptically. My parents elaborated during the car journey home.
But emergency preparations are more than a once in a generation event here. As those first European settlers discovered, Australia can rage at you, and the consequences can be dire.
Cyclones regularly threaten the tropical north of this continent. Perhaps the most famous of which was Tropical Cyclone Tracy which, on Christmas Eve 1974 flattened the Northern Territory capital, Darwin. In 2003, Canberra evacuated residents of one suburb and lost over 500 homes to an out of control bushfire started by lightning strikes in the countryside west of the capital. This week, residents of Sydney were on the receiving end as “the storm of the decade” battered it with winds, rain and high tides that reduced the city from the nation’s showpiece capital to a rolling news story of tragic consequences.
And in amongst all that coverage was that most telling of phrases – storm of the decade. Not of a lifetime, or a century or ‘worst storm ever’, but the worst storm since 2005. Our emergency plan and bag are being prepared right now.
Australia at its most elemental deserves our respect.