There can be no stronger set of images than those which were broadcast around the world by media in the past week. Amplified by the internet they have been automatically viral in their spread – much like characteristics of the bush fires themselves.
We will never forget the results of a horrific fire which so cruelly damaged the small settlement of Dunalley. Any fire which burned as this one did was going to have its victims and its heroes. There has been major local damage to property, the school, homes, businesses, farms … and the tale of the Holmes family and their horror (and escape) by taking to the water, all define how Dunalley and the nearby area was set upon.
We could not have asked for more noble and eloquent spokespersons when they told their remarkable story.
Businesses too like the crayfish (lobster) tank farm with a million dollar harvest ready for the approaching Chinese New Year; destroyed in an instant. Luckily however there have been no recorded fatalities.
One of the best visitor experiences Tasmania offers, is its people … their natural warmth and empathy in a place which does not have the need for a frantic pace of life. Tasmanians are friendly, laid back and very much aware of the need to share this fantastic place. They know how special it is. That is also DiscoverTasmania’s purpose.
Tasmania’s situation emerged at the same time as one involving an unseasonably early set of fires in mainland Australia with New South Wales and Victoria having outbreaks of an alarming scale. The result not unpredictably in the world media, saw the whole story as ‘Tasmania’ and ‘Australia’ burning.
Luckily whilst there was an outbreak of fires at the same time (not unusual in an Australian context), they were very specific in their location. Port Arthur and the whole Tasman Peninsula was suddenly unreachable – reinforcing how strategically placed the former convict settlement was for its original purpose … incarceration at a distance from main population centres.
The community at Nubeena, the site itself, another on the East Coast near Bicheno, in the Derwent Valley near Russell Falls and at one small beachside settlement on the North West Coast near Wynyard have pulled together to support fire fighters and emergency crews. The community facebook page (Tassie-Fires-We-Can-Help) took pressure off formal channels by putting ‘people in touch with people’ … it was a classic Social Media success story. Our tourism industry has been amazing in rescheduling and accommodating some folk who had their plans disrupted.
And yet, there were other visitors who were not even aware of the bush fire situation and whose whole holiday/vacation around Tasmania, went ahead unimpeded.
Someone has asked – what is a comparison with other places in the world? What if you were journeying to a visitor attraction and were stopped on the way?
In the UK, the best example we can think of is Stonehenge – but the road has been blocked at a small town like Weyhill in Hampshire, as you came along the A303 to the Salisbury Plains. Pretend there are no other options to get back from your destination; you and two thousand others have to make do (without power) at Thruxton Aerodrome.
In the USA, perhaps it is in Maine. It is summer and you are heading for a lobsterfest at Rockland. On the way you pass through Warren and then can’t get through or back to where you have come from.
That was Port Arthur for almost a week.
Elsewhere in Tasmania, life and our welcome to tourists continued almost as normal. Except a large number of people pulled together and assisted visitors and locals who were caught in a set of circumstances they had little control over.
That was the week. We have told this story through facebook, tumblr, and twitter. We thank you for the enormous number of supportive messages. Tasmania is touched. We are touched. One more thing to do?
Pay us a visit. Soon.
(Port Arthur re-opens from 9.00am on Monday 14 January, 2013)
Composite from the Southern Tasmania fires January 2013