BUSHFIRES one week, floods the next.
Lethal weather extremes come with the territory in the ‘‘lucky country’’. But maybe Australians are getting better at coping with them.
Ferocious fires, mainly in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW, have burnt hundreds of properties and hundreds of thousands of hectares.
Two people have died – a firefighter in Tasmania and an 84-year-old man in his car in eastern Victoria.
Property can be replaced; people can’t. The death toll, four years after Black Saturday claimed 173 lives in Victoria, speaks of the skill and bravery of firefighters, the knowledge and planning of authorities, the commonsense of residents and the hard work of all.
The same infernal conditions have faced Australians this summer – a bone-dry landscape, high winds and record heatwaves with 40 degree-plus temperatures.
The threat in NSW was described as the worst on record. The perimeters of some fires extended over 100km.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said the tragic Victorian experience of 2009 influenced preparations.
‘‘Whether it’s the neighbourhood safety places, whether it’s the early warnings, whether it’s the bushfire survival plans and the clarity around whether to come and whether to go, we have learned those lessons,’’ he said.
Now Queensland is copping it from floods just two years after the last catastrophe. Three people have died. Let’s hope there’s no repeat of the 19 deaths of 2011.
Hearts go out to those in the Lockyer Valley, especially around the town of Grantham, which bore the brunt of the loss last time.
It doesn’t seem fair that these people are being hammered so soon after rebuilding their towns and lives, but nature isn’t fair.
People continue to live in flood-prone and fire-prone areas, often because that’s where Australia’s natural beauty is at its best.
They must do so not only with clear heads but water-tight insurance policies.
Some insurance companies became so adept at avoiding payouts and finding get-out clauses, that the federal government was forced to define a flood for them.
Here’s what it came up with: ‘‘The covering of normally dry land by water that has escaped or been released from the normal confines of: A) any lake, or any river, creek or other natural watercourse, whether or not altered or modified; or B) any reservoir, canal or dam.’’
Why the gobbledegook? Insurers last time refused more than 7500 claims for damage on the basis of the source of the water.
Home owners thought they were covered but weren’t, others were paid for contents but not the residence.
Fair dinkum insurance policies that don’t need a lawyer – that’s another lesson the lucky country must make sure it learns.