OUR FIRES START in the ranges to the south and west of Canberra. It’s fairly open flat country, farm and forest land to the immediate south-west, but beyond the Murrumbidgee, one is in the ragged Brindabella ranges. As hot air from the plains runs into the Great Divide, there is often spectacular lightning The hills and mountains run south towards Kosciuszko, occasionally opening into plains but more usually thick-scrubbed or forested and very inaccessible, with steep mountain sides, creeks and gullies, the source of Canberra’s primary and pure water supply. It is dangerous country when the prevailing westerlies are picking up heat as they blow across the continent. Canberra is on the west of the Great Divide and unlike the other capitals, its weather is not moderated by the sea. Humidity is low, the number of sunshine hours the highest of any city in the country.
Only 60 years ago, there were sheep grazing within 200 metres of the old Parliament House. A well-known wit described the city as a good sheep station spoiled. We once had bush flies as bad as in any country town because of the proximity of sheep and cattle. Over the past 40 years, however, the grazing industry has retreated from the west, the south, the east and the north, these areas being progressively taken over by suburbs – to the north by rural slums. The CSIRO used areas around Canberra not only to trial its dung-beetle program but also to breed superflies – sterile Spitfires against the potent Tiger Moths. We retain our blowies, of course; indeed, they are the harbingers of spring. But the retreat of the bush fly is a measure of how one artificial form of nature – the suburb – has taken over another – the paddock.
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