A Future in Flames: Danielle Clode

I didn’t expect to read about the disastrous 1998 Sydney Hobart yacht race in a book on bushfires. It was just one of the pleasant surprises I found in Danielle Clode’s new book, A Future in Flames. Yes, it treats issues arising from the shocking Black Saturday fires of February 2009 in Victoria. Yes, it touches on the possible impacts of climate change and of a growing population in fire-prone areas. But the distinctive difference in this book is the blending of a valuable historical perspective on fire in the Australian landscape, impressive insights into contemporary policy issues, and personal experiences that draw unanswered questions into sharp relief.

With the February 2009 fires as a backdrop (and a poignant dedication to the members of her local Panton Hill brigade, lost in the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires), the author applies her skills as a natural history researcher to provide a thought-provoking analysis of fire as part of Australia’s history. She does an excellent job of highlighting some of the lessons from past fire tragedies, including some that have still not been acted on! (For example, why is there no national standard on bunker design when it was an issue highlighted by Judge Stretton after the 1939 fires?)

While the thorough treatment of history might be expected from someone of Clode’s academic background, I was particularly impressed with the concise and insightful analysis of social and policy issues. This book identifies and summarises some of the key arguments surrounding contemporary bushfire management issues. How do conservation values sit with the concepts of active land management? What is the right balance between investment in suppression, and better planning and preventive measures? What makes for effective warnings and information flow? What are the respective roles and responsibilities of government, communities and individuals?

Also unexpected was that this level of analysis, insight and substance would be so readable, making it equally accessible to the general reader and the serious professional.

The sprinkling of personal experiences and perspectives through the chapters – her experience living in the bush, from childhood to now; her husband’s role in her local volunteer brigade; living through the February 2009 fires – brings a pleasing authenticity and sense of conviction.

In summary, this deserves a wide audience among all interested in understanding more about bushfires and what we need to do about them.