As readers may be aware, December began in sunny Melbourne with a deluge of biblical proportions – or so Melburnians were warned. These warnings were delivered in a strangely a priori manner via meteorologists, emergency service professionals, the state Premier, Gestuno interpreters, a sensational media, text messages, email alerts, and – in some bayside suburbs prone to flooding – by door-knocking.
The tone was of undiluted graveness. This was going to be a once-in-a-generation, catastrophic storm-event, said the Premier. We should go home from work early and kill all our livestock but for a mating pair; we should immediately buy a sustainable, carbon-neutral ark designed by Elon Musk before donning sturdy shoes and putting a $2 coin wrapped up in a hanky into our pocket. Even so, despite the warnings and the advice, we would all probably die well-warned deaths as the rain was going to be unprecedented in its impossibility; moreover, it was all our own fault because men use plastic bags in order to maintain the patriarchy and to make everyone believe the week has seven days, that the ceiling is up and the floor is down.
Indeed, at some stages of the warnings it felt like the whole thing had been dramaturged by Ionesco, drawn by Escher and performed in mime by Willy Wonka. No wonder on the afternoon of the first Deluge Day I wore a buoyancy vest to do school pick-up. It felt like the only sane thing to do.
Yet after three days of underwater near-death experiences, what had actually happened? A Maserati got stuck in an underwater carpark (if it had been a Mazda the photograph would never had made the news web page…). Some unfortunate people fell off ladders cleaning their roof gutters – yes, those dire warnings… And my rear cobblestone laneway was washed clean of its usual evidence of responsible dog ownership and sex industry excellence. In Balaclava I recorded – over the three days of the Great Flood – 50mm of rain. Melbourne itself recorded 60 odd. Yes, that is about the monthly December average for Melbourne; but it wasn’t intense or torrential rain. The only things that were intense and torrential were the warnings.
And why? It’s the new moral and cultural panic that grips all forms of our governing administrators in these, now, postdiluvian times. These bodies are gripped by risk aversion and gripped by any sense that any responsibility about anything that might happen in the public domain might be somehow sheeted home to them. A risk’s worst possible scenario – even when that risk comes from a part of the earth’s natural course, such as the weather – must be broadcast by every possible means in the most insistent way.
If this were motivated by a bossy sentiment to help people not get wet, then that would be tolerable. The motivation is only self-serving, however – and cynically self-aware. Our governments and their myriad administrative arms highlight the risk – in order to avoid the responsibility. ‘We told them Melbourne would be under water, Your Honour; a car got trapped in a carpark, Your Honour; we warned them, Your Honour; it’s not our fault, Your Honour…’ No wonder my thoughtful House & Contents Insurer sent me so many text messages over that weekend.
The rain in Melbourne is not the Victorian Government’s fault, yet they want to be clear and free of any possible risk. Odd, though, that they’ve never warned me about the State’s growing government debt.
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