|Issue No 23||23 July 1999|
Daryl Snow on the Sydney Storms
Perhaps no-one could have predicted the hailstorm that descended on Sydney in April and set about brutally punching it's head in. But in the seconds after the storm passed it was clear that despite the lack of warning, the city's emergency services were ready to kick into gear.
Our service, the NSW Fire Brigades (remember that name because we will be testing you later on your memory) mobilised all resources providing aid, professional expertise and rendering people and their properties safe. The State Emergency Services, as it does, dutifully responded rendering assistance in a manner developed through many years of planning and executing relief for storm and tempest damage. The Police and Ambulance services also did what they do best providing some much needed assistance wherever they could.
The Salvo's, other relief workers, government agencies and utilities all played a vital role in restoring homes to habitable levels or relocating the worst affected victims. All in all, it was as good a response as could be hoped for given the circumstances that saw Sydney left pondering the entry and exit points of a few million well struck cricket balls that rained down on it's canopy.
Sorry, did I forget to mention the Rural Fire Service? Well bugger me, I need to apologise for that. Perhaps I am suffering from the selective strain of ego driven amnesia that seems to have struck Phil Koperberg at the same time as the hail hit.
Here's a join -in game we can all play. Everybody say this. "THE NEW SOUTH WALES FIRE BRIGADES". Come on, don't be shy. Repeat after me, "THE NEW SOUTH WALES FIRE BRIGADES". Now say "THE STATE EMERGENCY SERVICES".
That wasn't hard was it? Keely, my 7 year old daughter did so upon request and then looked at me oddly telling me that saying that was "Easy-peasy Japanesie". And she is right, which leaves us wondering how it is that Phillip Koperberg (aged in his late 50's ) seems utterly incapable of getting his mouth around those very same words.
While Sydney-siders were busy positioning buckets inside their homes, the heavens continued to open over the radio waves. The talkback gods rose up to pour scorn on the Bureau of Met whilst keeping an eye out for anyone else worthy of blame. What and who had failed us?
Former Liberal Party speechwriter Alan "the Parrot" Jones took up a perch on his trademark RSO microphone starting off with a very poor review on the performance of the band of Monty and the Weathermen. He extended his tirade to encompass the SES's performance as well.
Recognising that conservative political leadership really is all about carping and whingeing and brimming with the opportunism that has so far defined her, Chikarovski joined the chorus. Fresh from undermining one leader she joined Herr Jones in taking the long handle to poor old Horrie Howard and before you knew it, the deepening trough that traditionally provides a place for AJ and Chika to swish their snouts welled up into a political storm that threatened to engulf the whole of New South Wales.
The government got spooked. It was at this very moment that Phil Koperberg knew that the heavens had opened up for the purpose of admitting Him and his personal elevation to glory was again imminent. His well intentioned but largely untrained crews may not have had the skills required to do some tarping, but their boss's expertise in quelling the rising levels of carping was in much demand.
The destructive forces of politics that had ripped through the SES had brought with it a podium for someone far less relevant to have a say. And what did he say? Quite a lot as usual but he just couldn't, just could not, bring himself to acknowledge that the NSW Fire Brigades and the SES were in fact present.
You could be excused for thinking that such criticisms of our bushfire hero are a little petty. But we would have to strive very, very hard to compete with the tiresome brand of petty rivalry that found Phil climbing over a million chicken carcasses looking for a place to bury any mention of the involvement of any agency other than the "volunteers of the RFS".
Perhaps it was a burning desire to instill his overblown image as the prospective CEO of an emerging theme park tentatively titled Disaster-Land. Maybe it was a therapeutic response having been temporarily sidelined with Attention Deficit Disorder during and after the Thredbo operation.
Either way, it was not a statesman's role he played when called upon to do so in Sydney. It was always doubtful that big Phil could abandon his insatiable desire to self promote at the expense of others. At a time when the bigger game of politics had ruthlessly undermined the role of our sister agency in the SES and unfairly damaged the morale of their volunteers, Koperberg was unable to rise above the mantle of a lusty competitor for column inches or photo opportunities.
At the grassroots level (and a few floors above), most of us underlings work quite well together but it is the cheap point scoring and the propensity for Phil Koperberg and his white-shirted media moths to flutter around everyone else's porch light that casts a shadow over those that deserve, but cant match his craving for recognition and credit.
If the political forces that gave rise to his persona fail to rein in the egos that drive that agency's cause, and if the trenchant criticism of Koperberg's style from sources as diverse as the NSW Farmers Association, the Local Government and Shires Association, the SES and this Union is again dismissed then we may well see more damage in the future than has ever been recorded in the past.
Alongside these critics we have also heard from a clearly exasperated Coroner in his response to the '97 bushfires flatly refusing to repeat the lessons handed out, but not taken up after the '94 debacle. During the hailstorm reovery we also heard more of the sheer deception inherent in the Batavian Bugler's oft-repeated mantra that he can call on 70,000 volunteers at any time.
But never mind, because for every TV antennae that remained intact after the hailstorm broadcasting contrived images of tanker drive-bys under salute from the Supreme Commander, the real victims of the storm had a live show on their roof. On that stage they saw and heard the quiet, professional actions of real workers from the real fire brigade and the SES as they set about repairing the damage of the first storm.
The political and media storm that followed will be memorable only for its short blast of hot air from the talkback radio jocks, Kerry Chikarovski shamelessly undermining yet another leader who preferred substance over style and the controlled release of gas from a big fat balloon as it searched feverishly for a well lit place to set down.
And as we have already learned, these balloons are very showy pieces kept afloat with bursts of hot air, cast huge shadows, are hopeless in storms and are inevitably forced down in places they know nothing about. This one was no different.
Daryl Snow is President of the NSW Fire Bridage Employees Union
Interview: An Economic Wet
Dr Christopher Sheil on economic rationalism and the 1997-98 water failures in Adelaide and Sydney.
Unions: The Stench from the South
In 1997 the entire Adelaide metropolitan area was drenched in foul, sulphorous, sewerage odours, emanating from the Bolivar waste water treatment plant.
Environment: Trading into Trouble
Seattle, USA, is shaping up as demonstrator mecca in the lead up to World Trade Organisation talks.
History: Eveliegh Rail Reunion
Former workers and their families from the historic Eveleigh Railway Workshops in inner-Sydney are holding a picnic reunion and folk music festival on the site on Sunday, August 29.
International: Bosses Use Armed Gangs to Break Russian Picket
On 9 July 1999, eighty masked, uniformed gunmen accompanied by the local prosecutor and other officials tried to storm the Vyborg Pulp and Paper Mill, under occupation by workers for the past eighteen months.
Satire: New Refugee Crisis: Journalists Flee Peace Zone
The camps are once again full in the Albanian border town of Gruntiez.
Review: 10 Reasonably Interesting Moments in Film
Cultural theorist Snag Cleaver flies off the handle again..
View entire latest issue
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/23/a_guestreporter_snow.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005