Christmas Letter – 2020

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What a year that was ...

Linda recommends skipping the Australian news, so feel free to go directly to 'The Family News'.

Through most of 2017-19, NSW including Canberra and the surrounding Southern Tablelands and mountain range, suffered a short, intense drought. In December 2019, there were massive fires in the forests all along the northern NSW ranges. One place that it severely damaged was Cathedral Rock National Park.

At the beginning of January 2020, we had temperatures over 40°, and multiple fires had burnt out vast tracts of forest along the southern coastal ranges east of us. This map is 300km/185mi square – equivalent to England and Wales up to the Liverpool-Sheffield line. The fire-ground shown in this SE of this map is the size of London inside the Orbital/M25, or 2 x Singapore.

The smoke from multiple fires was bad everywhere, but it accumulated over Canberra. For a week we had easily the most-polluted air in the world, way above Delhi, 30 times the 'hazardous' level.

South of the Victorian border, one fire took out a great park that we'd walked in a year earlier, and soon afterwards another obliterated the forests of the eastern (narrow) end of Gippsland.

In late January, a military chopper on a training mission scratched a rock on landing, and started a blaze that burnt most of Namadgi N.P. (an area the size of Berkshire), the edge of which is 10-15km West of us. In this photo of the pyrocumulus (fire-generated thunder-cloud), our place is behind the ridge on the bottom-left, about 5km from where it was taken.

On 7 February, the rains came, and were so substantial that they largely quelled the fires. But, fulfilling the cliche, they caused widespread flooding on the coast, causing more misery for the occupants of the 2500 homes lost in the southern fires, plus the thousands of summer holiday-makers who still hadn't managed to escape the fire-zones due to road-closures throughout the area.

The total area that had been burnt in NSW, ACT and Victoria was almost 8m hectares. The small rectangle containing Canberra is 500km x 400km. The second image is on a similar scale, showing the southern half of England. The Gippsland (E. Vic) fire alone took out the equivalent of Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. (The total area burnt in NSW, ACT and Vic was 60% of the total area of England).

Oh yes, and that was followed by COVID-19, first imported case on 25 Jan, first death on 1 Mar. This gave rise to a rare event – politicans asking questions and listening to answers, and applying the public health officials' recommendations. By mid-March, there was voluntary self-isolation of all arriving travellers, contact tracing, and expansion of testing services (all by States and Territories), and an economic stimulus package (by the federal government). The management was very effective, comparable with the best – NZ, Korea and (although achieved using different techniques) China.

The Family News

The COVID rules and close-downs affected people differently. Kasia switched her c. monthly session in Emergency Dept to Drive-Through COVID Testing – safely, thanks to personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper procedures. The family had to 'home-school' for a couple of months. Brendan excelled himself as a teacher, and the kids were reluctant to return to school after enjoying 'Daddy School' at home.

Karen was already working entirely remotely, her team being in Canberra; and Russell had been working some days from home. So both took to the workplace-closedown without a ripple. They've bought a flat in a nice part of inner-west Sydney, and have it well set up for the (now) four of them. Sydney prices barely flickered during the COVID period, so it remains very challenging to trade up from a flat to a house anywhere in the Sydney basin. Darius (now turned 3) is busy with day care activities and watching for aircraft (although, despite proximity to the airport flight-path, flights have been greatly reduced most of the year).

ANZAC Day ceremonies nationwide were cancelled, but small local gatherings occurred across the country instead. The one in Kasia and family's driveway featured 11yo Troy playing The Last Post, and ABC News nationwide carried this closing compilation.

May-June saw careful relaxation of COVID restrictions. But not careful enough: July-August saw a larger second wave, although mostly in Melbourne. Again, prompt and firm action was taken by State governments. During October-December, there's been careful relaxation. The 900 deaths, 75% of them in Victorian aged care homes, involved fatality-rates of 30% in the Over-80s, a quarter of that in the 70s, very low in Under-70s. As I send this, there's a new outbreak in Sydney.

In November, Russell could say to The Queen: "That's not an anus horribilis; This is". After several months of serious discomfort, he was re-diagnosed from diverticulitis to a bowel tumour all-but blocking his colon. He had an operation a week later, then out of one hospital bed just before Karen went into another one to have child #2, Xavier Wulfric Clarke. Surgery went well, but pathology tests showed cancer cells in a few lymph nodes, so in mid-December he started fortnightly chemotherapy for 6 months.

Russell's continued his Business Analyst work and family responsibilities, with only a brief pause for treatment and recovery. Karen worked until a few weeks before Xavier's birth, and now has a year on part-pay before a planned return to her public service position. Xavier had 6 days in hospital at 12-18 days old, to avoid harm from a respiratory virus. We've spent several periods in Sydney providing a bit of support, thankfully able to stay nearby with 45-year friends, Graham and Jill. This shot is from Darius' Birthday Party on 12 December 2020.

Brendan's Wing Chun business was suspended for a few months, but is otherwise very busy, with Kasia and Georgia active as instructors. They spent lots rebuilding the 1969 Mustang. In November, Kasia held her own 40th birthday party (picture left). Troy's first piano exam resulted in an A+, he finished primary school, and he has variously mid- and high level junior belts in three different martial arts. 7yo Misha continues to boss people around, wear pink frilly skirts, do cart-wheels, wrestle her brother, and pluck her guitar. The group shot (right) is from Christmas-time 2019.

As for the two of us, we managed fairly well with COVID-19 restrictions. (Roger's spent most of his time at the desk for the last 30 years, and is anti-social anyway). Linda's dog-training activities were suspended for a few months, but she spent the time organising an on-line dog-agility instructors course, followed by pracs when the restrictions eased. Land-care activities on the ridge have had a boost with more volunteers joining. She also finally started reading her parents' letters, exchanged in the late 1930s during the 7 years of their courting days between Sydney and Lismore (750km apart). Roger's efforts to sort out the Australian Computer Society have burnt a lot of his time.

There was no Bled visit; so Roger was in Australia in June for the first time in 30 years. Worse there was no alpine walking (so Roger's first post-70 walk of vertical 1000m+ is still in the future), and no photos of alpine views or flowers. We gave ourselves some solace by 'curating' (an 'in' word) our collections of flower-shots on islands, and a growing collection of coastal walks, samples adjacent. Linda's also done our 2021 kitchen calendar by (painfully) culling the calendar shots down to a mere 12.

Here's hoping for a summer with more rain and less fire, an ease-down on COVID-19 worldwide, and recovery all-round.

This is a page within the Clarke-Spinaze Photo Gallery, home-page here
Contact: Linda or Roger
Created: 12 December 2020; Last Amended: 19 December 2020