Mr. President, distinguished guests, members of AILDM, ladies and gentlemen.
This year we celebrate another milestone - our fifth Annual Design Awards Dinner - and it is a great honour for me to once again be invited to present to this year's winner th
Mr. President, distinguished guests, members of AILDM, ladies and gentlemen. This year we celebrate another milestone – our fifth Annual Design Awards Dinner – and it is a great honour for me to once again be invited to present to this year’s winner the Allan Correy Award for Design Excellence.
Last year in my annual address I talked about how I was attracted to landscape design and how I had to travel to the UK to get a formal education and become a member of the Institute of Landscape Architects over fifty years ago. This year, as a sequel, I intended to talk about my graduate studies which followed in the United States. The tragic bush fires of Black Saturday and the disasters which followed in their wake right across Victoria have, however, caused me to change my mind and instead to address this sensitive but vital issue of living in the bush for all of us involved in the fields of landscape design and management and to discuss it in a rational and constructive way. As Patron of the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers I believe I also have a duty to contribute something to this debate by raising some of the issues in my talk tonight.
The present Royal Commission of Inquiry will gather the most up-to-date scientific data available on fire behaviour, management and control but so many accepted and theoretical methods of what to do in every type of situation failed the ultimate test. This means the Inquiry will have to start again from first principles. The fact that Europeans have tried, unsuccessfully, for over 200 years to live in fire prone environments in Australia, the driest and most flammable continent on earth, does not auger well for the future for either man or the environment.
After recovering from the initial shock and horror of the fires people are beginning to ask questions about what went wrong and, of course, are looking for a scapegoat and, as always the finger is already being pointed, in general, at areas of vegetation and, in particular, at native vegetation. This has an all too familiar ring and already there is talk of more frequent hazard reduction burning, more clearing of fire breaks and designing and constructing buildings which withstand bush fires. Each of these has some merit but each has its downside. Prescribed burning produces much atmospheric pollution, destroys wildlife habitat, changes the existing ecology and often gets out of control. Permanent fire breaks need to be on a monumental scale and requires much energy and finance to maintain and are of dubious benefit under blow up conditions. Building and maintaining fire proof structures would also be expensive and require the use of many non-renewable resources. All of these things are possible and can be achieved but they will not prevent major destructive bush fires on a large scale when blow-up conditions occur.
This now brings me to the most sensitive and most controversial issue of all – who, if anyone, should be allowed to live in bush fire hazard locations?
Certainly there are people who work in particular occupations who need to live at or close to their place of work. Farmers, graziers, foresters, miners, national park managers and certain recreation managers are obvious examples, but these people must be required to meet stringent safety standards. Paramount is the siting of dwellings and barns in relation to topography, prevailing winds and microclimate as wise site planning has often proved to be effective on a large scale. At a small scale good design in the form of artificial land modelling can redirect wind patterns and reduce wind velocities. Careful attention to the most appropriate choice of species to plant in shelter belts and wind breaks has proved effective in changing wind patterns and slowing down fire.
All the experts agree that when the right conditions prevail nothing can prevent wildfires, and so I argue that attention should be focused on removing people who do not need to be in fire hazard areas. A hard decision to make but it was not so long ago that many Australians built on flood plains, on slip liable land, on unstable geology and on coastal dunes and ocean beach fronts but planning regulations now prevent this from happening. Surely building in high risk bush fire locations is more dangerous than any of the other situation?
There would be opposition to preventing or even limiting building in bushland areas in Australia. Vested interest groups such as land developers, real estate agents, builders and local councils of course, but the strongest protests would be from the land owners themselves many of whom are already planning to rebuild in spite of the risks involved.
When the Royal Commission hands down its report it is unlikely to recommend no further development in bushland areas and no rebuilding in fire hazard locations, and so the same risks to residents and fire fighters will continue and, with predicted future climatic extremes, increase dramatically. Some of you will agree with what I have said; all of you will share my concern for the future and a need to change our lifestyles and attitudes to our bushland if future generations are to have anything left to enjoy. How, then, can AILDM and its members make a useful contribution?
When advising clients, members should remind them that the landscape itself is also the client and that wise use of the land is part of their duty of care and, accordingly, wise site planning will be part of their service. I hope, in future, to see more evidence of good site planning and sensitive planting design and less attention to aesthetics and current design fashions in all landscape design. These are essential tools for all who design in bushland areas.
AILDM has already established itself as a leader in landscape education with its excellent series of seminars and workshops addressing a range of environmental issues. A focus on bush fires would be a logical and timely topic to continue these valuable workshops.
Right now, this continent needs all the help we can give it, so, good luck Australia.
Image: Allan Correy (left) presenting an award to Melissa Johnson from InView Design, who won two AILDM Design Awards this year - Residential Landscape for New Designers; and Residential Landscape $30,000 to $70,000.