THE end, when it comes, will be swift. A spiralling economy and diminishing oil supplies will lead to power outages, food shortages, a breakdown in law and order, and ultimately, complete societal collapse. "I anticipate that it'll happen quite fast, like the bushfires," says Tony, a 44-year-old ex-stockbroker.
Tony, who lives with his wife and three young children in Baulkham Hills, has been stockpiling supplies including rice, multivitamins, peanut butter and honey - "Stuff you don't need to cook or refrigerate and that is high in calories" - plus plenty of soap and toilet paper. "Sanitation will break down as sewerage [systems] clog because people will be unable to maintain the infrastructure. So we'll see diseases like cholera and typhoid."
Tony (who didn't want his second name used), is part of a new wave of Australian survivalists, a disparate group that includes peak oilers, permaculturalists and "transition teams" that are making plans for what they see as the coming apocalypse. Such people used to fret about nuclear Armageddon or Y2K: today, it's more likely to be global warming, shrinking oil reserves and financial collapse.
"There has been a surge in interest recently," says Simon Beer, whose website, survival.org.au, has practical tips in bush skills, fire starting and food gathering. "Climate change, peak oil, the economic situation - people are seeing we're headed for catastrophic changes." In 2001, he moved from McMahons Point to the Blue Mountains, where he grows his own vegetables and collects tinned food. He says: "When resources become scarce, people fight, nations fight."
Traffic has also been brisk on Aussurvivalist.com, which has a graph showing the group's opinion "as to possible causes and likelihood of a major catastrophe in the next 10 years". Economic collapse rates at 87 per cent. The website's founder, John Monico, would not talk to the Herald but writes of being interested in survivalism ever since watching The Day Of The Triffids and reading John Christopher's post-apocalyptic novel, No Blade Of Grass. "I have stepped up my level of preparedness," he writes, "due to increasing global uncertainty and the needs of my family."
Most Aussurvivalist members are white and male: more than a third are ex-military or serving. There is a lot of discussion about guns, coupled with a lingering contempt for wider society.
However, Russ Grayson, co-founder of Transition Sydney, says: "We can accomplish more by co-operating in groups and communities rather than acting alone and heading for the hills".
Formed last year, Transition Sydney has several hundred members, and affiliates in Brisbane, Adelaide and the Sunshine Coast, who are preparing for a post-oil world by developing local solutions to food production and distribution, clean energy, water harvesting and recycling.
"We develop prototypes that can be scaled up in case of emergency," Grayson says. "Survivalists are usually on the fringe, but this is a mainstream movement. That's the only way [we can] meet the challenges ahead, by working together."