“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
I’m sitting in my Brisbane office this morning, far from my farm. I’m in a city with city comforts. Air conditioning, wi-fi, television. When I turn on a tap there is no thought for where the water is coming from, or if it might run out. There are cafes and shopping malls and an endless stream of social media to amuse me. Or to numb me. It’s easy to lose myself in the busy-ness of it all.
Meanwhile, in rural locations all over Australia, people are waking up today and wondering if today their lives will change. Will the fires come to take their properties, their livestock, their livelihoods, their lives? Others are turning on taps that are running with dirt, or where the water has become so low in the tank that they feel guilt to even wash their hair, or to linger a tired and aching body under the comfort of a shower. Some are worn down by years of this. Years and years of poor season after poor season. Floods and then drought. Fires and then drought. More fires. Worse floods. Worse fires. Late winter. No winter. Summer coming in Spring. Nothing the way it used to be. Waiting for this pattern to break. Until, slowly, an awareness comes. Maybe this is no longer a an aberration. Maybe these weather extremes are our new reality. And if they are? What does that mean for us all?
Not just in Australia, either. These kinds of extremes are global. We’re just shielded a little more from them in the cities.
I remember, years ago, sitting on the steps here at this city house late one night. An hour away, our farm was deep in drought. Great cracks had opened in the dry ground. The grass had withered to dust. Birds were falling lifeless from trees that were also dying. There as so little water. No rain for months. Salty bores. Everything dying. I sat in the dark, on the steps of the city house late in the evening. Suddenly the sprinklers popped out of the lawn next door and sent water gushing through the lush green yard. So much clean good water. Soon it was running along the concrete, running into the gutters, being carried away by the stormwater drains. Another neighbour’s automatic water system came on. Another. Another. Soon our late-night street was alive with the click and swish of water on tap, and the drains ran with the excess. I wept.
A year later a gigantic flood came through our farm, destroying houses and human lives, killing and maiming thousands of livestock, destroying and devastating huge swathes of land, rural and urban.
I could no longer live like that. We chose to relocate to Byron Bay in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. It had moderate temperatures and high rainfall. So many rivers, streams, creeks and springs. So much water. We bought land in a rainforest. Rainforests are called that because of the moisture content within the vegetation. Fires in rainforests are rare.
This year the ancient Gondwana Rainforests burned.
Extremes of climate are becoming our new normal. At our farm the dam is nearly dry. The river and creek have become chains of muddy pools. The trees are dying. Animals are starving. And this week we are under threat of catastrophic bushfire.
Many Australians still think of bushfires as what I’d call a grassfire. They move slowly. You can protect your home with a firefighting backpack and a garden hose. Backburning will keep your property safe, and the rural fire brigade will come to save you and your home if it becomes threatened.
The kinds of fires we have seen this past week are nothing like that. They are ferocious walls of flame that run so hot that in front of the fire, often hundreds of meters from the flames, the heat is enough to make things spontaneously combust. These are fires that have so many fronts, so many different locations, that there is no guarantee anyone can come to help if your home or life is threatened. These are the kinds of fires where the authorities are telling people to evacuate well before any kind of incident has happened, and that their priority, as fire fighters, will be ‘live evacuation’, because they do not have the resources to fight and win. Our fire-fighters are already exhausted, and the season is just beginning.
I’m safe in my city house today. Working. Doing normal everyday things.
But my heart is back at the farm. My heart is back on the land. I am thinking of all of the Australians and the many brave volunteers from fire services of other nations, who are donning their overalls and boots to go back out to fight those fires. I am thinking of all the farmers and country towns whose water is at a trickle, who are wondering if and how they will ever get out of this current situation, I’m thinking of all of the trees, and the creatures who live within them and beneath them, and who have no voice to ask us to start making different choices about how we are living on the earth.
We came home to the city last night, and as I wandered the house, sleepless with worry, the neighbour’s sprinkler popped up and began its nightly click and spray. I walked outside and stood in my suburban gutter as the cool wasted water ran over my feet and down the drain toward the sea.
This morning, on the surface, feels like any other. This morning, deep within me, feels like the line that as a species we cannot cross. This morning feels like a war zone, and me? I have just become the Resistance.
Much love, Nicole xx
Banner photo credit: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, 350km north of Sydney. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty
13 thoughts on “Ashes, Dust and Devastation. Thoughts on an Australian Summer (in Spring!)”
My heart is sad.
Can’t believe Brisbane is allowing automatic lawn sprinklers at this time, Nic! Aren’t there water restrictions in place in Brizzy yet???
Sal, hey! Nup, no water restrictions AT ALL in Brisbane right now.
Crazy, huh? I was hoping we would have learned from that last drought.
Crazy or …. STUPID!!!!!!
I am here in Bali at a workshop this full moon; everyone is sending love and energy to the firefighters and exhausted farmers in Aus. and also in California, Sth. America and parts of Africa.The world is ablaze and battered by typhoons.Like you we each need to find the passion to become the Resistance. Prayers for the safety of you and all creatures.
Hi Nicole ~ this post of yours makes me feel so sad for all the people, animals & bird life affected by the devastating fires in Australia. Your heartache jumps off the page and I am so sorry for this horrific state of affairs. I understand what drought means as I live in South Africa. We’ve just experienced beautiful rain after months of none, though there are still parts of my country experiencing the most awful drought too, especially in the Karoo area, where many sheep farms are. I am praying for all those affected, your farm included and for all the brave fire fighters. May your country be blessed with bountiful rain. I hope many folk who have them go outdoors with their rain sticks and get prayer groups going around the country. Blessed be … in Botswana, the currency is pula which means rain. So I wish you pula 🙂 xx
Thank you, as usual, for your thoughtful blog. It is heartbreaking. I can not even begin to imagine what our regional and rural families are going through. The drought has been beyond enough – and adding this fire is beyond scary. I just googled how to help regional families – and a lot of government agencies come up. Then I looked up charities. I’ll be giving to one of them… Any suggestions in how to help would be welcome.
Thankfully I have never personaliy been affected by fire or drought both are horrible.
A number of my cousins are fire fighters
I survived 2 Ash Wednesday Bushfires that devastated the Adelaide Hills many years ago.
A Bushfire has a life of its own. It makes its own wind and the noise of it is like a freight train.
The 2nd one burnt the paddock across the road from our home.
I had 2 small children at the time so first husband and I decided to move closer to Adelaide.
This tragedy along the Eastern Seaboard could have been much less if Controlled Burns had not been stopped. The Greens Party have a lot of explaining to do.
A lot of properties in danger back onto National Parks and Reserves and land developers should not be allowed to develop in those areas. Properties also mean people and animals in mortal danger. Thankfully for those Wildlife Carers who selflessly look after injured animals.
Just curious as to where you got the info that Greens party is responsible for lack of prescribed burns in our national parks? I would like to know, as I am a Greens voter usually, but I support prescribed burns, and wasn’t aware that the Greens don’t support this important aspect of land management?
I regularly visit a national park in the New England granite belt (Girraween) which has regular prescribed burns as part of its management plan, as I think many national parks do. Last year when I was there it was very enjoyable to witness the results of a beautiful, slow-burning, low-heat fire gently doing its work through the selected area. It is just getting very tricky to do these as often and as thoroughly as needed for a number of reasons, from what I gather. 1. The window of safe time to do these is getting smaller due to changing weather patterns – climate change. 2. The amount of paperwork that needs to be done to organise them to happen (pretty important to ensure safety and compliance etc, but time consuming and tricky). 3. Funding cuts to National Parks (by Liberal/National Party) – massively reducing numbers of skilled staff to do the fuel load management stuff needed. 4. Trying to protect particular plant communities like rainforest requires skill and very careful burning practices.
Many people are beginning to recognise the amount of land management that is and was done with fire by Traditional Owners in Australia (books on this: Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe, Biggest Estate on Earth – Bill Gammage) and the great loss this has been to those parts of Australia that no longer have this care. I have witnessed slow, low, traditional burning practices in Kakadu, where the whole community tends these tiny ribbons of flame – people walking 3 meters apart. Very labour intensive work, and beautiful to witness. Much of Australia had similar tending prior to European colonisation, from what I gather, and hence in old paintings from that time, much of the landscape looks like a beautiful, well-pastured, leafy estate! But the Aboriginal people were ‘farming’ kangaroo and emu, rather than hard-hoofed European animals which have impacted our delicate, ancient soils detrimentally.
I think Greens and conservationists have learned quite a lot about this stuff in the past decades and have revised their understandings of what ‘wilderness’ is, in this light, and hence I am surprised to hear that you have heard that they are actively against this kind of land management. I think maybe some European-style controlled burns in the past have got out of hand and destroyed bushland unnecessarily – maybe due to lack of skill like the Traditional Owners had/have, maybe due to changing and unpredictable weather patterns? And maybe this is the kind of thing Greens/conservationists want to avoid?? Not sure … anyway it is certainly a big important conversation we need to have as a country but also needs nuance in different bio-regions with different ecologies and weathers, hydrology etc. All versions of wisdom need a good hearing, and harmonised and integrated into practices and policies, in my opinion. We need to break the cycle of polarised, simplified argument for political gain, and just get on with the hard, complex work at hand!!! 🙂 🙂
ps. My son has been up in Nightcap National park this week, fighting fires there. It has been so good to hear his reports of this fire, which had me really freaked out at first, because of the proximity to rainforest. But thankfully conditions eased enough for them to do the backburning they needed, and he said the fire is actually burning really nicely up in there, with all the hands on deck to tend and steer it, there is enough moisture in that particular forest to allow it to be a healthy, quiet, low-heat burn for the most part (so far so good!) that he reckons will actually benefit the forest by clearing back alot of that overgrown undergrowth. A massive relief to hear!!!
My heart is heavy with sadness and empathy as I pray for you, the vegetation, the animals and Mother Earth 💔🙏🏻🌍🌧💦🌦
I’m thinking of them everyday. My heart goes
out to everyone who has lost their property, livestock and homes. I think if we can all chip in and think of rain, pray for rain, we can do this. Rather than focusing on the negative…