Sunday, February 8, 2009

No fires, no floods

I've had a couple of emails in the past few days asking if we're either under water or burned out of our homes. (Apparently some of the news reports in Canada are simply describing the fires "in Australia" or floods "in Queensland".)

The fires are some 1600 kms to the south of us, in Victoria. For those who haven't heard, they've had a terrible heat wave there with temps in the mid-40s. That's dried everything out, making fires all but inevitable. When the fires came, they turned out to be the worst Australia has ever seen -- hundreds of thousands of hectares burned, entire towns wiped out. Right now they're reporting over 700 homes lost and 108 people dead, but that number is expected to rise. Unbelievably, there are now reports that some fires have been deliberately set, and that others are being relit by arsonists.

On the other side of the country, much of Queensland is under water thanks to cyclones that have dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain. Two thirds of the state is flooded, many towns are cut off, farmers have had to simply abandon their livestock, and helicopters and boats are being used to distribute food, fuel and medicine. One spot has received a metre of rain since the beginning of January. Again, the affected areas are far from us -- anywhere from a few hundred to a couple of thousand kms away.

The editorial cartoon in the Sunshine Coast Daily today had a reference to Dorothea McKellar's 1906 poem, I Love a Sunburnt Country. It seems appropriate to share it today.

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded Lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens,
Is running in your veins;
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies -
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains,
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me.

The tragic ring-barked forests
Stark white beneath the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the crimson soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart around us
We see the cattle die -
But then the grey clouds gather
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold;
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land -
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand -
Though Earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown Country
My homing thoughts will fly.

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