I am officially angry now. The climate emergency has suddenly become personal. My ancient protective reflex has kicked in so that I can no longer ignore the threat to my little ones and the little ones they might bear in the future.
The gorgeous home of our daughter-in-law’s parents in a sleepy hideaway called Rosedale on the NSW south coast is gone, a ubiquitous pile of twisted metal on a heap of white ash on a blackened slope. This is one story of what happened at Malua Bay on Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, published on 1 January 2020 in The Guardian.
We left on Sunday at lunchtime after spending an hour strolling through the little village of Mogo. Such an interesting little village. We bought some pottery and a luminescent still life from Vanessa Williams. The bush loomed across the back of the village and, overheard, some one opined that it was only a matter of time before the village came under threat from the fires. Two days later Mogo was burning, the gallery was gone.
The only road open to us was south. We decided not to travel south along the Victorian coast because of the possibility of becoming cut off or even trapped by fires. We’d be just two more tourists in danger where we didn’t have to be. We took alternative south to Bega then up to Cooma. Cobargo looked a nice little place. On Tuesday its main street went up in flames and people died.
We stayed Sunday night with relatives at Adelong. The husband, Scott, got home about 9 o’clock from fighting a fire in a pine plantation at Ellerslie. He thought that, with luck and the back burning that would go in overnight, it would be contained. There were another couple of fires off the road we travelled on Monday down to Kinglake West where our daughter and her husband live.
There was smoke every inch of the way, even when it showered around Adaminaby. Sometimes it was thick, brown and tasted acrid, though we kept the aircon on recirculation. My lungs aren’t coping with it. I feel such a woose. Kinglake felt like a haven. Despite the towering gums and the history, there is a comforting green tinge in the grass.
On Monday night my son and his wife were out to dinner, no doubt the grandies were minding the two littlies, when they received a Leave Now alert. They ditched dinner, packed in half an hour, vainly exhorted her parents to come with them, and left, travelling more than four hours up through Kangaroo Valley.
On Tuesday at 6.00 am, another Leave Alert was issued for south coast residents and visitors, including Rosedale. The road from Bega up to the high country was cut. They headed north but were trapped in Ulladulla until Thursday. All the roads we drove on Sunday and Monday were cut on Tuesday, Bega to Cooma to Tumut to Holbrook. The Ellerslie fire is now the Dunns Road fire and jumped every effort at containment, running past Batlow and Tumbarumba almost to Cabramurra. As at the time of writing it has consumed 130,000 hectares. I wonder how much sleep Scott has had.
Batlow is now evacuated. My inlaws’ home town is now considered ‘indefensible’ and the population has been directed to leave en masse. Buses took people down to Wagga where folk have offered beds for refugees and refuge for pets, among other things. People are good, mostly. Disaster has a tendency to strip us back. I am proud of what this disaster is showing me about ourselves. It’s not these people I am angry at.
Put an advertising exec in charge of fronting a vested interest like the Federal Government and this is what you get: the cunning threading of hidden appeals to a sense of belonging, to a desire to contribute and to be acknowledged, for instance; of mythologies, tropes and symbols drawn from good bloke culture; and all neatly wrapped in slippery wording to deflect opprobrium, censure and the reckoning. The layer of sunny optimism is particularly galling. This guy could find a silver lining on a nuclear cloud. Is it meant to help ‘us’ see through the trials to the Promised Land or is it intended to cast the dissenters as Nellie Naysayers who nothing of import to contribute?
The blinkered, binary thinking evident underlying commentary on these catastrophes shows the shallowness of the leadership and authority employed. It is of the position, the role, the robe, and is certainly not derived from the person. It is divisive, not leadership. It speaks of the ‘we who know and everyone else who doesn’t’, of Us (the righteous) and the Others (the deluded, the gullible, the wrong), of the virtuous and trustworthy who are in charge and the ideologues who would destroy all that is good in pursuit of their fatal agendas. This person in the leader’s robes calls on us to unite in this time of tragedy. He envisions a unity in which those who have different viewpoints forsake their errors and join him and his ilk in the One True Way.
I have had enough of ‘leaders’ whose hands are sticky with power, bogging down like wheels in wet black soil. This war-game is being fought for control, dominance, for the rush of seeing one’s footsteps setting like concrete in the landscape – and to keep the other bastards away from the machinery of influence. It is not for the common good of the common people: these people are so far separated from anything tarred as ‘common’ that they may as well exist in a different society. Perhaps they do, with their ilk.
Patronising exhortations to remain clam, to be patient and kind fuel my ire. I am irate. How dare he? How dare he present himself and his rule as being in control and doing all that is reasonable to address the issues, including the warming of the planet? How dare he presume to understand my ‘fear’ when he obviously has no idea of the nightmares I foresee in the flames? Does he not consider what our world will be like if this summer is to become the norm in the future? Who does he listen to? Who in their right mind thinks that the chance of repeated catastrophes is worth the royalties, is worth appeasing the vested corporates with shareholders to appease at any cost?
Fuck you. You haven’t listened to the scientific warnings dating back into at least the 1970s, even as they have become increasingly blunt and the models increasingly refined and accurate. You deal in spin, half-truths and deliberate deception in response to logical concerns. You have fobbed off my letters with platitudes. You are willing to dice with the future of my grandchildren, and for what? You risk catastrophic social disintegration, and for what? There will be nothing artificial or divine about the Armageddon that is beginning to bleed this world. Present tense – in the Now.
Enough of being polite. It is said that politics is played hard in Australia, perhaps by way of excusing the savagery that breaks into the public view now and again. Why not also the democracy of free speech, public action and protest?
If there were a modicum of leadership, even compassion, there would be Listening not deflecting, serious action rather than defensiveness. Energy would be put into confronting the causes not defending their position. It would be characterised by flexibility not defensiveness. The group of emergency ex-chiefs would have been given an audience when they asked, six months ago. Current actions, criticised roundly around the globe, would not be touted as being better than reasonable. There would be an admission that more needs to be done, that what is proposed will not avoid perennial disaster, that we are currently bludging on others.
In reviewing posts, I found these questions from the audience at the launch of The Bracelet in Burnie in 2014. They were at the end of an exuberant post from that event. I thought they could use another airing – people ask good questions.
Question and Answer time at the launch of The Bracelet, 2014
Q – Did you have a plan?
A – No. I felt like Dr Frankenstein sometimes, stitching together these pieces that I had written sporadically over the two years to make a whole thing. I had a starting point, an idea for the structure, sort of, and a collection of characters.
Q – What would you do differently next time?
A – Investigate a program called Scrivener. It’s supposed to be brilliant at helping novelists to keep their stuff organised.
Q – What is your next project?
A – It’s a non-fiction work. In May 1945, a training accident at an Army base just outside Wagga in NSW blew 26 young men to pieces. Two days later they were buried in the local military cemetery. It is still the largest military funeral on home soil, but until recently, even the local population was largely oblivious to it. It had been forgotten except by the families of the men. Each of these 26 was only ‘important’ because they were 26. If it had been 19 men killed, it would not be a record and it would be different, perhaps. But each of the 26 left behind a particular shaped hole in their families. And the families are still coping with that gap in their lives. So the book is a way to honour them and acknowledge their grief.
Q – What was the balance of the work your editor did with you – the balance between addressing the commas and the big picture issues?
A – I am fortunate to have a gifted reader in my wife, so she actually did a great deal of the big picture stuff before Kate got to see the manuscript. There were many issues of consistency because of the way I wrote it, in bits and pieces. So I’d ask Mary Ann to read a sequence and she’d provide some feedback about what did or didn’t work for her. Then, as it started to come together, she pointed out the inconsistencies.
I sent the first draft up to James Moloney but her only got through about 90 pages. His response to me was ‘It’s called The Bracelet, but the bracelet appears briefly then disappears for the next 90 pages. That’s a problem.’ So I had to go back to it and do a whole lot of rewriting.
By the time Kate saw the whole work, it had already undergone much revision and ironing out of the wrinkles. Kate, however, also picked up on some big picture issues, such as the beginning, which she thought just did not work. What was the beginning now appears at about page 60 and the present opening sequence was made up entirely.
The new went though the novel line by line. She questioned the punctuation, some of the wording, the images used – everything. A great deal was left unchanged, but I had to justify, to myself as well as to Kate, much that remained unchanged.
Q – What were some of the pieces that you really liked that got edited out?
A – The opening. Even though it appears later in the book in a revised form, it is changed. And there is a section that has a series of letters in it. In the original, there were twice as many, but it was too slow, so I cut them back sharply to keep the momentum of the story going.
Q –What was the problem with the beginning?
A – I was trying to be clever. I wanted to create the echo-effect, a frame for the novel, so that it begins and ends with the same sort of scene, even, the same scene. Very literary, but it didn’t work in this novel. Mary Ann had tried to tell me this much earlier but I didn’t want to hear it. By the time Kate was telling me I had had enough and was ready to concede.
Q –Is there a worry that the editor can have too much say?
A – Yes. A ‘bad editor’ will try to shape a work according to their own ideals. But a ‘good editor’ will point out what does not work, in their view, and there might be a discussion of that and alternatives, and the writer then goes off and deals with it. That’s how the present beginning sequence came to be.
I used to think there was one author, the one whose name appears on the front cover. Not so anymore – it is a collaborative effort. Yes, it is my concept, my drafting, but there has been so much given by others that I really do see it as more a collaborative effort now. Writers need editors.
Q – When you were writing the novel, did you ever sit down to write have nothing happen?
A – Yes. But I couldn’t afford to just sit there and watch the scenery. Sometimes I was not in the right headspace to write the next thing that needs to be written. That was one of the good things about writing the novel in bits and pieces.
There was always research to do if I got really stuck.
But often I could attend to other things, non-creative things like editing, organising files, attending to correspondence, transcribing sections I had written in longhand, etc.
What I found usually happened then was that my headspace would change and I could go on and do some of the creative work.
One of the really liberating insights from the process that came after a while was that so much of what I write gets tossed out. Partly, perhaps, that is because I often need to write myself in to a story or a character rather than make it up in my head first, then write it down. I’d have done it pretty tough if I’d been writing in Jane Austen’s era, or Charles Dickens’ office, working with nibs and ink bottles and loose sheets of paper.
Q – Did you ever want to give up?
A – Yes. The knockbacks, or even worse – the no replies, were hard to take sometimes. To lift my spirits early on a friend told me that no-one can count themselves a real writer until they’ve had 29 rejections. (It actually worked for me!) Then there were the occasions when the sheer enormity of the task left to do – even to finish the first draft – would get me right down.
In the world of exploration, Certainty is a killer. Knowing that I’m right – ‘Yes, I’m certain!’ – is a one way ticket to nowhere else.
Why? Pretty obvious: you get what you look for – you find what you know. The prejudices you look through pick up corroborations and delete the errants. Nothing new there.
But turn the perspective on the immaterial world and the same applies. Religious certainty is a killer. Nothing more is required of the believer than to adhere. Adherence means living out the consequences of the belief, and maybe defending it. Following the paths, patterns, structures implied in the belief. And this is as it should be because, if you’re going to believe in something, then wholehearted is the way to go. Right?
What if – what if there is merit in the opposite – complete uncertainty – ‘I don’t know but I’m going anyway’ ?
Being right leads to entrenched positions, concreted attitudes, rigid responses to the curlies that life throws up.
Just being – stripped of the accreted filtering layers that shelter me from the unpredictable weather of Uncertainty – is a challenge. I have to trust what I don’t know, who I can’t name, whatever it is that is beyond the reach of my intellect. It means removing control from my beliefs. It means I don’t care about being Right anymore. It is inexplicable and indefensible to anyone else who sees the outcome as Wrong. ‘Why?’ gets a shrug, a smile and a lengthy, open eye-contact.
How did I come to this? read more …
10 Jan 2018
There are no beliefs here.
I am on my own.
In my being with whatever waits in the darkness
there is nothing but my self to sustain me.
All the frippery and ephemeral disappear,
unseen in the night,
In the Blindness there is only the Light
glowing from within,
a bubble-shield illuminating a few bare centimetres,
not even the length of my foot
shuffling its next tiny step.
Who can tell in the darkness?
It is enough to move in the Light,
trusting my Self not to seek to know –
Why? Where? How? –
trusting whatever this is
It is a precarious way to live.
Life is easier without them.
Not the ones that hold your shirts together and not the ones you find in elevators or on keypads. I’m not writing about zippers and Siri.
It’s the ones I’ve stitched onto myself, the threads shallow beneath the skin, and the bright, shiny ones that surface in my skin, wires running down into bone marrow and even deeper into my psyche, rooted in something forgotten. These ones especially, like gross, shiny, flat-topped pimples located on the edge of awareness and trailing inside to something unknown – these ones I can do without. read more …
Some of the recent history of the Malayasia-Myanmar-India-Bangladesh region sits clear through the window of this book. What I read in the news from that region now has more depth. The detail in the book is amazing. No wonder it took Ghosh 5 years to research it. Historical fiction, in my opinion, should attempt to reveal something of the past clearly and sincerely. I want to know things like: What happened? Why? What was it like for the people involved? How is the past visible in the present? etc. The Glass Palace is most satisfactory. (That sounds condescending!)
There are some things that will stick with me for a long while: the scathing critique of imperialism delivered politely, two of the wartime deaths, the change in Burma’s circumstance over the twentieth century. read more …
Imagine you come upon someone saying ‘I know of a way to be free of the buttons and bindings of being here, a way to brush aside dusty webs from the mirror – it’s as simple as breathing …’ What would you say?
(You may choose more than one option.)
A – What’s the catch?
B – No thanks. I’m an atheist.
C –Spill. My life sucks. read more …
The subject is stark – brutalised humanity in the plight of Syrian refugees living in appalling conditions. What stands out is the humanity.
I am reminded of the poetry of Wilfred Owen – exquisite poems from the horrors of the trenches in WW1. He too stressed the humanity of his subjects despite their shocking situation.
It takes a special writer to achieve this.
Flanagan offers, in this short essay, a masterclass in human portraiture.
No wonder this book was shortlisted for two Premiers’ Literary Awards in 2014 and won two in 2016. Dark Emu caused a slip in my consciousness. It is a pivotal work.
The book turns our Australian ‘history’ on its head. I grew up believing that the Aboriginal way of life was pretty fragile, apt to be shattered by the next drought or flood or outbreak of disease. As ‘hunter-gatherers’ they basically moved from one kangaroo to another. Admittedly, they were pretty clever, I later learned, in their use of fire to manage the wildlife – they had to have something going for them to have lasted this long – but basically they were opportunists, lacking the technology to create or store food reserves. And this left them at the mercy of the vagaries of the elements and meant they were inferior to us white folks. read more …
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (2013)
Not as gripping as The Truth (the birth of news-papers) or The Colour of Magic (the birth of Film) and perhaps it is a fact that I have read an inordinate number of Discworld novels. HOWEVER, Pratchett is clever. His toying with words and their meanings delights me. For instance, it took me some time to realise that the ‘loggysticks’ that the engineer was going to depend on to finish building a bridge in time were actually … (cue drumroll) … ‘logistics.’ read more …