How a summer that threatened every fibre of our being, helped me reconnect with my land, my people, my way of live, my cultural identity.
Aaah, summer in Australia – radiant sun, hot sand, rolling surf, early morning swims, crisp fresh air, bold blue skies, trilling cicadas, warm evenings around the barbeque with those we love, long leisurely evening walks, late vibrant sunsets and invigorating twilight boating. That time of year when we sit back, unwind and delight in our carefree lifestyle and idyllic climate. NOT THIS YEAR!
You may have seen the dramatic images on your screens of summer in Australia 2019/2020. Some are referring to it as the Summer from Hell. For others it’s the Black Summer. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been a summer like no other. Well over 100 bushfires raged simultaneously, burning in excess of 18 million hectares and destroying more than 2700 homes. Record low rainfall exacerbated extreme drought conditions and unprecedented weather patterns resulted in cities far away covered in thick blankets of dust and smoke and air quality reached hazardous levels. We lost at least 34 precious lives and, it’s estimated, over 1 billion animals.
From the comfort of my suburban armchair, I too watched in horror as the images moved seemingly in slow motion across my screen. I spoke with friends in rural regions who fought (and are still fighting) fires for 80+ consecutive days alongside their farming neighbours, all trying to save their properties, livestock and livelihood. I remained inside on days when the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see my neighbour’s home across the street and the temperature soared past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). I gave up wiping away the red dust and ash that fell on every surface of my home, inside and out. Our land was under threat. Our people were under threat. Our way of life was under threat.
I also saw a nation rally together in a way only a crisis can fuel. There has been a collective empathy and selflessness that has warmed even the hardest of hearts. From mates fighting fires alongside mates and neighbours hosing down neighbourhood homes to food deliveries and rescuing wildlife; from knitting paw mittens for burned koalas and crocheting pouches for orphaned joeys (baby kangaroos) to charity drives and donations for rural volunteer fire brigades; creative fundraising such as one of our famous cricketers auctioning his baggy green hat for over $1 million and people donating their caravans to those who have lost their homes, we are united in our grief, determined to come alongside our mates and “give ‘em a hand.” I forgot how much I love this place.
We have been living back in Australia for 5 years and although I feel settled here…for now…I do confess to looking longingly beyond our shores for cultural traditions, perspectives, adventures and memories to shape who I am and mould who I want to be. Truth be told, I had not paused to look around me and take in all that this returnee life means to me.
In the words of David Gray in his song ‘Hole in the Weather’:
I forgot to notice
How much I love this place
I really love this place…
Good God I love this place
I really love this place
When your land, your people, your lifestyle, everything you know to be true are under threat, it’s funny how your brain and body react. Like a Lioness protecting and defending her cubs, the pride’s way of life and their territory, I found myself wanting to do the same. All of a sudden, without consciously deciding to do so, I began looking up and looking out. I heard the early morning call of our resident Kookaburra with fresh ears. I became captivated with walking through bushland and stopping at every Australian native plant to inspect its makeup. I sat alone on the ash-laden sand, watching the surfers gracefully dominate the waves before they crashed. I waded through seaweed (previously unheard of for me!) in my pursuit of swimming beyond the breakers in crystal clear water. I welcomed the Nor-Easter breeze as it rustled through the Eucalyptus leaves. I gathered my family and my tribe around me, making concerted efforts to create lifelong memories alongside them. I even invited friends over and created a menu comprising quintessential Aussie food from the 1980s – prawn cocktails, jatz crackers, steak sandwiches – including beetroot and pineapple rings – and of course, pavlova covered in passionfruit, banana and kiwifruit to represent the Aussie colours of green and gold. I planned family holidays up the coast or inland instead of taking a plane trip “outta here.” I sat on our balcony next to my loved ones, with a glass of wine in hand and watched the blood red sun set amidst the smoke haze. I was determined to protect my cubs, our way of life, our territory and who we are. After years of running, trying to be anything but a “Typical Aussie,” I am at peace with who I am, my cultural heritage and the place I call ‘Home #1’. It has taken a national catastrophe for me to stop running; to pivot and reconnect with my land, my people, my way of life, my cultural identity.
And I realised how much I love this place. I really love this place.
Image Credits: Jane Barron, robdownunder
Lyric Credits: David Gray – Hole In the Weather
The Weather Channel: Australia’s Summer from Hell
ABC News: Black Summer