08 Jan Dear Australia
I wanted to let you know that we’re weeping too. Of course, it’s not like it is for you. It’s not because the smoke is getting in our eyes, not because a familiar world is burning up around us, not because our communities, histories and wildlife are being incinerated on our doorsteps. No, it’s not like that for us. But we are weeping inside on your behalf because the tragedy seems so huge and so scary, because we feel connected with you though your people speak our language with funny accents, often joke at our expense and beat us at cricket, though you are so far away and most of us, including me, have never walked on your shores, swum in your seas, hiked through your bush country. But still we feel a bond.
A friend wrote to me that, though she tries to avoid the news, she’d been watching it the other day and crying. She lives out east, the Sunshine Coast, I think you call it. Or maybe the Gold Coast. I should know. I think about her every day, and other friends living in your cities, hoping they’re safe. I watch for the images of Melbourne and Adelaide, look at the map each evening on the news that shows where the fires are, and try to reassure myself.
Poor Australia. I’ve been wondering if you feel helpless, stricken, sad, terrified, angry. Maybe all of those things. The images are still on our screens and in our papers. That’s unusual. Tragedies that last a long time tend to disappear from the headlines. Another one over your way, the floods in Indonesia, featured for only for a day. The shacks that were home to the already poor swept away in mud-saturated water, so that they are even poorer now and homeless. Who knows the toll of suffering? I suppose you’ve heard there’s stuff happening in the Middle East. That’s pushing you out of top slot. But your tragedy is still right up there. Nightly reports from smouldering ruins that once were towns. Crestfallen faces of brave, exhausted volunteer firefighters weeping that they can’t do more.
We hiked in Scotland with a couple of your people in September. Began to plan a visit to them next year in your autumn. They mentioned a place just off your south coast that we might like to visit. Kangaroo Island. I hadn’t heard of it before. I’m ignorant about you, really. But it’s in the news over here and, suddenly, it feels a little bit personal. Did you see the photo in the Guardian a few days ago? I can’t include it but here’s a link to it in case you haven’t seen it. https://images.app.goo.gl/NGX8mjAYavTXYBK18 A vista, almost monochrome, dark trees outlined against pale soil. Only the sky has colour. It could be beautiful, the bare trees, the white earth, the straight, empty road leading, one imagines, to some other remote and mysterious place. It could be a picture of the Russian Steppe or the winter forests of Norway. Snow on the ground. Except that it’s not and the spare beauty masks a terrible ugliness. Those dark lumps on the ground peeping out from the ash beneath the spindly blackened branches, are they the stumps of the burned-out trees? Or are they burned-out animals?
You don’t need to write back but if you would just tell my friends over there that we are weeping quietly with them. And hoping, hoping things get better. And, please, let them be safe.