I am Australian today

I thought of a hundred things to write here, and still have not come up with something to say that does not feel like feeble gibberish, but I’ll try to pass along some reflection and information.  My thoughts are almost soulless compared with the pulse-pounding call of Australian soul today.

Fire scene in Blue Mountains. Photo by Ben Pearse

Fire refugees on the beach at Batemans Bay NSW. Photo by Alastair Prior.

Gospers Mt Firefighter. Photo by Dan Himbrechts.

Just not cricket.

I’m just an American typical nobody, mostly ignorant of Australia like most of us.  It’s a horrid way to wake up to her, burning.

I live in the Adirondack Park of far northern New York, in a sort of box between Canada, Vermont/Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario.  This “park,” a combination of public and private land, they like to  call “six million acres of wilderness.”  Since retirement, my whole world is here.  I never go anywhere else these days.

Sharnie Moran & daughter. Photo by Dan Peled.

Kangaroo. Photo by James Ross.

Devastation on Great Alpine Road at Sarsfield.
Photo by Jason Edwards.

Photo by Mike Bowers.

As of this morning (Friday, January 3, 2020), far, far more than six million acres is gone, burned up in Australia’s fires.  In Australia, about 5,800,000 hectares (about 14,300,000 acres) have burned or are burning.  That’s much more than double my entire 6 million acre world.  Unfathomable to me, but my heart knows what my mind can’t grasp or say.

Kangaroo fleeing in North Black Range. Photo by Mike Bowers.


Australia on fire, satellite view.

Reuters slideshow 01 of 35

Picture this: 14.3 million acres is roughly similar to a box spanning from Scranton, PA, across the Pocono Mountains and lower Catskill Mountain area and over to Hartford, CT, including all of New York City and most of Long Island as far as Peconic Bay (waters of my youth), over to Allentown, PA, down through Philadelphia, to Wilmington, DE, across to Atlantic City, NJ, and the area of all the ocean waters between Atlantic City and far eastern Long Island, plus the Long Island Sound spanning to Connecticut.

It makes the NY-NJ impact of “Superstorm Sandy” look small, doesn’t it?

And Australia is still burning.  Who knows how long it will continue, or for how many it will end before it’s over?

Reuters slideshow 5 of 35

Reuters slideshow 9 of 35.  Badly burned kangaroo in care of rescuer.

Just as I now belong to the Adirondack Mountains, I also have a heart for that southern New York and surrounding area because I grew up on Long Island, lived and worked in several places in that region, and I have roots and family in Eastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut.  I really cannot imagine what it would be like for all of it to burn in a few weeks.

In terms of Australia’s fires today, it is all gone now, everything I came from, or, seen the Adirondacker way, everything I live in now.

Unfathomable.  It is easier for me to sense via maps:

14.3 million acres (5.8M hectares) centered on the 6-million acre Adirondack Park of Upstate New York.  Image from interactive map by The Guardian.


You can see the box plotted on an interactive map centered at your location in this great article by Nick Evershed and Andy Ball in The Guardian.

I’m talking to Americans here. I have nothing worth saying to Australians today except, “I’m sorry,” as if that says anything.

Reuters slideshow 15 of 35, badly burned brushtail possum

Reuters slideshow 28 of 35. Helping a koala to some desperately needed water. Massive numbers of koala deaths will bring them perilously closer to extinction.

I feel as sorry as if helplessly standing by and watching a burning koala, a charred kangaroo, an endless forest laid waste.  I can’t get my head around the numbers of animals killed or to die soon of starvation and thirst, and the endless carnage of trees.  I am sorry, silly as that sounds.

Reuters slideshow 19 of 35. Not known if they will survive starvation.

Reuters slideshow 31 of 35.

I look into my heart and picture all the forests I have ever known turned black and gray beyond seeing, carpets of dead fish awash on formerly blue and green waters blanketed in soot, the smell of burnt flesh and hair, fire tornadoes flipping cars and tearing down lives, and the sky yet darkened by apocalyptic-scale red-drenched gray clouds, as my world continues to burn.  Yes, I am damned sorry.  That, and grieving, and feeling helpless to do anything about the causes of it, or of my feelings.  I resort to a sort of faith that because of the feelings there is hope.  When the heart stops, so goes the whole body.  When empathy stops, humanity dies.  When feelings are denied, the self shrinks and withers into dust.  I dare not avoid  such sorrow, and must welcome the sting of compassion, or be helpless and hopeless myself.

Music and art help (coming soon, below).

Reuters slideshow 11 of 35. Look.

I’ll just try to be Australian in my heart today, if I can take it.  So far, that’s not going well for me at all, still feeling too soulless to reach that deeply, that far.  I need help with it.  It’s not a thing one does alone.  Let there be a rising of collective consciousness to the reality of the world we ALL SHARE today.  For today, let it rise from the tear-streaked scorched face of Australia looking up for hope from the bottoms of our hearts.

See her healed and recovered, but beware the ravaging of the earth goes on everywhere these days, and it will never end until we change or it kills us, either way coming soon.

It took a lot of deleted writing to finally realize what I needed to do here: make my plea for help with being Australia today.  Go back to the top and stay a while.  Sink yourself into this for a while and maybe we can all go Down Under and burn together, for it could be the Adirondacks, or the Ozarks, or Nantucket, whether by fire, flood, disease or other destruction.  We ARE all burning together, when you look with Australia’s eyes.  Let her pain be another wake-up call to what we must do for Earth, for ourselves.

Reuters slideshow 32 of 35. There are ghosts.

I’ll shut up and let Australia speak for herself now …

The Seekers (1994) final Australian show – I Am Australian, Georgy Girl, Waltzing Matilda, Australia National Anthem

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/v22SPtCFck8

Combo Waterhole, Queensland, in a light dust haze. Probably the archetype of a billabong, under the shade of a coolibah tree from the song “Waltzing Matilda” by Banjo Paterson. As with all images in this article, click for enlarged view.

Photograph of a swagman, c. 1901, holding a billy and carrying a swag on his back.

Landscape with Swagman (also known as The swagman’s camp by a billabong), painting by Gordon Coutts, oil on canvas, 1889.

Is it silly to envy the swagman and his camp?

To reach for a fun up-note in this scribblement, because Australians will do that in the end, I’ll bring back The Seekers, this time doing it up with Rolf Harris in 2008, in his 1963 eternally adorable Aussie song, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.  This was probably my first real taste of Australia, back when I was “still in short pants” as they used to say, when it took everybody by the belly as a hit song around the world.

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/VyTXM8mcTew

Oi, get your Aussie on today!

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/51uyY3b6-TA

May the green and gold ever out-glow the red-yellow flames, a “true blue” thing to do, overcome.

John Williamson – True Blue [i.e., “authentic Australian”]

Link to video: https://youtu.be/ceWKrsJX9N4

Finally, I borrowed this piece of Australian rock singer Jimmy Barnes from the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, a victory no matter how you look at it, and noted curiously the Uncle Sam in it … maybe Aussie and Yank are more akin than I know.

Overwhelmed firefighters in Australia.

Let this video be a tribute and a shouted loud praise to the men and women firefighters, police, military, health care and emergency workers of all kinds, and neighbors taking responsibility for each other and for animals in this terrible time for our brethren in Australia.

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/erSJGrpfnOI

Working hard to make a living
Bringing shelter from the rain
A father’s son left to carry on
Blue denim in his veins
Oh oh oh he’s a working class man

Well he’s a steel town disciple
He’s a legend of his kind
He’s running like a cyclone
Across the wild Midwestern sky
Oh oh oh he’s a working class man

He believes in God and Elvis
He gets out when he can
He did his time in Vietnam
Still mad at Uncle Sam
He’s a simple man
With a heart of gold
In a complicated land
Oh he’s a working class man

Well he loves a little woman
Someday he’ll make his wife
Saving all the overtime
For the one love of his life
He ain’t worried about tomorrow
Cause he just made up his mind
Life’s too short for burning bridges
Take it one day at a time
Oh oh oh he’s a working class man
Oh oh oh he’s a working class man
Oh yeah
Yes he is
Well he’s a working class man

Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma
I tell you he’s a working class man

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