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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16 thoughts on “I am Australian today

  1. The fires are horrific. I feel badly for the people but worse for the animals who can’t get the info on which way to flee. It tears me up each time I think of it.
    What I don’t understand is why cruise ship industries haven sent ships to Australia to evacuate people. They make money of the people and coasts of Australia and should have sent ship after ship for people and even animals. A plethora of Noah’s Arks.
    Ah, but then there’s profit.
    I am sick to death of the capitalist mindset of money over everything reasonable and sacred.


    • Well said. There’s a simple explanation. The human body count was not high enough for commercial vessels to give up profit on rescue missions. There may have been some that did. I suppose we have little or no means of gathering up fleeing animals. Maybe that’s something we should prepare for in the future because these things are not going to end soon. One day it’s the destruction of Paradise, CA. Another it’s water 12 feet high flooding places that are already in poverty. Another it’s houses falling into Arctic waters as the permafrost melts beneath them and releases methane. It is going on all over the world. I wonder about the effects of endless numbers of insects killed in these fires and floods, who are so important to the balance of nature. When I saw the firefighter giving water to a koala, I thought, “That guy is probably taking a break to avoid collapsing from exhaustion.” I wonder if it was water brought in specifically for the animals or if the firefighter was sharing his water. Probably the latter. They are probably barely getting in enough water for people, if that much. Of course each act of compassion for helpless animals of any kind, human or otherwise, enriches the soul of the givers and strengthens them to carry on, even do better. I think your tears do that, too. This world is in big trouble. It needs every kind of rush of soul power expressed, whether in silence alone or shouted in the streets with the kids demanding climate change action. Personally I don’t see U.S. national government doing enough about it until enough of us lay down on the pavement of the beltway and shut down D.C. until they pass massive, sweeping legislation to lead the world to rescue the world. But the body count isn’t high enough, in graves or on the pavement.


  2. I am an Australian who is deeply touched by the empathy and sentiments expressed in this beautifully crafted blog post. As a statement of heartfelt sympathy and regret it is a masterpiece – a truly elegant expression of sorrow. Thank you for it.
    It is true that the scale of the burning is immense. The word “unprecedented” appears in news report after news report. It is hard enough grasping the cost to human lives and livelihoods, but the ecological devastation is almost beyond comprehension.
    Embedded in the tragedy is the emerging realisation that this is the new normal for Australia. As the driest inhabited continent on the planet, it is especially vulnerable to climate warming. The prelude to the fires has been the longest drought in the country’s recorded history. Many of our towns are seriously short of water, with some actually relying on supplies brought by trucks. In many areas, there have been no crops to harvest for three years and many grazing properties are on the point of collapse. Many rural towns and villages are going backwards economically and their populations dwindling.
    But comparatively speaking. Australia is a “lucky country” and well equipped to cope with the present disaster. I see no evidence that we are feeling sorry for ourselves, sorry for the sufferings of our fellow citizens, most certainly, but not for ourselves as a nation.
    Feelings that are mounting, however, are those of dismay and anger. We were warned that this catastrophe was coming and that preparations needed to be made, but climate change denialism, political ideology, economic self-interest and apathy ignored the message. The dereliction of such a position is now starkly apparent. Hopefully. a positives that will arise from the ashes of the Australian landscape will be a nation willing finally not only to join but also to lead global action to slow global warming and ameliorate its consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Les, for your additional information about the true extent of the catastrophe, the overall case of Australia’s ongoing drought, and your insights about it. I know your nation is no stranger to fire, and does not whine about it, but this is even more than unprecedented. It is virtually unfathomable. You almost certainly know about the fires in the Western US in recent years, especially the past year, and their increasing occurrence. They do not compare with the extent of the ongoing drought in Australia or this incredible present state of fire, but it gives us some sense of how devastating it is, such as the total destruction of the town of Paradise, CA. Now we just have to multiply that by a factor of endless proportion, especially as the fires continue. I feel clumsy reaching for something useful to say, but I do greatly appreciate your response to this post. Thank you so much. As a citizen of one of the biggest nations in the world whose government formally opposes national and global effort to fight human causes of climate change, while being one of the top few biggest contributors to those causes, I cringe in shame and apologize to the world. I believe change in our cultural and political atmosphere is coming, gradually, far from fast enough, with reason, justice and honor terribly, horribly set back by the current insane regime here, at a price the whole world is paying. I am sorry for that, too. I confess also that I think it’s going to be a real struggle here getting the change we need, because half of our citizens are brainwashed by doctrines based on hatred, ignorance, greed, hypocrisy and rampant, unregulated hyper-capitalism, what I often call our national religion. I cling to the belief that when enough voters turn out, reason prevails. There have not been enough in the past, but there is good reason to believe that will change this year. That makes 2020 a year of perhaps unprecedented change as people finally step up in this November’s elections and say, “Enough! Too much! Turn this ship around!” Thanks again, and thanks to all who tolerate my rant. The daily onslaught of insanity from Washington DC is personally very hard to sustain.


    • Out of the ashes soars the Phoenix, and it appears that heart-wrenching issues coaxes the genius out of our Dennis. I am in a restaurant so will read these comments/replies again when home, but yesterday I loaded the post and read it at home – wow.. Of course I cried. I’ve been in the bosque for almost a week and hoped there would be good news about the fires. It seems as if the entire world is imploding – in the natural world, in the spiritual ‘essence’ of our fellow man/men/women — yet whenever one speaks up/out and is no longer apathetic, there’s hope.
      Thank you, Dennis, for caring.


      • Hi Lisa. You have a way of “reaching me” right at the passionate intersections of text, art and heart! And good humor. I am not sorry you cried, because I know from what it rises within you, and that makes it good, and good is good. If any consolation, I was weepy the whole time I worked on the post, searching a thousand candidates for the right photos, songs, art, and a few words to splatter on them, which I didn’t figure out until the rest was done. It was … immersive. I’m more satisfied with it than most posts.
        So glad you wrote. Really. Thank you.
        Very truly yours,
        Dennis, still The Balsamean after all.


        • Long ago I wrote a post about climate change – I think in 2012, and in the research and writing, I also cried a lot. Losing the glaciers – that’s a big one, and I often ask old timers or mountain guides about Ecuador’s glaciers.. There’s concern, and of course agreement about the vanishing glaciers..


          • Aha … I hadn’t thought of Ecuador having glaciers, but of course it makes sense, having the highest of the Andes. I saw an ice expert who studies Greenland say that the Greenland ice sheet is melting into the ocean in a volume equivalent to 2,000 elephants PER SECOND. I wish they were running into Mar-a-Lago. The elephants, not the water.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. As I was leaving Poza Honda yesterday, I stopped to photograph a particular species of swallow that nests under the ‘bridge’ area of the dam. The guard drove his motorcycle down, and I thought, ‘Oh no, he’s going to nicely remind me not to park here.” No. He turned off his moto, smiled and asked, “Why did you leave? Where are you now?” and |I asked, ‘Seriously? You really want to know the long answer?” and he said that he did.
    So I addressed the illegal cutting that is now daily, and that some days I am angry but more days I am incredibly sad to witness the destruction in a protected forest while those in authority pretend it’s not happening.. and the trucks drive past the guards who do and say nothing. I addressed the uncontrolled burning, and that our planet is very sick, and we should be planting and not destroying… Then I pointed to a Limpkin and asked, “Limpkin?” and he squinted and laughed and said he would never have seen that bird. With the camera I pulled it closer and he was in awe. I opened the guidebook and flipped to that page, and he quickly understood the maps and how to use the guide.. The locals are thirsting for info, and another stated that he wanted to know more.. There’s hope here.. A very small ember of goodness in a culture where all they have known is slash and burn…. They probably do not know where Australia is located or the extreme crisis at hand – and how quickly that same crisis can hit this ‘Dry rain forest.’

    I’ve babbled long enough. Thanks for this update, and I share your grief and concerns.

    How’s the cleanup from the windstorm? I wondered if the work had overwhelmed and drained you totally!


    • “With the camera I pulled it closer and he was in awe.”

      That nails the cure. Intimate, immersive, educated/-ing involvement with nature makes us more fully human, more understanding of our place in nature. Nature itself contains the antidote to human insanity, or one of them.

      The “Windstorm Effect.” Well, I started by making it unimportant, for the most part. How? I just said, “It’s not important, because I say so. It will get gradual attention.”

      I opened enough of the paths to let me do the usual winter routes, with some detours that make the walks longer, so that’s good.

      Not much snow this year. A lot of 2-4″ doses, with warm spells between. I haven’t been on snow shoes since Thanksgiving. In fact, I’m heading out now to push today’s 2″ … snow-pushing meditation in the dark (headlamp). Winter refreshes my supply of night exposure. Sometimes I can push snow in the moonlight.


  4. So heartbreaking … the loss of wildlife, the devastation … and yet, there are still those who deny climate change, who would put profit ahead of all else. 😥 This was an excellent post, beautifully done, though heartbreaking, of course. Thank you!


    • Thanks, Jill. Good to hear from you. Since I made this post, the number of acres burned has gone from my stated 14m to 20m. They’re beginning to get some rain help. Latest reliable estimate of animal deaths is a billion. I have not heard any experts talk about insects. Sing along: “Where have all the pollinators gone? … When will they ever learn …” They do mention the likelihood of many more animal deaths over time as they die of starvation, dehydration, disease, etc. caused by the infernos. Don’t get me started on Puerto Rico and Haiti, two of the biggest disgraces on our faces. Did you know that technically PR is a US COLONY? They have their own constitution, as the Commonwealth of PR nation, and the UN recognizes them as an independent nation, but the US does not, and they are under the ultimate control of a US committee (I think I heard that was set up by Obama). Under our current regime, their latest disaster (earthquake) will get the normal GFY (GFyourself), like the $14b aid still owed them for the hurricanes. I would say they won’t get real help “until the body count is high enough,” but no matter how much money the world throws at Haiti, they are still devastated, 10 years out, thanks to corruption, per latest documentary I saw. There’s a silver lining: we’re not living as long now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Balsamean! Yes, there will be long-term ramifications from this, and I suspect many species will never regain their numbers. Humans have neglected climate change for far too long, now we are seeing the price in devastation world-wide, and still there are those fools who claim not to believe. My own thoughts are that they know full well our lifestyle will be the death of us, but to admit it would mean to have no excuse not to work to combat it, and that would require sacrifices that they are too arrogant and too lazy to make. Yes, i’m well aware that Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., and in fact did a post about the federal government letting them down both after Maria and the latest earthquakes last week. And since then, they have found warehouses full of supplies that were to have been disbursed in 2017, but were left to sit in the warehouse instead of helping people. Under the Oaf in the Oval, I must say that not much surprises me anymore, but I won’t stop fighting the injustices as long as I am still breathing. I suspect you are the same.


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