Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Country.

Australia can be a hard land. Much of the continent is desert and nearly all those enticing looking lakes on the map are dry saltpans, hence names like Lake Disappointment. Droughts and water shortages are the norm with only a relatively small portion of land where grazing is lush or water intensive cropping is possible. Many of our trees are high in volatile oils so when a fire breaks out it spreads with terrifying speed. While most of us get just enough rain, in the tropics the volume can be enormous and so can the devastation.

The climate of Australia is changing. I can see this in my own little corner of Western Australia. Less rain in winter - our rainfall comes largely in that three month period - and more humidity in summer for starters. Australia's population continues to grow and the areas that can supply our needs shrink. The irrigation areas along the Murray-Darling basin we have relied on so heavily are suffering acute water shortages and elsewhere crops are having to be modified to cope with the changes.

There is a poem by Dorothea Mackellar, My Country, which is taught in our schools. It’s also been set to music. The words sum up Australia and Australians so eloquently I don’t know why it wasn’t made our national anthem. They stir me every time I hear them, tapping in as they do to the reality of this continent. Mackellar wrote it while she was in England and compares the soft, lush green of that land with the harshness of the countryside where she lived in Australia. She knew the dangers of the Australian landscape – but like her countrymen and women, forgave them. We know we live where vicious bushfires threaten life and property every summer, where floods can come without warning, where years can go by with barely enough rain to sustain life. We do what we can to survive all these natural disasters because Australia is also a bountiful country. In the good times she gives us enough to live well and if the price is the bad times when we have to struggle, that’s the way it is.

But, having said that, there is no reason why we shouldn’t improve our use of what we have. We need to start finding and implementing solutions, learning from other dry land cultures and creating innovative ways to care for our land and ourselves. We have the ability. Now we have to act. Even without climate change we have known for many years that these problems exist. Dorothea Mackellar was writing about them in 1908. We need to start to deal with them.

To read the poem and find out more about this gifted poet go to the Dorothea Mackellar website.


Satima Flavell said...

Too bleedin' right, Helen. Iin the last generation we seem to have forgotten that our ancestors got by without air conditioning or motor cars, and they kept warm by putting more clothes on, not by turning up the heating!

Satima Flavell said...

I was imterrupted:-) I wanted to add that we used to be leaders in dry land cultivation. We've got to get away from irrigation and restore the rivers to their natural flow.

Down here in the SE of SA, we have high rainfall and what looks like plenty of water, but in fact much of our water flows underground from NSW. So while we seem to be drought-free at present, in fact our reservoirs are getting low because most of our rain ends up the sea. We're almost as dependent on the Murray-Darling system aa the rest of eastern Oz.

Imagine me said...

The Murray-Darling system is certainly in a critical situation and the state of the lakes at its end in SA due to the water taken from upstream is a cause for national shame.