• Lara Flanagan

Life lessons of drought and fire

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Life Lesson 1:

My children are now kids of the drought. They are young and their memories are relatively short and they don’t really remember a time when our grass was green. They go to school where other students are either on 100 litres a day or struggling to find money to buy water for tanks that are dry. Showering in a 42 litre bucket that has a felt pen mark on the halfway line is normal, as is leaving our dishes on the side of the sink so we only do one dish wash a day. They help me with the grey-water hose and know that I freak out when I don’t hear the washing machine start to empty. They know that every precious drop of water is saved for the garden. Dust is more common than grass to them. When we do go somewhere on the coast they always exclaim about how green things are and if we are somewhere and it rains it is like magic. A really, really unfair magic.

Life Lesson 2:

My kids are terrified of fire and they worry about our home burning and us not having water to fight it. After the February fires and the current fires they are genuinely scared of bush-fires and what we will do with the animals and how we will escape. My little drought kids carry the weight of the world on their dusty shoulders. I know now my priority is to reassure them that it will all be ok, even if I don’t know it will. The biggest lesson of all for me is that I need to be calm and perky and proclaim loud and clear that we have a quick escape plan if we need it and we don’t need anything apart from ourselves so it would always be a speedy getaway. I hate knowing that I have to be perky but that is my job as a mum now to reassure them that we won’t burn, even if I don’t know if that is true anymore.

Life Lesson 3:

The human spirit is resilient and generous and fills me with hope.  I felt it in February, I feel it all the time when I see locals that are my friends dealing with drought in a way I can’t even imagine. Whether it be knowing that stock can no longer be sustained or crops can no longer be planted, people remain amazingly staunch. We have an amazing group of people who converged on our town to fight the fires and their courage and strength and energy is truly inspirational. So many of those involved with fighting fires are volunteers. I find that staggering. Then there is Blaze Aid who come in and repair fences, the people behind the scenes making millions of sandwiches, neighbours helping neighbours and strangers helping strangers. Humans have such a incredibly capacity for goodness.

Life Lesson 4:

I love my country. I have never loved this land more than I do now.  I have a catalogue of my life in photos and sometimes when I look back I can’t recognise the land I see now. I am reminded of Dorothea Mackellar and her words of ‘My Country’. I am Australian and this land is the most beautiful I know, especially when it is struggling. Right now, its dry dusty desolation, its sweeping plains, its cracked river beds and aching hills. This is my home and I love it and I will fight for it.

Life Lesson 5:

We need to take ownership for our world. We need to be kind to our planet. The big final lesson for me of this ongoing drought and these awful fires is that we need to take ownership. I have had countless people ask me why I am taking such ‘extreme’ measure to saving water when we don’t have water restrictions in our town that even stop us from watering our garden. It’s because I am trying to teach my kids that every little bit matters. It reminds me of the story of a man who comes across a million dying starfish on a beach and he goes along and keeps throwing them back in one by one. Someone passes him and asks him why he is wasting his time because he can’t save them all. He looks at the person and throws in another starfish and says, “well it made a difference to that one didn’t it?”

We can all make a difference and we need to remember that. Just this week we have had the climate strike demonstrations. Possibly 300,000 demonstrating in Australia alone. I am not for a minute going to criticise those demonstrators, I think it is amazing and I hope we all keep demonstrating until we reach a million or two and maybe one day our lousy government can listen. But demonstrating is not enough.

I do not understand it really. And right now I am only talking about Australia, but for some reason the climate strike demonstrations remind me of the last time Australia was so galvanised and that was for the strikes against the Vietnam War – a war that we had no business being involved in but we were happy to jump on America’s coat tails. Quite timely really considering our Prime Minister is currently in the USA being Trump’s hand-maiden. So what did we do after the galvanising Vietnam War demonstrations? We behaved appallingly as a nation and did not welcome our veterans home. Those demonstrating thousands were also responsible for untold cruelty and I fear that our current demonstrating thousands will also be responsible for not taking ownership.

The climate strike is amazing, but unless you have felt first-hand the effects of drought and fire I wonder if people actually get it. The climate strike is demanding for no new coal, oil and gas projects, 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030 and funding just transitions and job creations for all fossil-fuel workers and communities. Great. But what are they offering in return?

Nowhere can I find anything that says what our demonstrating thousands are offering in return. No-one is taking ownership. And that concerns me. Drought and fire has taught me that we need to take ownership and the biggest issue more than anything is our consumption. Our consumption of electricity, of water, of products, of plastic. So where are the promises that we are making in return for the demands?  It is all well and good to ask for a reduction in burning of fossil-fuels, but what do our kids think burns the fossil fuels? New clothes, new devices, internet usage, water usage and endless purchasing of things that we don’t need?

What do they think is responsible for the burning of fossil fuels? The fashion industry, the manufacturing industry, the agricultural industry and so many others. It is not just the coal mines. It is why the coal mines are there. So while asking for our politicians to make a change, when are we going to make a change?

You have to put your money where your mouth is. Why aren’t these students also saying, we are going to reduce our consumption by 50%. We are going to only buy 2nd hand. We are going to stop buying new devices when our old devices work just fine. We are going to plant a tree every year. We are going to start monitoring our water metres. We are going to tell our schools they need to have 2nd hand stores for uniforms and textbooks. The thing is our protesters aren’t promising anything. They are only demanding change without putting their money where their mouths are.

Where are their promises to simply reduce consumption? I saw a big sea of people all over Australia demonstrating and I also wondered how many of those people had bought takeaway coffees, were wearing brand new clothes, new shoes, had driven in their parent’s car and had got Maccas on the way home.  The biggest thing that drought and fire has taught me is the only way we are going to save this planet is if we change our actions in our own back-yards. Demonstrating is not going to do that, especially when our politicians ignore it, but making purchasing decisions based on what is good for our planet is what will make the politicians listen.

Drought and fire. Endless lessons. Amazing people. My incredible country. Brave souls and a world in crisis. There is still so much hope, but we have to take ownership for what is happening.

Only we can make a difference and if we wait for our politicians, without doing anything for ourselves it will be too late.

#Bushfires #ClimateChange #Drought

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