By David Clements
In the few short months my wife and I have lived in Australia, we’ve seen it all.
Fortunately we’ve mostly seen it on the news, but when you’re closer to the places where natural disasters happen it seems all the more real.
In his entertaining and informative book In A Sunburnt Country, Bill Bryson discusses how resilient Australians are, almost nonchalant in the face of nature’s adversity.
My wife and I understood a bit more of the reality of bushfires when we drove through a forest near Coonabarabran that had just burned — so recently that some trees were still smoldering.
We saw some kangaroos and emus along the road that were seeking the green vegetation left next to the road. More than 48,000 hectares of forest had burned there.
The community of Tathra was overwhelmed by racing flames on March 18th, demolishing 70 homes in this small coastal town of 1,600 residents.
Speaking in Tathra in the aftermath of the fire, Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull declared the truth that is well known here: “We have an environment which has extremes. Bushfires are part of Australia, as indeed are droughts and floods.”
Meanwhile, the northern side of Australia has been repeatedly battered by cyclones.
It was a little stormy when we visited northeast Australia back in late January, and in fact, bad weather at sea prevented our planned boat tour to see Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Watching the television news we are thankful a missed excursion was our only hardship, as we see scenes of flooded streets and damaged infrastructure, with cyclones reportedly causing the worst flooding “in a generation” in the picturesque seaside town of Cairns and other areas.
Although we have not witnessed the “droughts” category Prime Minister Turnbull listed, the evidence is very real in the Riverina district where we are living.
Residents here lived through a 10-year drought from 2003 to 2012. Year after year harvests failed in this normally prosperous farming region, with many farmers forced to give up farming altogether.
It is not so hard to imagine, as we experienced a very dry, hot summer here in 2017-2018, with temperatures sometimes up in the 40s, but fortunately there was generally enough rain for the crops.
More than that, the resilient Australian farmers have adopted innovative methods to deal with the extremes, as have Australians generally — a people resilient in the face of all that nature throws at them.
Tathra’s just a day’s drive from us here in Wagga Wagga, and a generous, spontaneous effort has arisen here in Wagga to provide some necessities of life to Tathra residents who have lost everything.
And so life will go on in this sunburnt country.
David Clements, Ph.D. is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Trinity Western University