The fires are not yet out. Most of them are, and the air is mostly clear but… the fires are not yet out. That’s why this post is shorter than earlier ones. I’m so tired. I have a new book coming out and I’m so very tired. We all are. We’re more liable to lose our tempers, to have accidents, to forget things… this is evidence we’re entering into healing. We’re not there yet, though.
When I chat with locals, some Canberrans act as if the last few months are past. This reminds me of the general feel of Melbourne. The rest of the country was on fire and Melbourne had some smoke, but its cityness offered protection against a lot of things. Melbourne then and much of Canberra now have invisible walls against the fullness of what is happening. Last Thursday, I wanted to tell the grocer around the corner that just because we could breathe again didn’t mean that the end was in sight. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a very long tunnel. That’s what I told her, and we talked about the fire near here still going. We can’t see it from the mountains anymore and it doesn’t eat the skyline, but it’s still there. The rain was enough to save Canberra, but not enough to put out the megafire. It takes more than a week of rain to dowse a megafire.
Sydney was flooded and our fire continued – that’s how fierce these fires have been.
Sydney had a thirty year flood. I was there once during a thirty year flood. A friend and I put on thongs (flip-flops in the US) to protect our feet, then we walked down City Road to George Street. By ‘walking’ I mean we waded in water that was over our knees. It really wasn’t that safe, but we were in our twenties and possibly not that sensible. We watched a four-wheel drive floating towards Sydney Harbour. It had a driver and three passengers, but they were all in the back, playing poker. Donna commented on a floating bottle and we decided that thongs were insufficient for dealing with debris and we waded home.
This is the level of rain that put out about a third of the fires.
This last weekend I went to the market again. Fewer people are chatting about what is happening on the land, so those of us who do get a lot more understanding in a great hurry. A farmer from one of my favourite places chatted when I paid then, a few minutes later, grabbed his mug and we spent ten minutes talking through things. He told me exactly why each stall was missing, and now I know what’s happening with every stall at the market.
Very few farms were unaffected. Only one was destroyed entirely and that’s why their stall is missing, Two more were partly destroyed. One has started pulling things together and will be back in a few months.
The other? It’s not impossible to pull it together, but the farmers are in their sixties and their children are not on the land and they are facing a very bleak future. They cannot handle things yet.
This is when I discovered that those farmers who come to Canberra are the ones with paths out. The farmer I was talking to me explained that he knows he has no viable future with farming alone, given climate change and the appalling economy we are now dealing with. Not even in one of the richest parts of the farming world. One extra industry is insufficient, so he’s moving into two.
The survivors of this mess may well be those who look ten years into the future and find a way through the present destruction and into new ways of farming and new ways of dealing. We talked about how many farmers could do this and he said, “It’s hard to say. So many farmers are hurting now and so much rural industry is trashed.”
I took this thought away with me. It’s a big one. I’ve only seen the tip of an immense iceberg.
What can happen and will happen is that on Saturday I’m going to our local Agricultural Show. I’ll report back on it next week. I need to learn more. If I can get to Araluen and talk to some amazing (and amazingly knowledgeable) people there, I will do that in a few weeks. That depends on friends with cars. The Show depends on local buses, so I can do that if I take my time and my walking stick and much care.