Meanwhile in Australia

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.



Meanwhile in Australia — 9 Comments

    • And that tehy’re not all out… to me this is one of the ways I can help people see that these were not fires as we know them. They create tehir own climate, have their own tornadoes.. and take more to put out than anything I’ve seen. The healing of the land is going to be different, too.

  1. I’m in Melbourne right now and it feels like a place that is bustling around its business without a worry in the world. Which is great for me, because I’m on vacation and have decided that my purpose this week is not to worry too much about the various disasters back at home, but does emphasize your point.

    We do most of our shopping at home at the farmer’s market and it is one ways we keep up with the way things work in our larger region. Our flour guy and the folks we get fruit and eggs from were both hit by small fires this year, but nothing major. One of the larger vegetable farms had major problems the year before so they sold advance shares in food, which is a good community-based solution to dealing with these things.

    Do you know of any bookstores in Melbourne that will have your book this week? I want to find a good bookstore while I’m here for general purposes, but I’d really like to get your book in particular.

    • This is why I was saying you’d be fine in Melbourne! I meant to email you about the oddness in Melbourne bookshops: they mostly don’t stock local authors. They bring the world to Australia but only a very few of them have Australian writers who are not prizewinning or blockbusters. The chain that does this is not yet in Victoria. This means that a lot of Australians buy books like mine from Booktopia (and online shop) or through Book Depository. It’s really odd that we are such big readers and bok owners in this country, yet bookshops don’t stock a lot of local writers. This is partly because we don’t do returns and because there are significant issue with distribution. One major distributor only ever has a copy or two of even books that have been ordered a lot. This was explained to me in great detail three different time at author events. “We know it’s your booklaunch and we ordered copies weeks ago, but the distributor couldn’t get enough copies.” Big name authors don’t have this problem. It really hits writers who are in what used to be described as mid-list. This is one of the reasons we yearn for prizes or at least short-listing here- it can help persuade distributors and bookshops to get us in. Readers asking for my books hasn’t been enough for any brick and mortar shop apart from Harry Hartog. I do wonder if part of the problem might be that we have an inordinate number of writers as well as readers and if we don’t have a sale model to match.

      • My favourite Melbourne brick and mortar bookshops are Readings (my first bookshop ever was Readings in Hawthorn), Hill of Content, Sybers (my family knows their family, but they keep forgetting I’m a writer which amuses the heck out of me), Paperback (one of my favourite coffee places in Melbourne is very near), and Embiggen. There’s also Minotaur and there the Little Bookroom. Every single one of them is worth visiting but for different reasons. A lot of my favourite shops from years past are just memories and there are shops I’ve not explored yet, so if you find a really good one, please report back!

        • We asked about bookshops in the coffee shop this morning (a lovely little place called House of Cards which shares a building with the local library branch and what I’d call a community center) and got told about Readings and Hill of Content. We will check out what we can.

          What you said about bookshops and local authors works the same way in the States. It particularly annoys me that indie bookshops are bad about supporting indie presses. I understand the economics, but it’s still frustrating. Authors are much better at supporting bookstores than bookstores are at supporting authors. I’ll make a point of asking for your book, though.

          • If you find it, let me know, for it will be a welcome surprise. The US has an excuse (returns) but I do not understand Australia’s reason for doing things this way. I’ve had bookshops tell me that if they sell any boks of mine within two weeks then they automatically order more, but I found out from readers this doesn’t actually happen. I still adore those bookshops, but their industry and my industry are in different universes.

            • Alas, I visited Hill of Content and they did not have it and could not get it before I leave. It was a nice bookstore, but I was disappointed to see so many US books on display, especially in science fiction. It was nice to see How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, who lives near me in Oakland (highly recommended to everyone).

              • It’s a continuing issue for Australian writers that most bookshops don’t give us space. We have a bad case of cultural cringe still. What it means is that you can’t tell the readership or the quality of an Australian writer by whether we’re on bookshelves or not. We use other tools to measure these things. It was exceptionally reassuring when I was recognised at the local agricultural show on Friday – it means I am visible as a writer.