Dear Prime Minister,
In the decade of my birth, governments around the world became aware of an issue known then as ‘global warming’. In the early 1990s, the issue was of such concern that an international framework agreement was negotiated, which recognised the long-term and incredibly serious nature of this issue now called ‘climate change’. In the decades that followed, successive Australian governments had the opportunity to show leadership on this issue – to find new and better ways to power our communities, to find better ways to relate to the more-than-human world (sometimes called ‘natural resource management’ or ‘biodiversity conservation’).
At the same time, people were waking up from the colonial dream and realising the horrific impacts of invasion, colonisation, genocide, successive policies of dispossession and assimilation directed at Aboriginal peoples. We stole their Country, we stole their culture, we stole their children – and yet they are still here working to protect, love and restore Country and broken families.
These issues are very much connected – our disavowal of the Country that supports us is very much linked with our postcolonial disavowal of the peoples whose culture is so strongly centred around connection to this Country.
I write about these issues as facts, but it is the feelings connected with them that I really want you to take on board today.
As a nation, we knew better – and we had the opportunity to do better; instead, we let racism and greed reign supreme. The efforts of elected representative after elected representative was to ridicule, ignore, dismiss and deny those who care about these issues. You kept so many of us quiet – fearful of the ridicule.
Today, we see on a large scale how our way of living – and our denial of others’ ways of living – are so connected to the unfolding tragedy of climate crisis. The scale of drought and bushfire we are currently experiencing is the direct result of centuries of denial – of Aboriginal culture and proper relationship with Country.
I’ve been concerned for decades now and somehow that concern has made me a pariah. I used to care what people like you thought; I used to want to ensure my actions were ‘calm’, ‘measured’ and ‘socially acceptable’ – now I see that such responses are hardly reasonable in light of what we are collectively facing. I’ve carefully studied environmental law and policy and applied myself diligently; I’ve worked hard to contribute to the community in a range of ways. And yet, in my experience, these years of living diligently and quietly are wasted – perhaps because of the diligence and quietness (the desire not to make a fuss) of myself and others, those in power still don’t take the science on climate change seriously. With all those false emissions reductions, post-Kyoto credits and business-as-usual measures disguised as climate policy, we are the laughing-stock of the planet.
I am deeply ashamed to be an Australian at this point in time – and I don’t want to be. So, you must know that I won’t be fearful anymore.
I won’t be calm, measured or socially acceptable anymore.
Here is part of my story, and why I will be taking direct action for my future and my children’s future:
On 9 November 2019, my partner’s family lost their home – now his father (in his early 60s) lives in a tent facing the prospect of rebuilding a home that took him over 20 years to build, a home that has been retrofitted for his physically disabled wife, who has spent the last three months in a rehabilitation facility over two hours away, because there is nowhere else for her to go.
My partner had spent a lot of time on the north coast, supporting his father to clean up, supporting his brother with autism to manage with the stress, visiting his mother in hospital – at a loss for ways to help. They are poor people, you see, and have used a meagre inheritance to buy a house for their son with autism in South Grafton – and they pay the mortgage for this house with their disability and carer’s pensions. They don’t really have the money or capacity to rebuild. They’ll probably never recover – and they’ll definitely never forget the funding cuts to the Rural Fire Service or the decades of disappointing climate policy that has put them in this difficult situation.
On 29 December 2019, my partner returned home from visiting his family on the north coast to our home on the far south coast. On 30 December 2019, we packed a few things and fled our home in the bush – prepared to lose our meagre collection of furniture and possessions, but not our lives. That evening, the so-called Badja fire destroyed a large portion of places known as the Wadbilliga National Park, localities of Upper Brogo (where we live), Verona, Quaama, Wandella, Yowrie and the town of Cobargo. For the record, I support the people of Cobargo – you should have listened to them, their anger and frustration. You shouldn’t walk away from the people you claim to represent.
We’ve now been displaced for six weeks – we’re not quite sure how long we’ll be displaced. We are currently staying with some very generous friends and often feeling physically and emotionally shattered by the heat, smoke and chaos. Our little cottage was burnt but not destroyed – everything else on the property where we live has been totally destroyed, including another family’s home. They are utterly devastated, as are we.
Fires are still burning – so many rainforests that never burned have been lost, so many animals (those that didn’t burn alive) now hungrily wander the match-stick hills towards starvation. It’s crushing. Last night some more friends lost their homes – some of them Rural Fire Service members who put their lives at risk to save the homes and lives of others in their communities. So many forests have burned. So much life, gone forever – and that is the fault of the successive governments over the past few decades (including yours) that have failed to take climate change seriously.
It’s not really the personal tragedy that I want to convey here. Sadness is more than a deep well for me – it is a large, expansive dam imposed upon my inner landscape. It is all dried up and full of animal skeletons. My grief is large, expansive and desiccated. I’m dried out and cried out. I’m devastated with the scale of the loss – and devastated with the scale of the loss in other parts of the world where the effects of greed and racism are also being felt – where communities are starving because of drought, because of climate change.
Despite my sorrow, I am experiencing this crisis in a very privileged way – with a place to stay, food to eat, clean water to drink and, sometimes, there’s even clean air to breathe too.
What you need to know is that I’m so angry. I’m furious. My anger is explosive, suppressed by years of being acceptable and being so immensely frustrated by the democratically elected representatives who carry lumps of coal into parliament and laugh – who blame Aboriginal peoples for the poverty and related effects that have befallen them. How fucking dare those so-called representatives? How dare YOU? How dare you allow this to continue?
As a nation, we have known for years these bushfires have been coming – and all the associated impacts.
And we did nothing to stop it – in fact, we’ve continued to accelerate these impacts.
We allowed successive governments to pretend that their actions around the edges were enough. We knew they were lying.
We’ve known for years that we need a new way of living – a new way of being with the world. We’ve known for years that Indigenous ways of being can work with Country and not against it.
It can’t all be about mainstream ‘jobs and growth’ – that approach leads to tragedy and, ironically, causes a massive loss of ‘jobs and growth’.
We need to see ourselves as connected to the more-than-human world. We breathe because of healthy forests and oceans. We eat because of healthy rivers, and healthy forests that bring rainfall and the diverse lifeforms that nourish and pollinate. These aren’t simply ‘ecosystem services. This life is our life. If we care about life and want to live, it’s not optional whether we protect life and it’s not about the ‘inner city green vote’.
It’s about life. It’s about respecting life, loving life, allowing life to continue.
How dare you – or any elected representative – take such decisive action against life? How dare you allow large-scale mining operations that will pump more greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere and drain our waterways? Knowing all that you know, with your CSIROs and scientific reports – how dare you? How can you even fathom such things?
How dare you call yourself a leader and not show leadership? How dare you lie to the people that you represent that what you are doing is enough? How dare you smugly refer to climate adaptation – as if it’s a simple matter of hazard reduction – when you have had scientists, experts and informed policymakers tell you otherwise for years? You knew about the problems on the way, and now unfolding – and we all know about the solutions. How dare you not embrace those solutions? How dare you do anything other than support live, respect life, and love life? How dare you not tell the truth? How dare you dine with Rupert Murdoch, such a devious disinformant on the climate change issue, while our Country burns?
You won’t get away with this. We will hold you accountable.
And I won’t be quiet anymore.
Anonymous contributor from Brogo, NSW 2550