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Just A Thought: In The Line Of Fire

A love letter to those in danger and a desperate plea for government action.

By Jamila Rizvi

The Latest

A love letter to those in danger and a desperate plea for government action.

By Jamila Rizvi

I’ve spent the morning in Struggle Town. I move from one topic to another, trying to write this Just a Thought column – but the ideas just aren’t flowing. I am stuck. And I suspect that today there are many Australians in this same position. Unable to concentrate on immediate duties because our minds keep wandering to those at risk; to those in the line of fire.

Our country is burning. Those under direct threat prepare for the worst, hosing down gutters, removing leaf debris and packing bags. They look to the skies for answers. Radios are permanently turned on and phones kept close by, waiting for the urgent SMS direction to leave.  Those of us who are physically safe, go about our daily business but we’re mentally elsewhere. Our hearts sit heavily beside friends and family around the country. We all know this fear.

I don’t remember an Australian summer without the threat of bushfire. I’ve been in amongst the thick of it a couple of times. Once was on holiday at the NSW south coast, as a child of seven. I have vivid memories of driving through burnt out, still smouldering bushland in the backseat of our car. My usually noisy sister and I, silent for once, took in the horror surrounding us. I wanted to cry but knew it was not the time. I’d left Teddy at the house.

Aged seventeen, I was living in Canberra when the firestorm thundered through my hometown. We’d been instructed to prepare for the worst, with the northern suburbs most at risk. Then the wind turned suddenly, and the fire went with it. Before we knew it, our packed bags were rendered unnecessary. The same friends who had offered us a place to flee, took shelter with us rather than the other way around.

 

“In times of natural disaster, we Aussies rally together. Here we are, at the mercy of our own environment, unable to do anything but our best.”

 

For the little kids it was like a party; a giant sleepover. I stood alone, in-between youth and experience, acutely aware of the adults’ fear but not knowing how this would go. As it turned out, we were fine and so were the friends who slept under our roof that night, with their valuables stowed in the garage. Others were not so lucky. Hundreds of homes burned, businesses flattened to the ground and in the worst of cases, lives lost.

Today I send messages and make phone calls to loved ones under threat, remembering the horror of those nights. In times of natural disaster, we Aussies rally together. Here we are, at the mercy of our own environment, unable to do anything but our best. The weather is a more powerful mistress than humanity, beyond our control. The dice is tossed in the air and we do our best to help those who roll an unlucky six.

Except not anymore. We’ve moved beyond the point of random inevitability. Scientists implore us, fire fighters demand we listen, and environmentalists collapse with despair. This is not normal. This is not random. This is not unlucky. This destructive, death-foreboding weather doesn’t just feel worse than ever before, it is worse than ever before. This horror is of our own making and yet we deny responsibility.

The time for thoughts and prayers has passed. Indeed, the time for action also stands behind us now; a mere speck in the rear-view mirror. Horrific climate change lies not in our future but stand firmly, menacingly in the present. Nonetheless we know that something can be done, that there is still hope. There is still possibility but not for much longer.

Humanity could save more homes, more livelihoods and more lives from this devastation. We could stand together in the same way our Aussie community does now, except we could fight the conditions for more fires rather than only the fires themselves. We could harness that same solidarity and spirit that comes to the fore in times of crisis. If only we would recognise that this is, in fact, a crisis. A crisis of global proportions.

Just A Thought explores the cultural and political musings of Jamila Rizvi.