Tag Archives: Blue Mountains

Burning issues for Tony Abbott

A Writer puts Direct Action on climate to the test.

CLIMATE change efforts in Australia have become a matter of simple mathematics.

With the Coalition’s Direct Action Bill in place just this week, after a deal struck with the Palmer United Party and Senate crossbenchers, Australia is now attempting to reduce its carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020.

It’s official: we’re trying, and we won’t have to wait very long to gauge if this policy of financial incentives for major atmosphere polluters to reduce emissions is working.

Mind you, the repeal of the perfectly good carbon tax was supposed to reduce my electricity bill. So far, it’s gone dramatically skyward, no matter how many times Environment Minister Greg Hunt assures me it has not.

Meanwhile, our television screens are replete with footage of Tony Abbott planting trees, as though fixing climate change was that simple.

But the first visible signs of Mr Abbott taking Direct Action against climate change as Prime Minister came a year ago, with his televised efforts fighting fires with his local Rural Fire Service (RFS).

While it’s commendable that he so visibly helped NSW volunteer fire fighters during the bushfire crisis in New South Wales in October 2013, by rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty, questions were raised at the time about whether his government was doing its international climate change fighting as collaboratively.

“The guy doesn’t like talking about climate change, it’s clear.”

It seemed terrible timing for the newly-minted Prime Minister to close the Climate Commission, a science-based climate authority created under Julia Gillard’s leadership, just before some of the most damaging and unseasonal bushfires were linked, by scientists, to human impact on global warming.

Although I can see why many analysed Mr Abbott’s fire fighting motives, I’d rather he just encourage his MPs to volunteer for their local RFS, and look to ways he might represent us at international climate change events. Representing us is, after all, his job.

While bushfires ravaged parts of NSW in October and November 2013, destroying homes and impacting lives, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was meeting in Georgia.

The IPCC is described as: “The leading international body for assessing the most recent scientific research on climate change”. It’s outcomes are regularly reported in the Australian media, and not just the left-leaning titles.

In November 2013, climate change talks in Warsaw came and went without an Australian delegate.

Further bushfires occurred last summer, the most damaging were those in Western Australia in the Perth Hills region in early January.

Peak-of-summer bushfires are a commonplace occurrence in Australia, so the climate change link was not so intense in the media at the time.

In September, Mr Abbott neglected to publicly explain why he missed a UN climate change summit in the United States by just one day, while attending talks on Australia’s military  involvement in Iraq.

The guy doesn’t like talking about climate change, it’s clear.

As the traditional bushfire season takes it grip nationally, it will be interesting to observe attempts to hose the climate issue down, or whether unseasonal bushfires are assimilated into the new Direct Action plan.

GETTING HANDS DIRTY Australia’s Prime Minister, and local fire fighter, Tony Abbott.
GETTING HANDS DIRTY Australia’s Prime Minister, and local fire fighter, Tony Abbott.

Direct Action is the perfect solution for a local bushfire. Hazard reduction, containment lines and controlled burns are all utilised in the battle. Local RFS brigades are assisted by interstate teams when more assistance is required. On many occasions, international crews and/or equipment (such as aerial fire fighting machinery) are deployed from overseas. Bushfire fighting is an international movement which assistance to afflicted communities when there is a need.

If it’s okay to have an international fire fighting movement (the cure), what is wrong with an international community fighting the potential causes of extreme fire conditions (the prevention)?

What I hope is that the government has its eye on the issue  and someone (perhaps an elected leader?) sparks a rational debate based on the data, because surely Australia’s bushfire statistics would be of relevance to international climate change talks?

Only one person in this week’s Prime Minister’s Science Award’s audience gave Tony Abbott a loud show of applause after his speech, which seemed designed to inspire forgiveness for the Coalition’s terrible track record on supporting the concept of science.

His deft joke around the deafening silence was one thing. Whether Direct Action does what he is so confident it will, will be another.

As the Coalition is so fond of telling us: let’s wait and see.

But I suspect we’re witnessing a little of what Direct Action on climate change will consist of: getting hands dirty locally, fighting fires and planting trees, and plenty of support for coal mining in a continent perfectly designed for solar and wind energy capture, with no eyes in government on the bigger picture.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Nuptials and the Deep North

WEDDING PARTY Elves around the fire at our reception.
WEDDING PARTY Elves around the fire at our reception.

A Writer encounters Queensland’s LGBTQI equality record.

ON the same day as the Northern Territory found that a dingo did indeed take Azaria Chamberlain, the Queensland Government decided to release some news of its own. Perhaps, since there was plenty of other distractions for the media, they thought we wouldn’t notice?

A very important factor in our decision to move to Queensland was its record on same-sex equality.

Despite the state being a bit late on decriminalising homosexuality in 1990, in 2011 the Bligh Government passed a bill allowing same-sex civil unions.

But on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Newman’s new conservative government bowed to pressure from christian groups and repealed part of the legislation. Civil unions are still legal in Queensland, but no state-sanctioned ceremonies are allowed for same-sex couples creating such unions.

Apparently some christians don’t want to see same-sex attracted people ‘emulating’ marriages in our ceremonies.

Obviously such objectors haven’t been to too many same-sex marriages lately … you see, we don’t really ‘do’ marriage like these christians do. We ‘do’ marriage a whole lot differently.

“The tide has long-since turned for same-sex equality across Australia.”

Richard and I were married at Twizel on the South Island of New Zealand, during a Lord of the Rings tour guided by Discovery Tours, who take people into the foothills of the Southern Alps where location shoots were conducted for the movie trilogy.

We’re not dyed-in-the-wool LOTR fans, we just wanted to get married in a wilderness region without all the hassles of permissions and insurance. The setting was magnificent and soul-lifting, a perfect place to create a lasting union.

Back at home in the Blue Mountains, however, we went further by hosting a Lord of the Rings-themed party in our garden, for our family and friends. Richard thought of the costume idea, because he didn’t want to be the only one dressed-up.

We had quite a small house, but that was offset by a huge garden, so, in late May 2008, we invited everyone for what we hoped would be a lovely autumnal afternoon and evening, outside.

About half an hour before the ceremonial start to the party, the weather took a turn for the worse. Our guests, bedecked in everything from Hobbit feet to Ent branches, and smatterings of Elvish ears, sheltered in a billowing marquee.

Now, The Reverend Fred Nile might have prayed for rain on our parade, but as Richard and I dressed in our medieval-style outfits, a patch of blue sky shone out of the west.

By the time we were marching up the aisle of our driveway, to stand beside the anvil where our guests were forging our wedding bands, the rain was gone.

We were enveloped in so much love – friends playing and singing our favourite songs (our wedding march was ‘Moon River’); family taking care of us (my sister Jen was dressed as an Elf we named Gilgandra, which is pretty close to Galadriel); other friends speaking or performing for us; and everyone braving the conditions around a series of fires, well into the night.

It was an elemental celebration like no other.

Leaving the garden where this event took place was a little sad – little bits of sparkly confetti were always surfacing here and there in our cool climate paradise, a reminder of our wedding party – but this time in our lives was one step on a long journey.

You see, despite some christian’s doubts about the validity of our marriage, we really are in it for the long haul.

We could be angry that Queensland seems to be a case of two steps forward, and one back, for same-sex couples … but we’re already married, and we’ve headed north.

The tide has long-since turned for same-sex equality across Australia, and we were happy to ride that wave into Queensland, with our progressive votes at the ready.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

A Tempest brings a sea-change

SEA CHANGE Miranda and the Tempest, by John William Waterhouse.
SEA CHANGE ‘Miranda and the Tempest’, by John William Waterhouse.

A Writer encounters a new state.

IN 2012, my husband Richard and I decided to move from our home in the Blue Mountains of NSW, to a subtropical island off the coast of Brisbane in Queensland, a day’s drive to the north.

This rather major decision came about organically. We had an argument – one of those all-day, episodic ones where you get thinking time between confrontations. It wasn’t about what he said or what I said, in the end. It was about what we were doing in the Mountains, how we were managing our finances, who was happy in their job (or not), and where we were going.

We kissed and made-up, and decided to move. Just like that.

We told our family and closest friends, which made it real. Almost frighteningly real. They all kindly put up objections and perceived barriers, which only showed the love they have for us, and brought pangs of doubt.

But we still went through with it.

William Shakespeare invented the term ‘Sea-change’, not the Real Estate Institute of Australia. In what is believed to have been his last epic play, The Tempest, ironically set on an island, he wrote a song of comfort for the sprite Ariel to sing to Ferdinand, whose father has drowned …

“Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,

Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.”

The song speaks of something good, something new and unusual emerging from something that has been lost.

Our Blue Mountains house, where we’d renovated a stunning old garden, took less than 24 hours to sell once the ‘for sale’ sign went up, which was a sign indeed.

Synonymous with somewhere

Not long before we moved I noticed someone found their way to my blog via googling ‘Michael Burge Blue Mountains’.

Turns out my online profile has me digitally-linked to the place in which I lived, on and off (mainly on), since 1979.

For some reason that made me reluctant to move – I had become part of the fabric of the place, in a sense. Will I ever be as synonymous with another place in this lifetime?

Many Mountains people say: “You never leave the Mountains, you always end up returning”, and in my case, that happened five times in 33 years. It’s almost scary how often I slunk back up the hill, tail between my legs, and found solace in that unique part of the world, stuck on a gigantic rock surrounded by endless bushland.

I learnt, loved, lived, and lost here. I would still like my ashes scattered in the Jamison Valley when I am dead. Perhaps that may never change.

MAGIC MORETON A bay full of stories.
MAGIC MORETON A bay full of stories.

What country, friends, is this?

Richard grew up in south-east Queensland, including time in Kenmore, Brisbane, so he knows this country.

From he and his family I’ve picked up a bit of a Brisbane north-south divide (in Sydney it’s east-west), with the Brisbane River being the borderline.

We’re technically living the south side, but, being on an island, I claim to have moved offshore altogether.

Before moving, I felt Queensland had to prove its mettle a bit more before I professed to be a resident. We needed to get to know one another first. Based on early signs (like Campbell Newman’s move to rescind part of the civil unions legislation, and his decision to cut the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards) I felt Queensland and I were going to have a few issues.

In the lead-up to the 2013 federal election, we were faced with having to vote for someone in our new electorate, the division of Bowman, which is also known as Redland City. I decided to interview all the local candidates for a political website – No Fibs – so I could understand more about this region though its politics. What I found was eye-opening.

I didn’t understand why those on north of the Brisbane River look down on those in the south, until we went to an exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane about our new home, Moreton Bay.

There within the records and artefacts were the stories of the men and women, Aboriginal and European, who carved out an existence on the archipelago off the seaboard of Greater Brisbane – the convicts, lepers, outcasts and misfits of a penal colony, and the Quandamooka people who came before all of us.

I got goosebumps learning about the courageous ones who reached out to people in need across these islands, and this misfit felt a sense of place, after being here only just over a year.

There’s a whole lot more to Australia than the little patch of land clustered around Port Jackson, which some people have convinced themselves is worth an average of a million dollars for a tiny patch. Islands are places of mythology, and there’s plenty of local myths about Coochiemudlo and its neighbours. Many of us like to keep it that way, because it means our reality ranks amongst Australia’s best kept secrets.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.