One Week Later

vic_bushfire

Image: Fire in Upper Ferntree Gully ~ jsarcadia

This is a follow up to the poem I posted earlier about Black Saturday and the bushfires in Victoria. I wrote the poem as a way of trying to move through the horror I felt in the days following the tragedy. There were so many images, so many stories, it was overwhelming and this felt like the only way I could make sense of it. Writing has always been cathartic for me and while I would have liked to have done more with it, I think the simplicity suits the poem… the starkness seems to capture the devastation of what happened.

It’s one week later now and in many ways I still don’t know what to make of it all. I have lived through several bushfires before but none as ferocious as this; it was like the entire southern coast of Australia was on fire and there was smoke around Sydney for days, as well as the overwhelming scents of various native plants, which will always remind me of the fires now.

The tolls keep increasing; 1,800 homes have been destroyed and 181 people have lost their lives so far – that may go as high as 300. As someone who respects the Australian landscape so much, to see it so devastated is awful; some parts of Victoria resemble craters more than bushland and over a million animals may have perished. Many fires are believed to have been caused by arson as well. For that terrible day, it truly was hell on Earth.

Am I angry? I’m more sad than anything else. Sad at the loss of life and property; sad that in many cases the warning signs weren’t heeded. Sad that it’s taken another tragedy for us to realise how fragile life can be. I’m also very grateful for the amount of good that people are doing, the way they’re helping and coming together; the donations and support, making quilts and toys, auctions for charities, giving blood. The way people have responded, here and overseas, has been incredible and filled me with a lot of hope.

I do understand the anger, though. When so many lives have been lost and homes destroyed, you feel helpless and anger is a natural response. I think we need to be careful not to deflect blame, though. There’ll be time for a closer examination of what went wrong but right now it seems like arson is all the media cares about. Arson is awful but we shouldn’t be so fast to deflect all of our anger onto it – there’ll be many factors contributing to this tragedy and what we really want is to make sure this never happens again, rather than to strike out in vengeance. Right now we need time to grieve.

APTOPIX Australia Wildfires

Sam the koala and firefighter David Tree

For me I think this photo is going to be the main image that stays with me from these fires. It’s amazing; the koala almost looks like a baby being fed from a bottle, and the fireman is being so gentle. There’s been some confusion about when exactly it was taken but it’s still an image that shows you how devastating fire can be and the compassion it can bring out in people. It shows that even in the darkest of situations you can find some hope, which I wanted to reflect in my writing as well.

Sam and her rescuer seem to have become the global face of the bushfires; I know the photo has been featured in a lot of blogs and newspapers around the world. That’s largely because there has been so little good news coming out of these fires and something like this really raises all of our spirits, which is what we need right now.

That’s why I was disappointed when TMZ mocked the photo recently. I detest TMZ anyway but mocking a selfless gesture – twice – when people have died and lost their homes seems very tasteless. How about some sensitivity for what people are going through? That’s TMZ for you, I guess.

At least we know Sam is being cared for now and hopefully will recover. Sadly many other animals haven’t been as lucky. They are the forgotten victims in this tragedy, in many ways.

In any case, I wanted to post this and my poem today to mark the week since the tragedy. I’ve not been able to concentrate on much else; everything else seems rather trivial at the moment, particularly when you think about the amount of money spent on Valentine’s Day when people have nothing.

I hope my poem is respectful; I wanted to try and work through that day in my mind and to be evocative of the landscape. I hope in some small way it speaks for what we’re all feeling at the moment.

I don’t think any of us can ever really understand what it must have been like on that day but I found this video by someone who filmed the Churchill fire; it killed 21 people, 1 near where she was filming at Jeeralang. It really brings the impact home, particularly when you hear the wind howling.

It really was hell on Earth.

A time of change

So Easter’s over for another year. It’s amazing how quickly it’s gone; I was thinking earlier that it’s hard to believe we’re almost at the end of March… the year’s gone quickly, even if it has been the earliest Easter in years.

I’ve always liked Easter. I’m more spiritual than religious but I like the sentiment that comes with the season; it’s a time of renewal and continuing life and it always makes me think of the changing seasons, the leaves starting to brown. It makes me think of where I am in my life as well and I’ve been doing a lot of that over the last few days.

I’ve been feeling like I’ve been needing a change for a while and so recently I applied for a new job. I’m hoping I’ll get it but I realised over the weekend that that’s not the only thing I’ve been frustrated about. I’ve started to feel like I’ve outgrown some of my friendships and I’m not sure how to feel; it’s natural we’d grow apart after ten years but now I’m not sure if those relationships were as important to me as I thought they were.

I also haven’t been feeling well for a few days, so I’ve had a few things on my mind. But then on Sunday everything seemed a little clearer. I guess I just realised that there was no point feeling frustrated any more; the job was out of my hands and did it really matter how I felt about my friends? Those relationships had changed but how I had felt then wasn’t any less real because the feeling had changed now. Resisting the change was stopping me from moving on and I realised I should honour how I had felt in my heart, rather than trying to recapture it.

I’ve always resisted change a little bit, like most people; we’re comfortable in the world we’ve created for ourselves and it’s scary when that world changes. But I’ve always been quick to embrace change once I’ve recognised it and it seemed apt that it should happen on Easter Sunday, right at the end of a difficult week. Maybe the universe was watching out for me.

It seems like everyone is talking about change at the moment, though, doesn’t it? The election has stirred up a lot of those feelings; even if you wanted to avoid the hype I don’t think you could, it’s everywhere. And I’m half the world away; I can’t imagine what it must be like in the US. It’s funny how “change” seems to have become the motto for this election. It’s electrified people, particularly Obama’s supporters, but you hear about change at every election; politicians promise how they’ll be different but usually it’s just a number of empty platitudes. This election is different in that a black man or a woman could become president for the first time but most of the spin is still the same.

One of my favourite songs is David Bowie’s Changes and I came across this video earlier which captures it perfectly, all the candidates wanting to be the agent of change. I thought it was so funny, particularly at the end when they all started singing the chorus! But it’s true, change really has become the theme for 2008 – but why? It’s too simple to say it’s just Bush; I’m sure Bush is a big factor but the changes being talked about are more widespread than that. It’s a number of factors coming together; the economy, housing affordability, health care, gas prices, climate change, Iraq… but are they any different to the issues normally talked about during an election? I’m a bit confused about why the whole “change” theme has caught on so much, except because the candidates are so different and foreign policy.

To be honest the way the entire election is being reported over here is starting to annoy me, though. I don’t like the way the media thinks we have a right to say who we (or should I say they) think should be president. John Howard criticised Obama in 2007 after Obama announced his presidential bid, saying al Qaeda should “pray” that Obama and the Democrats win in 2008. He was deservedly roasted for interfering but isn’t the media being hypocritical? They often talk about which candidate would be “better” for Australian interests and stories like this one on Hillary Clinton hardly seem balanced. Online Opinion even carried out a poll of the candidates Aussies would pick. I know it’s in the media’s nature to speculate but their attitude has to be influencing their reporting – and they’re already biased because of their distaste for Bush.

I think everyone has the right to an opinion on any election, whether it’s in their country or not, but it should be just that, an opinion; the media’s influencing the way Australians look at the election and therefore how we look at the US. I’m no fan of Bush but I will always be a friend of America; 9/11 was a day that changed my life and the attitude that some people have towards America now disturbs me and doesn’t all come from Bush… it says a lot about us and if we’re talking about change, that’s something I’d like to see change about us as well. Maybe this election can be a catalyst.

I think the candidates need to careful about all this talk of change. If that’s what they promise and in the end little changes, they’re setting themselves up for a backlash. But even if there is change, that doesn’t mean it will be noticeable right away; change takes time to implement and often you only see it later, looking back. As the David Bowie song says – time may change you but you can’t trace time.

So anyway that’s what I’ve been doing over Easter, making some changes. I hope you had a good Easter and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of posting and commenting again after a long break. And oh, if you’re a Bowie fan like I am, there’s a great clip of Bowie singing Changes live available here; just don’t blame me when it gets stuck in your head. 🙂

How far is too far?

What do you say on a day like this? Heath Ledger dead at 28… it seems unbelievable. I remember seeing him in Sweat, his first major role; he had such a strong presence that it transcended the screen. There was no doubt he’d go on to bigger things… for it to end so tragically leaves me at a loss for words.

Most people will remember Ledger for his role in Brokeback Mountain but I’ll always remember a scene in Monster’s Ball. He played the son of Billy Bob Thornton, a correctional officer who is overcome as he leads a prisoner to the electric chair. Later he asks if Thornton hates him. His father answers yes. Ledger shoots himself, saying that he always loved him. It’s a torturous scene, sublimely acted… now it seems even sadder.

My thoughts go out to Ledger’s family, his young daughter… this must be so difficult and to live it through the media’s gaze can only make it worse. The coverage was live as Ledger’s body was being taken from his apartment and you could hear the cameraman saying “I’ve got the shot”, others crowding round. Not to mention that apparently Ledger’s parents first heard of his death through a radio report… death isn’t entertainment. Can’t they show a little respect?

Sometimes the media just goes too far. We see it every day with a story about Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan or a dozen other celebrities; there are no boundaries and we just need to look at Anna Nicole Smith to see how it can end. I hope that hasn’t played a part here as well but if it has, shouldn’t we bear some responsibility? We’re attracted to it like a train wreck. At what point do we look away and say they’ve gone too far? Or don’t we even care?

The thing which disturbs me the most is that Ledger seemed distressed by his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. He called the character a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy” and it left him mentally exhausted. Perhaps sometimes actors can go too far in pursuit of their art, get so lost that they can’t find their way back. … surely no role is worth that.

No matter how many films I see, in my mind he’ll always be the 16 year old just starting his career, with so much promise… rest in peace, Heath. We’ll miss you and remember you, always.