‘We Are Still Here’: remorse, the national psyche and country

In recent times I have been fortunate to have experienced the friendship and wisdom of other Aboriginal people working for the recognition of our culture and history, in concert with environmental protection for both Aboriginal people and the wider community. In a recent conversation with my good friend, Bruce Pascoe, he spoke of the absence of any genuine sense of remorse within the colonial psyche. He was not referring to the momentary guilt that some white Australian experience in relation to the theft of Aboriginal land and a history of violence against our people. I believe Bruce was considering something far deeper. Inhabiting a relaxed and comfortable view of colonisation in Australia requires little thinking at all, let alone responsibility for the sins of the past. True remorse, while asking more of people, would produce invaluable outcomes for all Australians. With remorse comes reflection. With remorse come recognition – and with will – mutual respect. This was Bruce’s point.

[map 22 - Hanging Rock, Victoria, Australia]

[map 22 – Hanging Rock, Victoria, Australia]

I see strong connections between this lack of remorse, the subsequent absence of thought and Australia’s regressive stance on climate change generally and the degradation of our environment more specifically. I also see a clear connection between a lack of will to protect the environment and the Australian government’s abuse of Aboriginal country. Equally, an abuse of Aboriginal cultural and sovereign relationship to country is ultimately an attack on all Australians.

The Australian government is currently attempting to reverse the World Heritage listing of 74,000 hectares of old-growth forest in Tasmania, in order to allow logging to recommence. Within the World Heritage area, important Aboriginal sacred sites will again come under threat if the heritage listing is reversed. This is a shameful act. Considering the history of violence and repeated attempts of dispossession and extermination that the Tasmanian Aboriginal community have faced, one would hope that the wider community would not allow this violence to continue. If we were a truly remorseful nation, hopefully due consideration and thought would result in a more informed view. But in a country that plays lip service to Aboriginal rights, such reflection is not possible.

Reading the newspaper yesterday morning (Age – 14 June 2014), in an essay by Andrew Darby, I read about the courage of Ruth Langford and Linton Burgess, two Aboriginal people, amongst many others, who are fighting to save their country and protect the World Heritage listing of the rain forest surrounding important cultural sites. On a visit to the area recently, the couple ‘called to the old fellas … we let them know we are still here.’

We are still here

Please consider for a moment the deep courage of this act. Consider that the Aboriginal nations of a land that came to be called Tasmania by British colonials, have resisted proactive attempts of genocide for more than 2oo years and today stand tall to protect both their ancestors and their children. Ruth Langford, Linton Burgess and the Aboriginal people of Tasmania are heroes to Aboriginal people throughout Australia. They should also be regarded as heroes to the nation, as they are fighting to protect their country and environment. In doing so, they are protecting the planet.

Next week, Ruth Langford will join scientists and environmentalists at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar, in an effort to stop the Australian government’s move. I wish her, and her brave people every success – always was, always will be.

Tony Birch

 

G’day from Footscray City College, Australia

Image: Footscray City College - oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

Footscray City College – oh so cool (so says Tony Birch)

G’day from Footscray City College, Australia!

Footscray City College is a state school in the inner west of Melbourne, Australia. We have 46 different nationalities at the school, and almost 1,000 students. We overlook one of Melbourne’s great waterways, the mighty Maribyrnong River. We are an excited bunch of 14 and 15 year old kids with some great, committed teachers. We are exploring the city of Melbourne as well as the natural landscape that surrounds the city.

Here’s a film we made on our first day with Weather Stations

Our group are working with Tony Birch and the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas to improve our own writing and knowledge about climate change. Tony has written multiple fiction books including Shadowboxing and Blood. The Wheeler Centre is an organisation that organises talks and events for the public about lots of topics including writing, climate change and more.

Our goal is to get people talking about climate change and how it might impact on us in our own suburbs, streets and homes. We want people around the world to know that we’re thinking and uniting around the issue. Not only do we want people to think about climate change, we want to provoke them to action.

We look forward to sharing our work with all of the other Substations in Berlin this September!

– Students of Footscray City College Substation

Broken Angel

[map 10 - Broken Angel, Carlton Cemetery, Melbourne, Australia]

[map 10 – Broken Angel, Carlton Cemetery, Melbourne, Australia]

I walked to the cemetery today with my dog, Ella. She’s eleven years old, has a bad hip and prefers her bed to a good walk. We were off to visit my grandmother’s grave. She died in 1996, at the age of 88. She’d led a full life, as they say. Born of Cape Barren Island, in the Bass Strait, between Victoria and the island of Tasmania, my grandmother was sent to an orphanage on the Tasmanian mainland as a baby. At the age of twelve she jumped ship across the strait to Victoria. She married twice, had seven children and did Al Jolson impersonations when she was drunk.

She is buried with her husband, my grandfather, Patrick Corcoran. An Irish Catholic, he was a hard-working man who came home from work one afternoon in 1953, walked into the bathroom, cut his own throat and bled to death. Also buried in the grave is my uncle, Michael Anthony Corcoran, who was murdered in 1963, when he was only eighteen. I never met my grandfather, of course, but I clearly remember Michael. He was happy, cheeky and my grandmother’s baby.

At the cemetery I let Ella sniff around the tombstones as I tended the family plot. I weeded, changed the murky water in the vases and replaced the worn-out plastic flowers with newer ones that blew across the cemetery grounds, separated from the graves they’d been originally placed on. Many years ago I filled a jar with the stones, shells and beach glass I’d collected from around the world; from a river in Scotland, a beach in Chile and the streets of New York. I filled the jar with water, sealed it and placed it on the grave. Today I emptied the jar, cleaned it and replaced the water.

I sat on the grave and thought about them, my family – down there. I know that my grandfather cared for his family. And he was a very protective man. No one knows why he took his own life, but my mother believes that he was afraid that he could never care for his children enough. I’m not sure what that means. When I think of my own children – there are five of them – I’m never sure if I worry over them too much or if I don’t worry enough. I sometimes think it is my job to save them – an understandable but ludicrous proposition.

Is any of this relevant to the issue of Climate Change? I think it is. My grandmother lived her life in hardship. Her daily concern was finding enough food to feed her family; to walk the inner city streets during winter, pushing a pram in search of firewood to keep the house warm. We were close when I was growing up. She taught me that unless we provide our families and each other adequately with the basics of life – food, warmth and shelter – everything else is worthless. Further, if we did not provide the basics equally across society, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Alma Corcoran was no Marxist economist or political activist. She’d hardly been to school and was a direct and unromantic woman. But she knew a lot about excess – and hated it. Whenever she was travelling well, when the cupboard was full and the fridge was stacked, she would open her front door and invite her neighbours in for a special meal. She taught me that it is not my job to save anybody, let alone my children. She also taught me that I am only a small part of a greater whole.

Tony Birch

Remembering My Mountain Climbing

remembering

At the age of 11 years old I experienced a high mountain climbing with my friends. The mountain was high but the climate supported us. It was nice and sunny with very less cool breeze just passing by us. The sun just made us very thirsty as the temperature of the place was 31 degrees minimum and 38 degrees maximum. The coach chose this mountain and this climate with the season is because in winter we can’t climb in that much cold and not even in the monsoon season when it is wet so we had mountain climbing in summer which almost had made as dehydrated.

 

Urja – / Footscray City College Substation

Dromana

Almost every Summer since I can remember, my family and I would travel down to Mornington Peninsula, but specifically Dromana. Whether or not we were with company, the day was always a blast. One particular warm Summer’s day, we arrived later than usual at around 5:00pm. It was still sunny outside because of daylight savings which made it even better. My sister and I jumped out of the car and raced to the shore. We dumped our stuff on the sand and grabbed our snorkels. The water was crystal clear and we saw loads of fish. After about an hour of snorkelling we decided to play in the sand. After 2 hours at the beach we were starving and we gobbled down our fish and chips. By that time it was getting dark and we jumped in the car for the long ride home. I fell asleep in the car and the rest was history.

 

– Gabriel / Footscray City College Substation

The Tern

Unknown

For more than a year now my elderly neighbour, Jack, has been sorting through his life and getting rid of some of his stuff. While we’re not family, and have known each other for just a couple of years, a lot of what he has no more use for has come my way.

He began with hardback copies of The Encyclopaedia of Australian Tractors and Tractors and Modern Agriculture. He offered them to me one sunny morning as we were talking across the scraggy hedge of lavender that passes for the fence separating us. Read more

The Theatre

Darcy-FairFax-Studio-Theatre

The theatre whether it be at school, at my dads work or any professional theatres I always feel at home and comfortable, the theatre is close to me because I enjoy performing/acting. I always feel a chill of excitement and nervousness when i enter any theatre and the smell of make up and sweat fills my nose even though i can’t actually smell it, I guess you could call it a smell memory if you can remember places you’ve seen why not things you’ve smelt? When the downbeat to an overture begins or the silent opening of a play the pre show jitters will fill my body even if I’m performing or not. The Theatre is a dear place to me it is one of the few places I can experiment with new things and be myself without the theatre I’d be lost.

 

– Darcy / Footscray City College Substation

 

Smell and taste

smelltaste

Those roses smelled liked the other roses.

The salad tasted like spicy jalapeno.

Those flowers smelled like roses.

The cake tasted like a chocolate.

The chicken tender breadcrumb tasted like breadcrumb with chicken.

The air smelled like fresh.

The grilled meats taste like barbecued lambs.

The baby cos lettuce tasted like regular lettuce.

The lemon tasted like sour lemons.

Those ice creams tasted a chocolate on a waffle cone.

The spring water tasted like pure water.

These smoked fishes tasted like cooked fishes.

The Marshmallow on two square-breads with chocolate were S’mores.

The habanero tasted like heat of citrusy.

 

– Ioannis / Footscray City College Substation

We just acted as if it didn’t exist

storm-surge-1-750x1000

We never realised how important it was… We just acted as if it didn’t exist…

My mum says she remembers when worrying about a natural disaster would be at the back of her mind. That how it was almost impossible for one to effect her even in the slightest because of where she lived.

But the truth is that it’s our own fault…

She said when the first cyclone hit Melbourne, nobody was ready, it took thousands of casualties, tearing apart families and homes. It took months for people to get back on their feet, but a year later the second cyclone hit. People were now more aware of the catastrophic outcomes of an event like this, but had no time to prepare themselves. Though this time only talking the lives of a third of the original cyclone, this still left thousands homeless and distraught. These events began to occur from then onwards, often each time becoming more frequent and devastatingly destructive.

But that was 25 years ago.

Here we are now, it’s me, my dad, my mum and my brother all huddled together in the bunker, all completely silent. All I could hear outside was the crashing of the land above being torn apart violently and the terrifying whistling of the powerful winds. I had my headphone in to try and block out the noises but it was almost impossible. We are surrounded by our most precious objects, well as many as we could fit into out tiny bunker. There is a loud smash as a piece or debris outside flys into the door, my heart skips a beat and I jump, almost hitting my head.

We have been living in condition like these for many years, I was born and raised whist these events were happening, fooling me to believe that events such as these are normal and always have been. But no, these natural disasters were what Some call ‘man made’. We did this, we were given the warnings but ignored them as though they were nothing.

Children used to wish for things like the newest PlayStation or Xbox, the best soccer ball or soccer boots, to be able to play an instrument or to get a new bike.

These days you will find that most children’s wishes are to have a few months clean of disaster.

It’s kind of sad isn’t it.

To think this all could have been preventable.

People need to come to terms with how real climate change is, though in this short story I have exaggerated the effects, we still need to make a change or you never know. Something like this could happen.

 

– Will / Footscray City College Substation

Weather Stations: The Current Climate

Few contemporary issues present us with so much information, speculation and polarity of opinion as climate change. While many in the scientific community argue that the planet is headed for environmental disaster, equally determined sceptics dismiss such concerns. Elected officials and the media have taken sides and fiercely defend their often contradictory positions.

As part of the Weather Stations initiative, the Wheeler Centre presented a conversation that provided you, the audience, a chance to ask experts in the field what’s really going on. All five of the Weather Stations writers in residence from around the globe, including our own Tony Birch, were amongst a participatory audience.

Guests on the panel included Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council, the independent body that was crowdfunded after the Climate Commission’s government funding was withdrawn; Environment Defenders Office CEO Brendan Sydes; and David Karoly, a Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Melbourne.