The Starved Land

A river/wetland in Southern Australia.

Jet streams streak across the azure blue sky. The only sign of human activity anywhere kilometres around. Clouds are almost nonexistent on the clear horizon.

The tall trees and Murray pines of long ago cleared by our forebears. The landscape lies stripped naked in many large patches. Mother Earth attempts to take back what she can. Desolate shrubbery does little. Driving through this scenery has always been a surreal experience. Even a feeble clump of few trees is a welcome sight.

A strange occurrence comes with the changes we've made here. Finding the lifeblood of this lifeless wilderness is almost too easy.

Follow the line of clustered eucalyptus. The fragile bushes fade to trees, giving way to the water. These regions of Australia are called the Riverland. An arid region, like most of Australia's heart. One step away from being a desert.

Take in the foliage around here. Dark green, grey leaves, thin and long. Plants designed to survive, shaped by aeons of evolution.

Produce best suited to the weather bring the most profit and sustainability for the future. Yet what do we grow and breed? Cotton, wheat, and animals like cattle and sheep. Some of the most water-dependent of all crops and livestock. Where does it come from? The river.

The only source of water for farmers, cattle, and native wildlife. The demand allows little for the land itself, responsible for sustaining them all.

What happens when the flow runs out?

This land is parched. The devastation of droughts arrives, some lasting for years. Droughts bring hard times to all. When the terrain is dry, trees dry up and become cracked in the hot sun. Without ground cover comes 'raised dust.'

Fine red dust showers upon the earth, choking and clogging everything. The sky, once a beautiful blue, turns a fiery, smoky orange. After it clears, the haze stays for sometimes weeks. People refuse to believe the drought causes these.

It can get much, much worse.

Summer. For most a wonderful time. Balmy days, water fights, sunset swimming in the sea, watersports, and camping. The holidays, the spirit of Christmas, and the optimism of the new year.

My great-uncle has a beautiful homestead and a sheep farm in central South Australia. To him, summer isn't the holiday season. It's bushfire season. He and his partner cannot travel in December anymore. Too much risk of fire ravaging their life's work.

They're not unique. Hundreds of families and people are the same, living in fear of the wreckage on the news.

This past year was no exception. But graver than most. You heard what happened, didn't you? All over the headlines from the USA to Europe, India, and everywhere between. The horrifying imagery of devastation and destruction can't do the damage justice.

An estimated 46 million acres burned or affected by the fires.
Over 2,779 homes destroyed.
An estimated 1 billion wildlife injured, displaced, and their habitats demolished.
At least 34 human lives lost and more injured.

Even in February, the bushfires are still raging in parts of the country. Usually, the fires only start in December.

Some started in June of last year. June. Extreme weather has become devastating.

To those globally who helped, thank you. You're thousands of kilometres away, yet you still lend a hand. Donations, making things to send, and spreading awareness. In this desperate time, you brought hope to those in need. Sometimes, we lose our faith in humanity, but we can still come together.

Our leaders, sitting in the comfort of the Parliament in Canberra, what do they do? Those who are in charge pay no attention to the agricultural areas. Australia disappears past the outskirts of the city.

Why should they bother? Over 85% of our population lives in coastal districts. Leaving the rest of them, a mere 7 of the 24.6 million who call this island home. Only when our leaders are affected by the disaster do they pay attention.

Growers struggle every day to bring food to the politicians' table. To support our overpopulated homeland. People have been displaced, their homes destroyed. Yet what do the politicians do in return?

It's easy to sit and blame others for our problems, yet do nothing about it.

There are many factors involved, cleared land, climate change, urban sprawl into the bush, overpopulation, and overuse of natural resources.

It all boils down to one common root.

Our dependence on the farming industry. Livestock produces more food than Australians could ever eat, most goes overseas.

Do we need all this livestock? Do we need all this bare land? Do we need to starve the country to feed ourselves?

I've travelled to many distant lands, far away from the one I stand on now. I tell them I'm Australian, and their eyes shine.

What's the first thing coming to mind for them? The Sydney Opera House? Canberra? Fremantle's Art Scene?


Their eyes glow, describing images they've only seen in documentaries and photos. Things some of us drive past on the way to work.

Uluru, the outback, the mountains, the Kimberly, the rivers. Our rainforests, our magnificent coast, our wonderful river gums. The beautiful sunsets and sunny skies. The natural glory of nature is our greatest treasure and asset. Without it, none of us would be here.

Small steps, every effort you make, helps her. Whether you reduce your meat consumption, volunteer, donate to the relief effort, it doesn't matter.

A single drop can inspire an ocean of change.
We need to rise up and care for her before it's too late.


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