Sunday, January 21, 2007

...of droughts and flooding rains

What do you know... huge swathes of Australia are in drought.


The ground is hard and cracked wide open, cattle are dying, crops struggle to produce with limited irrigation, city citizens face the indignity of not maintaining their beautifully manicured gardens, the economy takes a dive or two as food production costs rise astronomically, bushfires rip through tinder-dry national parks, farmers face devastation, townships run out of water. In Australia it's a familiar picture, a never ending story, but it's not a pretty picture.

And now much of the country is in flood. Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria have all had wonderful, drenching rain. Only the earth is too shrivelled and shrunken to drink in the blessed liquid, and it has run away into drains and roadways and unhelpful spaces. Rain has fallen, but we may well still be in drought.

It all takes me back to my school days of studying poetry, including Dorothy Mackellar's lines (1885-1968). Every time a flood follows hard on the tail of drought I can't help but recite a stanza from her poem "My Country"... 'I love a sunburnt country... of droughts and flooding rains'.

We may live in the grip of global warming that is tipping the scales of our climate, but Australia has been swinging from drought to flood for a long time. It's a long-term pattern that has helped make us who we are. We live in a beautiful country, but it's a harsh country, an unforgiving land. We Aussies are tough people (well we were, maybe we still are) because we've had to learn to survive in difficult conditions.

I love my country - I just wish it was a bit kinder to us humans! (Let's ignore the way we've raped the land and brought some of this upon ourselves for now shall we?)

In case you're interested, here is the complete version of Dorothea Mackellar's poem about Australia. Maybe it's emotional Aussie schmalz, but I love it - never fails to warm the cockles of my heart! Enjoy.

My Country
Dorothea Mackellar

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die-
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold-
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A willful, lavish land-
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand-
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

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At 6:19 am, January 22, 2007, Blogger Robyn said...

Given that I "officially" hail from Gunnedah, part-time home of Dorothea MacKellar, I'm very familiar with both the poem and the land she loved. I could be being cynical but I don't think many farmers in the area at the moment would share her romantic view. Makes for stirring, patriotic poetry though! :)

At 6:42 am, January 22, 2007, Blogger Cecily said...

still - she wasn't too far wrong with the droughts to flooding rains bit. That's the bit I always remember - and struggling farmer or not, somewhere they must still love the brown land or they'd've given up (this is the cecily who refuses to give into cynicism ok :) It ruins my post ok!)

At 1:33 pm, January 22, 2007, Blogger Robyn said...

LOL, apologies for the cynicism! ;)
I think every school kid (of our generation anyway) knows at least those four lines in the second verse. I remember learning it off by heart and reciting it at school in Kenya and I think it meant absolutely nothing to the other kids but I felt suitably patriotic! It certainly is a land of extremes.

At 2:25 pm, January 22, 2007, Anonymous Sandy said...

Beautiful poem Cecily, makes me think of the times when settlers made way to make the harsh land their home. They were so tough back then. Here we are in the new world with airconditioning, electricity and heat, possibly expecting the weather to come up to the times and make life easy for us. Weather will always have it's way.


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