Monday, February 23, 2009

Country of my Heart

Since writing yesterday's post, I've been thinking about Australia's 'natural disasters'. Fire can often follow drought, and drought can be followed by flood.

Then I got to thinking about heatwaves and wondered about their effect. I didn't know this: "Heatwaves are the most underrated of the natural disasters, as the bushfires that accompany many heatwaves tend to get most of the attention, and in Australia they have caused the greatest loss of life of any natural hazard (except disease)."

Natural disaster has come to be seen as part of the Australian national character. Dorothea McKellar wrote 'My Country', the poem all Australians (of my generation at least, don't know about those of today) know and love, in 1904 and one verse is ringing in my ears.

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!

The resilience of Australians is often most apparent in times of crisis. I read somewhere that a trauma specialist said the typically Australian 'she'll be right' mentality is invaluable in time of crisis, and Australian's are 'pretty bloody resilient'. The victims of disasters in Australia tend to adopt the attitude that 'the main thing is we're alive - it's only bricks and mortar'. Or, as Ned Kelly said as he uttered his last words before he was hanged "Such is life."

I was going to leave it at that but decided to take a break and read today's newspapers as I was feeling a bit emotional. Yes, even after all these years of living in Kwiland I still get homesick at times. And I read in the paper about Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's speech at Australia's National Day of Mourning (yesterday) for those lost in the bushfires. Here is part of it:

"Let us resolve today that from this time forth, on every 7th of February, this nation's flags will fly at half mast," Mr Rudd said.

"This nation will pause for a moment's silence."

Mr Rudd said the victims had given fresh voice to the values of courage and resilience and the firefighter's helmet now commanded as much respect as the slouch hat of old.

"When the histories of nations are written, there are times which sorely test each nation's soul," he said.

"This nation Australia has just been put to such a test.

''You have faced the test, and you have not been found wanting."

Mr Rudd said Australians understood courage – "we know it by instinct, we see it, we feel it" – and knew it had been displayed countless times on and since February 7.

"Courage is a firefighter standing at the gates of hell, unflinching and unyielding,'' he said.

''Courage is neighbour saving neighbour . . . stranger saving stranger."

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