Tuesday, January 11, 2011

an opal-hearted country, a wilful, lavish land

Mt Warning - a memorable landmark which can be seen from the Pacific Hwy  - was barely visible yesterday driving along in heavy rain

Arriving home last night around 6pm from a 5 days getaway (driving about in continual rain whilst staying on the north coast of NSW) meant I caught the news and was aghast to hear of the most tragic developments in the Queensland floods yet. Sudden and profoundly damaging flash floods had hit the area inland from Brisbane and this morning we are learning of the numbers of missing people and loss that came with it.
Our State's Premier Anna Bligh appeared shaken this morning when presenting current facts on the news... as if stripped to her most human level of being ... nothing of the practiced politician was evident. One saw the gravity she's been hit with. Politics washed away for the moment and utter humanity in its place. There is that mood here at present. It can be a little hard to think of much else. We who feel safe cant help but wonder at this time... 
I went down to my local shops on Racecourse road and chatted to various people... everyone very sad for the loss of life. One wonders about contributing.... giving money yes.. but what else helps I pondered... Lots to think on.

One thing that did come to mind were the words used in the post title..."a wilful, lavish land" ... a line from the very well-loved populist verse "My Country" written by Dorothea Mackeller .
From Wikipedia"My Country" is an iconic patriotic poem about Australia, written by Dorothea Mackellar (1885-1968) at the age of 19 while homesick in England. After travelling through Europe extensively with her father during her teenage years she started writing the poem in London in 1904[1] and re-wrote it several times before her return to Sydney. The poem was first published in the London Spectator in 1908 under the title "Core of My Heart". It was reprinted in many Australian newspapers, quickly becoming well known and establishing Mackellar as a poet.

first draft
The poet
Dorothea Mackellar OBE
A poetess, and third generation Australian who loved Australia and the Australian countryside. She is best remembered for her poem, "My Country", with the immortal line

"I love a sunburnt 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 wilful, 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.

Dorothea Mackellar

We learnt this poem as primary school children ...so it is etched into the minds of generations of children in this country and is perhaps been a key foundation in a young person's forming of an active, imaginative, understanding of what it means to live in a place with very particular and harsh weather patterns. Many have ended up in cities and the coast of this land... not keen to settle the interior which can be seen as inhospitable and very remote.... yet right now we are reminded even the places that have been advertised as easy-living environemnts ..."sunny one day, gorgeous the next"... can become inhospitable in certain circumstances.

I remember reading the Jill Ker Conway book below years ago and feeling the intensity of the isolated life of a childhood on a western NSW sheep farm... and the part that the vagaries of nature played in it... namely drought for the most part. Indigenous people are said to have lived here for 60,000 years and one of the distinctive aspects of their culture is the fact they lived entirely 'at one' with the circumstances unique to this continent ... the kinds of extremes Mackellar talks about in 'My Country'  and that play a part in the Ker Conway story (which I very much loved).

The indigenous take on the weather patterns of this land are known to be very complex ... demonstrating a highly attuned understanding of the possible extremes and shifts in climate - with vocabulary that could define rain, for example, into various different kinds of phenomena. As a child growing up on a river town we used to talk of 'Flood rain" ... I imagine the indigenous familiarity with their regions would have known considerable distinguishing features to help them observe what was occurring.

click here to read more

the authors childhood home
 Literature, poetry and history are all there to remind us of those parts of the human experience that we may well fear and loathe and with good reason.... that we may well be forcefully subjected to. The universal thing is that we all at some point are brought close to shocking events - they come in many guises - and we have to find ways to come to terms with them... come what may!  

My mind drifts to the Pakistan floods of last year. Here there are measures to catch people falling through the cracks... some people will still fall through... maybe no insurance ... no access to the resources to get back on their feet. That does happen. But when one thinks of Pakistan... their safety net is not what it is here. Its very humbling... whichever way you look at it!

I trawled this site for images earlier! History reminds us we've been here before!

Flood Fire Famine Virtual Exhibition

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold.

My Country, Dorothea Mackellar

In this famous ode to her adopted country written in 1908, Dorothea Mackellar successfully captures the spirit of Australians battling a hostile environment.
Australia is a land of harsh climatic extremes – several series held at Queensland State Archives document the havoc caused by flood, fire and famine in Queensland. The records also reveal attempts by successive governments to prevent, or at least mitigate the devastation wrecked by unpredictable weather patterns and the forces of nature.

Photograph taken from New Farm toward Boundary Street with the St. Paul's Presbyterian Church on the right.

Men in boats near the Oriental Mills Building in Brisbane. The water level is thigh high on the man in the centre of the photograph.

Photograph taken during the Brisbane flood of 1974.

Campbell Street


Janis said...

I have been hearing about your weather and thinking of you... Glad your home and safe - and thank you for sharing Dorthea with us. xo

KatrinaRecycled said...

Love Dorothea and love her poetry. I recently read a book that made mention of her, she lived at Church Point on Pittwater Bay in a gorgeous house that is now owned by Susan Duncan, auther of Salvation Creek (a great read).

Yvonne Anderson said...

Wow, it is awful eh, have been watching some video's people have taken of cars swimming by them. Horrible....

Stay safe,


Anonymous said...

Hi Janis,`
now people in my city are gearing up! We wont be in trouble where I live... but were feeling awfully sad for those who have been/will be inundated and esp the families of the missing!
Glad you liked Dorothea!

Anonymous said...

Hi Katrina,
good to hear form you..hope you are high and dry?
Interesting to hear this...Church Point is wonderful...
I've been told to read this book!

ive seen those vids.... frightening! I tried to posst at your blog and did not get through for some reason late last week.
ciao bella,

Ro Bruhn said...

We too are having continuous rain but nothing to the likes of your. We don't mind ours as the land can't burn while it's raining. The devastation in your State is incredible and the loss of life so sad, I hope they find the ones missing safe and well. I always think of Dorothea's poem, it seems to be apt, in this wide brown land, on an almost annual basis somewhere in this great country of ours. I hope you are going to be safe, our thoughts are with you.

Anonymous said...

They are now talking of floods in Victoria Ro!
5 states with floods even. Pretty huge all round. Lots of nervous people here in the city tonight.
I know what you mean about natural events in this wide brown land... something is generally happening to remind us nature is not predictable... and our assumptions we can control things are flawed.
Your kind thoughts are appreciated tonight.

blue china studio said...

Such a beautifully written post. My thoughts go out to your community. Such tragedy.

And I love the Road from Corrain. One of my favorite books.And thanks for sharing some history and poetry, always so interesting.

dosfishes said...

We saw some images last night on our news, it was horrible. Our hearts go out to all those who may have loved ones missing and those who are lost. We are but tiny specks in the face of nature whether we like it or not. Stay safe and thanks for sharing news of your home and it's history. xox Corrine

Candice Herne said...

Hi Sophie I hope this message finds you dry and warm, great photo of Mt Warning!

Mlle Paradis said...

wonderful wonderful report sophie and i've always wanted to read ker conway's book. now i'm hearing they've issued evacuation orders for brisbane! so worried for you! keep us posted if you can! holding you all in my thoughts but of course you especially. stay safe!

Printed Material said...

We have been watching things unfold via the BBC news here in the UK and it is so difficult to comprehend the scale of this flooding. We're told the area affected is the size of France and Germany combined. That's quite unbelieveable and the loss of life, especially of children, is too tragic for words. We're thinking of you all and hope you keep safe. Lesley

Anonymous said...

Hugs and love to all involved. Holding all of you in my thoughts! Stay safe!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your warm message... finding a way to write a meaningful post became a focus for the morning yesterday after the shock of some of the news we were hearing. Trying to gather one's senses for the day. Good to hear your know and love the Ker Conway book too.

we are tiny specks in nature's panorama aren't we and that is such a singular thing to come to terms with. The sun is shining this morning ...for the time being ...as if all was well...and yet out there I know there is chaos taking place.
Your kind thoughts are graciously received.

all is quiet ...the sun is even shining...no rain last night - or I slept so soundly I never heard any - at least it allows for things to feel less menacing at the moment - even though for many their most difficult times are just nigh.
Alas its not my photo of the mountain... its googled!

Anonymous said...

Mlle Paradis.... thank you for this heart-warming message. Its utterly quiet this morning... few cars on the road... no sign of life. No work for many people. Still school holidays... some away... its peak season for that at the moment. This heavy rain started the weekend of my final gardens art exhibition ....4th of December... its been basically drenching rain ever since... the flooding in Qld started mid December.... so not surprising what's occuring now in the light of that. Will keep you posted.

My french friend I stayed with down the coast a few days ago is still trying to comprehend the size of the flooding being bigger than her country and germany together... yesterday was such a sad day as the stories were told. We were drawn in to keep watching news ... kind of hypnotised from the shock really ...and it kept playing on our TVs on every channel... everyone was trying to take in what had happened... lots distressed faces ... those heading up the coverage looked distraught at the start of the day and at the end of the day. Thanks for your message of concern... its most appreciated.

after hearing your harrowing tale of escaping floodwaters in Iowa Im sure you can relate to many of these people. Your words are graciously received.

Thank you everyone...

I felt a little awkward posting on the floods... finding a way not to trivialise felt crucial. Most people I know here are feeling unable to concentrate on other things just now... it really has hit everyone in the community with some tough new year realities that actually make one think hard as one starts trying to shape the year ahead. We saw a huge slump in art sales here last year already ...the whole way Art is placed is in enormous flux anyway...and this completely rocked community across the state is going to be thinking how to support the one's with tremendous losses to come to terms with, recovery, rebuilding, trying to hold onto or find work, businesses are going to feel huge flow on effects...
Much to think on...
your messages are warmly received... thanks all!
S xo

Sweetpea said...

Thank you ~ once again ~ for writing such an interesting and thoughtful (heartfelt) post. I love to visit over here and always seem to learn something and become inspired by something. I like the way you *see* Hope your homeland heals alright...


Anonymous said...

yes it is a healing that has to happen....
thank you... to find words that convey the bigger view of a situation whilst not for a minute missing the individual and local stories ... the personal ... compels some posts into life... to have a reader/s who respond to that is v. good.
I'm of the persuasion that much that can be said can be better said with deeper engagement....even if....sometimes especially if ....words are spare!
thanks for visiting today!

La Dolce Vita said...

oh my Sophie, what a heart felt post, and for those of us who have lived thru floods, it does bring back memories ... and yet we do love our land so much, love our countries and states. the images we are seeing are just unbelievable, and yet I remember how fast it can all wash away. sending you love and hugs and glad to know you are safe. keep us all posted. xox

Robyn said...

Hi beautiful Sophie... great to read that you are safe and that you will be in a position to help others.
I think that you are brilliant and as I have said before I very much appreciate and enjoy all that you share here in our blogging world.

take care... stay safe
x Robyn

Anonymous said...

thank you Caterina and Robyn for heart felt messages. Im just back from riding my bike down to the river.
was talking to a man on a motorised wheelchair about whether he thinks he will need to move his things. He said a young couple had offered to help him...he just has to cal them and they will come!
The river is not breaking hte banks near my suburb ...yet.... but was fast flowing and full of debris, broken launch platforms... even an expensive looking catamaran was earily making its way along...it felt ghost like seeing noone driving it! Chilling somehow.
Ive just looked at reports and they are now thinking it may be the highest flood since around 1890.
So many have experienced this elsewhere... so it is not difficult for people to imagine the scenario...Im fortunate where i'm based...I can only hope poeple will stay safe.
I so appreciate your warm messages....
will keep you posted.
S xo

Sharmon Davidson said...

This is a great post; I'm learning so much about Austrailia! I know it must be heartbreaking to see the effects of all the flooding. When I see it on the news, I think of hurricane Katrina. My best friend lost her house, and I felt so completely helpless. I was also wondering how close to you the floods are, and if you're safe. I wish you, and everyone in the flood area, the best.