Black Summer


Image: Wiki Commons

Our country is on fire. It is burning from border to border. In New South Wales, fires enormous enough to create their own micro-climates are burning people’s houses to ash, and people are dying. In eastern Victoria, raging bushfires are destroying hectare after hectare of property, burning people’s houses to ash, and people are dying. Kangaroo Island is aflame. The Navy is shipping terrified Mallacoota residents from their razed homes to safer places. Our wonderful cities of Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne are choked with smoke, with the smog drifting ominously south-east to cloud parts of New Zealand as well.


I’m not Googling anything to say this. I’m trying to do what you want, Scott Morrison, “live optimistically,” to find upbeat notes in a scorched summer. I’m watching the cricket in my middle-class living room with a picture sharp enough to distract me from the hints of smog that loom over the gum trees hiding behind the screen. When I drive to the shops on winding roads through tinderbox-dry bushland, I listen to your national broadcaster’s commentary as they uneasily recount a clash between bat and ball. How good is the cricket, mate! I just have to switch the dial over when the news comes around every so often and I hear our Premier informing the public about a State of Emergency – with any luck I won’t know about the dozens unaccounted for and the dire messaging surrounding Gippsland.


What I’m saying is – it’s all good, Scotty, I’m not worried. The wailing northerly in the gum trees that I grew up climbing don’t at all have me wondering how long it’ll be before an apocalyptic firestorm takes hold and burns them to nothing. If need be, I can duck on down to my Nan’s place in Bundoora, if the place of course isn’t being evacuated as a grassfire in the Plenty Valley threatens life and property. The fire bunker my family installed post-Black Saturday devastation – extra storage space.


Scott, I’m writing from memory and experience. Trust me, I hate being concerned about the viability of living in Australia as the place burns. I can’t stand reading the newspaper and being reminded that, oh yeah, people I know and love are being threatened by raging blazes all over the country and may not have a home to go home to when the smoke finally dissipates and you give your thumbs-up, fuck-how-good’s-Australia address to a shocked, charcoaled nation counting the cost of their losses. I dearly, dearly want to be optimistic. I’m lucky enough to be going to university this year, I’ve got a life ahead of me, innumerable experiences which I’ll get to throw myself into.


But when I go to sleep, Scotty, I look upon the bushland out of my bedroom window and am reminded that my childhood home is in a spot not dissimilar to the hotspots which are now ashen. I am reminded that the Wombat State Forest and the Lerderderg State Park are just nearby, and know that if a bushfire starts in there, it’ll be my skies that turn an ugly red. I know by heart a fire plan, where to evacuate. No worries, Scotty, if something happens, I’ll hop in the nearby dam and wait for this all to blow over.


I’d love to jet off to Hawaii, chuck ‘shakas’ at the camera and grin my shit-eating grin, I’d love to stuff my fingers snugly in my ears and dictate that all is well, I’d love to pretend our climate isn’t changing rapidly in the face of overwhelming proof and evidence right in front of me, I’d be elated.


But guess what, this is the reality now. This is the risk we have embraced with open arms, the scenario we have picked out through wilful ignorance and gobsmacking laziness. Combatting an issue that will cost money and the ignorant dinosaurs’ votes is just too hard and too complex for a Prime Minister content to sit back and do nothing except spout endless, mindless optimism.


This is not something to be optimistic about. This is a sandpit in which to drag a stick through and say, this far and no further. This is the impetus for genuine action about the changing climate. Do nothing and more fires will be lit, more houses and land will burn. More people will lose their lives. Do something, and fires will still rage, because it’s now too late to stop the ravages of the changing climate, but without action, the dose will be intensified tenfold.


I cannot be optimistic when the land on which I live is aflame. We are not too far gone, but I can’t quite commit to that idea watching you right now. Watching you bumble into shaken and angry townships for photo opportunities, watching you flee like them from their burnt land as the response given isn’t what you hoped for.


In the smog, I have to remind myself that you lead the nation, and that people voted for you.


Don’t shake my hand, do something.


Image: Wiki Commons


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications


See David Wilson’s  letter of reply to Paddy.



  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Well said Paddy! You’ve articulated the feelings we all have.

  2. Cathi Johnston says

    Bravo, Paddy. You’ve said exactly what needs to be said. Fingers crossed that our mainly stale, pale and male government start listening.

  3. Chris Daley says

    Onya Paddy

  4. good one – hope the right people read it

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Some people serve. Some people lead. Some do both. Morrison does neither, as you’ve said here Paddy. Well played sir. Well played.

  6. Paddy, I admire your passion but I learned long ago that sardonic, personal invective achieves precious little by way of solutions. In fact, it diminishes and degrades the integrity of the debate. Morrison may well be lead-footed in his response, but having been in both Queensland and Victoria during the fire emergencies of recent times, the absences of their two Premiers at critical moments has also been evident. On holidays somewhere? So, please, at least try for a bit of partisan balance. The second issue in such situations is usually, “Well, what are you doing about it?” I may well be mistaken, but you make it sound as if you’re on the couch watching the cricket or zipping down to the shops for whatever instead of doing something yourself to combat the multitude of atrocities you bemoan.Have you been out volunteering somewhere in some capacity to meet the needs of people impacted by the fires? And yes, there are challenges, BIG challenges in all sorts of areas in our society (fires and climate being just two of them), but we get nowhere by merely whining and throwing insults at the lowest hanging fruit – the politicians. Perhaps you might use the opportunity of your upcoming university years to study towards and do something about the problems you feel need most addressing. Be a part of the solution, don’t be satisfied to just sneer from the sidelines. Any mug can do that – and, clearly, you’re no mug. Faced with challenges, see opportunity and use your talents for good.

  7. Paddy Grindlay says

    Ian, you make a good point. I’d compare the response of Morrison with how Dan Andrews is carrying himself at the moment in response to the Vicotrian bushfires – the messaging, however blunt, has been to leave now, don’t come to Gippsland, declaring a State of Emergency. Yes he was on holiday (within the state), but unlike Morrison returned as soon as there was reports of damage and indeed faced the media the next day. He also has been out to devastated communities, I’d ask you to compare Andrews –×4096
    to Morrison
    as an indication of how leadership looks. Sure it’s easy to pot pollies in a time like this, but I’m not potting Andrews because he’s leading. No politics about this. It’s visible action. Scott Morrison was in Hawaii until the death of a firefighter. His lack of leadership in comparison is depressing and alarming.As for Queensland, I don’t know enough about the response there to make an argument that’s at all researched, but I do remember Anna Bligh a little in the 2011, despite my age, and she was incredible in the face of devastation.

    As for your second argument, fair enough. I’m not a volunteer firie yet (I’m planning to become one this year now with more time on my hands) and I’m, as you say, watching the cricket. Here we’re donating to causes, but that’s it. I offer no solutions here. I’m a punter who is just watching on. That’s the perspective that I’m writing from. I try to help but the prevailing feeling is hopelessness and anger at the lack of leadership from my prime minister. One of my favourite quotes is: “before criticising a volunteer, ask yourself if you’ve ever volunteered.” I have, not in this area, but Morrison is not a volunteer. He is an elected official, I believe that as someone who has a democratic vote I, and the media, and the public, should be encouraged to critique such people, no matter their party position, as part of a fair political process. I believe to my core that he could, and should, be doing a lot better.

    I appreciate the comment and the criticism, cheers Ian.

  8. Ian Hauser says

    I may not fully agree with your analysis but I do like the sound of your intentions, Paddy – follow through on that and you’ll become a part, however large or small, of the solution. Just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day – it all takes time. Thanks for accepting my comments in the spirit in which they were offered.

    I’m interested to know what you intend to study. (I was a careers counsellor for almost 30 years.) Enjoy the experience of university; I started uni exactly 50 years ago and remember it as a great time.

  9. Paddy Grindlay says

    Thanks mate. I’m studying Comms (Journalism) at RMIT. Looking forward to it.

  10. Mandy Johnson says

    Beautifully expressed Paddy and we can talk volunteering and personal responsibility all we like but it won’t take away from the fact that Morrison is being paid to do a job, and failing. Your evocative words bring home the reality of country life.

  11. Paddy while I understand Ian’s point I am overall v much in your corner

  12. Fantastic Paddy. We’re experiencing a nation wide catastrophe. No, thoughts and prayers mean FA.

    In 2020 we have a Federal Government in denial of human induced climate change. Yes Australia produces only a small amount of the planet’s problem, and yes Australia won’t play its role in a global solution to tackling this issue.

    Back home, away from the global stage, why didn’t Scummo call a meeting of COAG ? Re the resources of the military meant to serve the people, why was it the Victorian premier Dan Andrews who seem to make the first call? Babble about the Australian people, thoughts , prayers, patience indicate the quality of a Christian fundamentalist out of his depth. One may also ask why did New South Wales make budget cuts to the RFS?

    I have lost contact with friends holidaying in Mallacoota. Having strong links to Whittlesea i have painful memories of Black Saturday. This weekend looks horrible; let’s hope not.

    In a crisis like this the lack of leadership indicates ‘Poor Fellow My Country.’


  13. Great article Paddy, like Rulebook, I’m in your corner

  14. Ian Hauser says

    Why this notion of being in someone’s corner (traditionally a boxing phrase)? The problem with being in a corner is that it affords one a restricted view of the total picture. Even with the best of lateral neck/head movement and a bit of additional peripheral vision either side (albeit less acute), putting oneself in a corner is limiting. Surely the best place to be is in the middle of the ring where one has the flexibility to move, turn, adjust and take in the whole perspective. It takes more work to absorb and process the totality of the situation, but at least one gives oneself the opportunity to respond in a fully informed way. It’s difficult and it’s complex but it gives us the best chance to make the best decisions.

    The last thing the current fire situation needs is people taking up positions in corners. Instead, perhaps we all need to be centre ring, collectively gaining a full perspective and then working together to meet and overcome the challenge.

    In a pluralist society, we’re sure to have differing perspectives about this and a thousand other issues. We don’t need to be uncomfortable about that, as frustrating as it can be at times. Thankfully we, the populace, share the final say in how it sorts itself out – it’s called the ballot box. But, even there, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Welcome to life.

    One thing is for sure: who’d be a pollie (of whatever hue) – damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

  15. Ian, being in one’s corner id just a figure of speech. In my opinion the time for procrastination is well and truly over. We must reduce our emissions in a bipartisan manner or it will be well and truly too late. Our Pollies have been dragging the chain for too long and a SENSIBLE way forward must be nutted out.

    People like Paul Murray and Andrew Bolt really annoy me -especially when they say climate change doesn’t start bush fires – it’s arsonists or lightening strikes. That’s obvious of course. What they don’t seem to realize is that this horrendous drought has caused Australia to dry out, giving huge amounts of fuel for the fires once started.

    I live in hope.this will be corrected before I fall off the perch

  16. G’day Ian, trying to decipher, though not concur with your posting.

    I spent a bit of time over the years in the ring, sparring, as a way of keeping fit. I was never particularly good but what was important to me was to attack, or else you won’t beat your opponent. No point for the Prime Minster trying to pretend Australia’s emission figures are too small to be important, or deferring to symbolic reference of Australian resilience of not giving way to panic, let alone defer to some mystical flying spaghetti man in the sky. We’ve got a global problem, that only radical action can solve. Sitting in the mythical ‘sensible centre’ means doing nothing more than splinters in your bum. In Australia here and now let’s make a move.

    A nuanced informed discussion on what is happening, why it is happening and how do we tackle it is only a start. Let’s get it going regardless of power of the Murdoch media. Why hasn’t effort been made to arrange a COAG, ASAP? I believe the Prime Minister wanted to wait until March for this; to what end ? Instead of the Prime Minister and his ilk being fixated on seeking a surplus budget, open the coffers and spend. The reality of a projected $5B surplus this financial year is gone. Let’s break this shibboleth of a budget surplus.

    In 2011 the floods in Queensland cost circa $10B : what will this even bigger disaster cost ? Paying volunteer firefighters, upgrading fire fighting equipment, housing thousands of people, reparing infrastructure, supporting those businesses who were dependent on tourism, no a surplaus budget can go on the scarp bin of history.

    This is not about business as usual, Only radical action can start the process of repairing the damage of this, let alone potential future tragedies of this nature.


  17. Well said Glen

  18. Frank Taylor says

    Paddy, well said. (For the record, I’m in your corner….)
    It’s not rocket science, it’s basic chemistry.
    When I was born in 1954, the CO2 level was in the order of 270ppm (parts per million). It is now over 400ppm. fI we really want the climate to be benign as in the recent past we need to:
    Cease burning ALL fossil fuel. This means sourcing ALL of our energy from renewables,
    Sequestering carbon the original, tried and proven way. This means conserving forests here, the tropics and South America and planting and protecting more trees.
    “Can’t be done!” they say. Of course it can.
    All we have to do is curb naked greed and power and put “us” as a priority ahead of the the current “me” priority.
    Real leadership and focus.
    Without change – and with the current Federal self-interested “Liberal” politicians in charge, (I can’t see it) – this disaster will just become “normalized”.
    Like the Murray-Darling disaster/fiasco.
    Again, the answer is simple, however, for the record, I’m not that optimistic given the current state of divisiveness in Australian society.
    Oh, and Ian – do you work for Murdoch? Got the same condescending, holier-than-thou, give someone a bit of “fatherly advice” tone a-la Andrew Bolt , Angus Taylor, Scomo and the like gave to Greta Thunberg.
    (It continues to amaze me how an emotional argument – with minimal facts and a lot of emotive spin – usually trumps (no pun intended) a logical, rational and clear one most times these days.)


  19. Sorry to disappoint you, Frank, but no, I don’t work for Murdoch. I used to be a teacher, like a number of fellow Almanackers, but these days the only work I do, in the traditional sense, is for the Almanac. In fact, it was me who approved your comment to go up on the site. If I had the attitudes you seem to want to attribute to me, I would have put your comment in the Trash can. I don’t, so I didn’t. Instead, I prefer to support the maxim about disagreeing with what you say but defending your right to say it. Is it asking too much to seek a similar indulgence from you? If you look at his responses to my initial comment, it seems that, in his passionate youth, young Paddy understands this very well.

  20. Spot on Paddy. Spot on. The real and existential fear and anxiety are palpable. The lack of leadership by the Australian PM, along with his lack of empathy equalled out by his flagrant opportunism has been questionable and disturbing. I think you have articulated an important moment many of us can directly relate to. Cheers

  21. I admire your passion, Paddy.
    I reckon this black summer will prove to be a bit of a watershed.

    I won’t go into detail about my thoughts on the prime minister. But, in response to Shorten’s electric vehicle policy during the election campaign, this is a bloke who said “Bill Shorten wants to steal the Aussie weekend”

  22. John Butler says

    Paddy, I like your style.

    Smokie, a watershed? I’d like to think so, but we’re a complacent bunch. With short memories. And we sorely lack leadership.

  23. Chris Rees says

    Great post Paddy, you have hit several nails on the head. Comparing Morrison’s actions (or lack of) to other politicians may or may not be fair. But it’s instructive to look at who funds the politicians in question, and who’s interest are served by their actions (or lack of). Morrison has picked up the reins from Abbott and continued to undermine serious measures to address carbon emissions. His party is massively underwritten by fossil fuel extractors. He brought a lump of coal into parliament. It’s not unreasonable to have these factors in mind while looking at his very human failings. It’s not a crime to turn up late, to naturally have zero empathy, to say the wrong thing, to be badly advised. But if you have brought coal into parliament for a giggle you have handed in your right to sympathy.

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