HELL DOWN UNDER / Like the world's tornadoes and floods, Australia's fires have been named over the years. Now we could call them 'eternal fires'. Can the incredible tragedies we witnessed be the start of a brighter future for Australia? 


Sydney is a great city with world famous architecture and modern infrastructure. It's a relatively clear day. Gigantic cruise ships are docked. Next to them, the spectacular opera house will be tiny, but that's the inside I'm on my way to tonight. Puccini's 'La Boheme'. There are rhinestones and long dresses. Exuberant refreshments during the break. Singers and orchestra perform their best, and there are many moist eyes to trace after Mimi's lung disease exhales in Rodolfo's arms and we are heading out into the night.

Everything is normal. Until we are stopped by a person with a gun in their hands, with the inscription "For our firefighters". Many donate. Even in the great country – the continent – Australia, and even when avoiding places that are burning right now, it is impossible to travel without knowing the disaster.

I even arrived Adelaide hills on the south coast in November. A few days of extreme heat and threatening winds provided a warning for what was to come. Coincidentally, I had traveled on then forest firesa ravaged area and destroyed land and property. John, my landlady, lost his best friend, who defied four roadblocks in trying to save his home.

Likewise – after leaving Kangaroo Island and the unique Flinders Chase National Park, where I wander through pristine forests with rare birds, kangaroo og koala, comes the reports of the destruction. The island was nicknamed Noah's Ark and was a refuge for about fifty thousand koalas, half of whom are now killed. Are the koalas I photographed in the eucalyptus trees among those who have joined, among the billions of animals lost in the flames?

Photo: Ranveig Eckhoff

Forest fires are a known phenomenon on this arid continent. But the scope is new.

Burnt, coal-black landscapes, burning earth and thousands of wasted wildlife are images that make the island I visited unrecognizable.

Tens of thousands flee

The world is watching in horror at Australia, where at least 23 people have died since October, and where the hottest season is still waiting. Sites are burnt, tens of thousands flee to the beaches pending evacuation.

Authorities are issuing warnings that people must take responsibility, because the fires are too many and too intense to control.

A nation in continuous emergency. The military is deployed. New Zealand, which gets glaciers colored gray black from smoke from Australia, has sent relief crews. Firefighters who have been in continuous efforts for months keep on going until they hit. One firefighter, who in a single day had seen house after house being taken by the flames, eventually collapsed on the roadside after he cursed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an open camera.

Some figures give a rationale for the rage: Australia is at the top of a ranking of 57 countries with the worst climate policy. Australia is the world's largest coal exporter, among the top ten globally in terms of deforestation and at the top in mammal eradication. The prime minister, backed by Murdoch-owned media and the fossil fuel industry, celebrated his political position by arriving at Parliament with a piece of coal in his hands. And while people and fairies died in flames at home, Scott Morrison found it appropriate to go on a Christmas vacation to Hawaii.

In a recent speech, the Prime Minister said: "I ask for rain. And I encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to also pray for rain and pray for our farmers. "People who heard this repeatedly had the relevant question:" Has prayer now become the government's official policy? "

The scope is new

I find it difficult to get involved in this kind of political behavior. I'm looking for bigger relationships. Forest fires are a known phenomenon on this arid continent. But the scope is new. Over the past twenty years, fires have come more often, more explosive and more devastating. The drought periods have been longer. During the winter months of 2019, there was minimal rainfall.

And we can also talk about another type of fire, hidden from the naked eye; one that burns lithic (fossil, underground) landscapes. As kull og gass. Which we use to fuel our industrialized economy.

The fact that so many fires in Australia occur near power lines is a fitting picture of how these two types of fire are acting in increasingly threatening two teams. In Steve Pyne's words, professor emeritus at Arizona State University: "Secondary effects are not limited to global warming or acidification av sea. They affect how people organize landscape – sit agriculture, its nature reserves, transportation – all aspects of geography, which in turn affect the nature of forest fires. We have burned our (energy) light at both ends. Now it's you-should-get-back-time (…) Wild fires or planned – we have much more in store.

British subjects

Research shows that humans have lived and nourished themselves in Australia longer than anywhere else on earth. Then, in 1788, the red jackets came from England. Eleven ships of soldiers and prisoners added to the Sydney harbor. Different indigenous tribes – with the common name Aborigines – looked at them with endless wonder, these figures with clothes and weird hats. And firearms.

Australia's first governor, Arthur Philip, had the clear task of turning the people into devoted British subjects, something he tried with something he himself must have regarded as friendly determination. It didn't take long before it cut. Killing and imported disease decimated Australians until they could no longer resist. They were forcibly enrolled at mission stations and families were divorced. The term "lost generation" refers to this chapter of history.

Today there is not much to see Aborigines – except in arts and culture. The majority society today endeavors to give a certain justice to the heritage and memory of the natives. In museums. On nameplate. Do they have any voice in today's crisis situation? They let the scattered hear. Lorena Allam, a descendant of the Yuin people, writes in a blog post: "We are about to lose our country for the second time."

It is a special sadness to lose what ties us to our place in the landscape.
Lorraine Allam

She recounts her New Year's Eve 2019: “I celebrated with my family, in the little house we go to every year in Jervis Bay. The light came and went when the sky suddenly turned red, then black, and the street lights were lit at two in the afternoon. I was terrified when I received the text message; It was too late to leave. We were encouraged to seek shelter. A giant pyrocumulus cloud (fire cloud) formed while we stood and watched, the thunder thundered and wet ash fell to the ground (…) It is a special sorrow to lose what connects us to our place in the landscape. Our ancestors felt it, our parents felt it, and now we feel it once again, as we witness how neglect and mistreatment of water and land through generations, how stubborn foolishness from the coal-fixated climate change deniers, puts everything and everyone in ash (…) Perhaps this summer will be the turning point, where our collective grief leads to action, and we recognize that knowledge First Nation-people want to share so we can avoid repeating the horror we see today. ”

A brighter future?

Psychologists talk about the phenomenon of climate change. We share it with Australia's people and countries. Australia's problem today is not theirs alone. But one of the solutions is necessarily theirs alone. They must stop choosing incompetent people for their leaders, people who promise them a life of whimpering in the black smoke of coal pipes and pyrocumulus cloud. Perhaps the unimaginable tragedies we are witnessing these days are in fact the bottom line for a brighter future for Australia. I look forward to unique experiences here in the coming weeks. Surely though, I don't have to go to the opera to resort to tears.

also read The fire disaster as a turning point

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