Pouébo, New Caledonia. Sunday, sunrise.
I can’t work out if I’m angry, sad or blissful.
It’s a strange brew that’s fermenting in me. And I don’t mean the French wine I had last night with the fish and papaya. I’m referring to the combination of emotions that swirls in my guts.
I’m not proud to be Australian.
It’s high tide here on the tropical east coast of New Caledonia and I’m watching the sun rise. A minute ago, there was a glow. Now the sun has popped up from the sea like a yellow buoy and laid down a golden path across the water – straight to me. To me!
I’m blissed out.
I couldn’t sleep. Tinnitus aside, the lapping of waves so close to the bungalow where I was sleeping (camping-mat leak necessitating alternative accommodation) called me. A few steps from the bed and the ocean is lapping at my feet, drowning the cicadas in my head, undermining the coconut palms and mangroves, and nibbling at the small dune on which I sit.
Behind me, the narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains – where the Kanak people of the east coast grow their yams, taros and chickens; where they meticulously tend their cemeteries; where they congregate in their meeting houses – is at, or below, the level of the sea.
That small dune is all the barrier there is. I’m sitting on top of it and the sea is lapping at my feet. Get it? Vulnerable. Climate change mitigation is a global urgency.
How can the Australian government even call itself a government? Government means steering society for the benefit of its members. This government doesn’t steer. It careens. It is a drunk driver with no map, veering all over the road, plowing into poor people, following garbled orders from blind pigs sloshing around in the backseat.
I’m angry. (But the sun’s warmth has skipped across the ocean and hit my face…)
Climate change is a problem. (Oh really? Yes, Tony.)
The big sea is just right there, muscling against the beach. It’s stunningly beautiful but deadly dangerous. Every now and then a bigger wave makes me retreat further up the dune. I’m pretty much at the top now. I hope the tide is turning.
Sometimes, in my more hopeful periods (last Thursday, 6.45pm, was one), I think the tide is turning.
Maybe governments around the world are starting to listen to their scientists. Maybe they are putting social needs above self interest. Maybe they will steer their people to a safer future like leaders are meant to do.
Maybe. But not Australia.
Increased unpredictable weather and sea-level rise will dramatically affect those who don’t have a cache of taxpayers’ money stashed away under a business mate’s mattress and a government car to take them to higher ground.
It will affect the people who live here. And these people have never done anything to deserve having their land and lifestyle destroyed. They have lived here for thousands of years in harmony with sea and the land. They honoured their ancestors and learned from them. They loved their children and taught them the way. The sustainable way.
That way will disappear. That makes me sad. (But a balbuzzard hangs silently above me looking for fish…)
In Australia we don’t honour our ancestors. We whack them into nursing homes even before they’re dead. We treat what they learned (integrity, honesty, thrift) with contempt. We don’t love our children. We plug them in and teach them greed.
We condemn all the world’s children to a climate-changed future while we take holidays to tropical islands and squander the common wealth like there’s no tomorrow.
I’m not proud to be an Australian.