Port Germein Gorge – Its blood flows again

I first posted this on August 31, 2014 when the Gorge Road reopened. Yesterday marked the start of devastating Bangor Fire back in 2014. Six years on and fire continues to ravage our beautiful country.

Bangor Fire

The Bangor fire, like other significant bushfires in South Australia including Wangary, Ash Wednesday and Kangaroo Island (those of 2007 and of 2019 and are ongoing), will become etched in people’s minds with stories shared about community spirit and the tireless efforts of CFS firefighters.

This from the CFS Website: What started as a small fire about 25 kilometres north-east of Port Pirie had the next morning expanded to what was described by firefighters as an area “the size of two football ovals” in an area of inaccessible and difficult terrain. Firefighters worked in shifts around the clock for 14 days before the Bangor fire was declared ‘Contained’ on 30 January and ‘Controlled’ on 6 February. Two days later with the onset of winds and hot temperatures the fire broke control lines in the south western corner and threatened the townships of Laura, Wirrabara and Stone Hut, and the small community of Beetaloo Valley.

31 days after it started, after burning more than 35,000 hectares, the Bangor fire was again declared as ‘Controlled’ on 14 February.  While 5 houses were destroyed, dozens were saved. A number of sheds were lost, with extensive damage sustained to fencing, and at least 700 sheep perished in the fire. 24 injuries were recorded but none serious, most involving smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion due to the extreme weather conditions that crews were working in.  Many CFS veterans are hard-pressed to recall a similar incident requiring such a sustained commitment of firefighting resources.

These are my words…..

Nature is a splendid thing. The regeneration and rejuvenation of the Port Germein Gorge and the Southern Flinders, following the devastating January fires, is remarkable.  

Just yesterday, as I drove north towards the Southern Flinders Ranges and as the Bluff came into view, the scars of the January fires were more apparent.  The starkness of the Range took on the appearance of leather in need of nourishment.  The type of leather of old boots, old boots which had walked too many miles and endured too much sun. 

With the final days of the winter sun high in the sky the scenery is distinguished.  I am confident the vista will respond to nourishment, by way of moisture and care, just as old boots would. The country needs rain. 

As I turned due east, off the Augusta highway and climbed the gentle rise of the foothills, I wasn’t quite prepared for the brightness of the sun as it shone through, not filtered by the leaves that prior to January were once on the majestic gums. 

As I meandered through the gorge I stopped along the way to capture images of the landscapes around each bend.  As I stepped out of the car and onto the newly paved road my shoes stuck to tar, not quite set.  The distinctive smell of bitumen and gravel filled my nostrils.  As I walked down an embankment the scent was soon overpowered with the perfume of damp earth, eucalyptus and Flinders Range wattle blossom on the ether. 

A pair of Galahs foraged in freshly spread straw and earth, a manmade mattress to support new growth and hold the topsoil in place. I listened to their chatter.  All at once a chorus of bird songs rang out like a symphony and a blue crane flapped its wings in time as it took off, startled by my presence.  

I am told that for those who entered the gorge and its environs only days after the fires that the silence was deafening.  No bird songs because there were no birds.  No mammals, lizards or other life to speak of.  However, if one looked in a discerning fashion, small buds and shoots were already appearing on scorched florae. Whilst the threat of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ threatens the world in general, here for the moment, nature was in fine song.  

Now a day before spring, the first anniversary of the devastating fires is nearer than the original event of January this year.  It wasn’t just the evidence of the destruction of the fires which was striking but the signs of erosion caused by the torrents of water which descended upon the parched and charcoaled landscape.   In a peculiar twist of fate it was the equally devastating rain which did eventually quell the immortal monster of a blaze, enabling control to be taken by mortal men and women.

Wild oats now grow high, sentries to resilience, dangerous fuel for a hungry fire yet to be born. The air is warm, too warm really.  Are we ready for the next fire danger season?  

For those of you living in our beautiful regions, have you prepared your property?  Do you have a plan in place? I know many who do.  For those who do not….three words should motivate you to be at the ready.  Prepare. Act. Survive.   

Blessings be bestowed upon those who have not stopped rebuilding nor grieving.

Never rest, never take for granted our beautiful surroundings or the unforgiving climate in which we live.

Footnote: Special mention to the contractors and volunteers who have all contributed to the rebuilding of this important artery in the Southern Flinders Ranges. 

Some incredible footage of the painstaking and environmentally-sensitive repairs can be found at this link:

http://dpti.sa.gov.au/newconnections/article?item=499

In case we forget…

I woke this morning to the sounds of seabirds and other creatures greeting the rising sun and, in the distance, the gentle cadence of waves folding into each other and onto the sand.

I think a lot and deeply, some may argue too deeply, and my thoughts turned to date and time.  In parallel to my thoughts, pondering the significance of 11/11/18, I also thought about which route I would take on my morning walk.  Would I head south or north along the beach, my sanctuary.

I was drawn to the North. As I slowly warmed up to a steady pace I looked around through a different lens on this day and in an instant the world felt brighter, the air fresher and the rising Sun warmer.

I give thanks every day for the life I live and for those close to me.  There is also not a day I don’t think about those who have gone before us.  Today the thoughts of my father and my paternal grandfather, whom I never met, were heavy on my mind.

My grandfather, Frances (Frank to his mates) had a dual role, he served in the 10th Battalion AIF, a member of the Military Band and I’m told a stretcher bearer.  I’m also told that when he eventually returned from the Western Front after serving around Ypres, in West Flanders, Belgium – he was never the same.  He turned to alcohol to soothe his pain.

When I returned to my home (no lengthy, uncomfortable sea voyage for me), legs stretched, and lungs filled with fresh salty air, I unwrapped the paper which had been delivered with remarkable precision to my front door.  Coffee hot and electronic device starting up, as with most mornings, I took a dip into the news of the day.   The tribute on the cover of the Tiser, names of those fallen wrapped around this edition, digitally enhanced to paint a portrait of a digger.  The young man could have been anyone’s son, nephew, brother, mate, father even. Commemoration, commentary and carefully chosen images filled pages and spaces in print and on a virtual page, all in some way, speaking to the horrors of war and how we should remember those who lost their lives because of an act of vengeance in a faraway land.

Mid-morning, I donned a broad-brim hat and headed to the small but sacred piece of land adjacent the Moonta Bowls Club, the place of a memorial to locals who died during the Great War, the War to end all wars.  The crowd was modest, the sky blue and the Catafalque Party, young men and women from our district stood almost lifeless, in a stance of respect.

For me, I dig deep to discreetly place myself in the crowd, year after year, on this day and on April 25.  I have overwhelming respect for those who serve however I question the integrity of those who give the orders to send troops into battle – battles, because of our allegiances, we join forces to fight.  I also dig deep because although I’m attending a commemorative service, it is, when pared back, simply a religious service.   I don’t hide the fact that I am an atheist.   That said, I respect those who have faith and turn to prayer and their God or Goddess for solace.

As I listen to the words of the Minister of Religion and his reading of scriptures I grapple with the words of apparent wisdom.  Why? Because as I listen, I also look around and read the body language of those around me.  Some are nodding in agreement and others shift uneasily, probably because their legs or backs are aching but also probably, they recognise they too need to forgive those who trespassed against them.

Again, I think. Again, too deeply.  As the Last Post is played, heads bowed in prayer or quiet reflection and as the silence is finally broken with the words “We will remember them” uttered softly by the crowd I think, we have already forgotten.

There have been wars after the said war to ‘end all wars.’  We have troops currently engaged in conflict and peacekeeping activities and our Governments are actively pursuing contracts and procuring items to build defence capability.  Those items and weapons of war have the means to inflict great harm and pain when the time comes…. not if…but when.

Until peace becomes profitable and so it will go…Leaders elected to lead will order troops to fight conflicts usually because of an act of greed or vengeance  in a faraway land or, as I predict, future wars will be geopolitical for reasons of food and water security – an insatiability to feed the world’s growing populace.

Young men and women, men and women of all ages will be lost, and their lives mourned.

We will remember them, we will grieve for them and we will still need reminding of the futility of war, in all its incarnations, just in case we forget.

 

Step up, not back. Cannabis Law Reform in South Australia

Increasingly, even though we have a legal framework to access Medical Cannabis, there are still significant challenges for health consumers in finding safe and affordable patient access pathways to Medical Cannabis.

Access to Medical Cannabis is a human right, yet in Australia it is still strangled by Commonwealth and State red tape.

Punitive measures rarely work, if at all.

Every day people are being forced to turn to the alternative (black) market to access cannabis for medical purposes. In doing so, they run the risk of being caught breaking the law in growing their own; or sourcing product of an inferior quality.

A Marshall Liberal Government wants to legislate to raise the maximum penalties for Cannabis possession from $500 to $2,000.

It believes that this is “keeping penalties in line with community expectations.”

How wrong can they be?

Former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and Barrister, Mick Palmer AO, has stated that there “lots of support across senior ranks of police for Medical Cannabis.

So why is then that so many people are needlessly targeted by police, tying up resources which could be better used in real crime prevention and community engagement?

Personal narratives are powerful instruments of change. Respectful, lobbying and activism is a commanding way to be heard.

You don’t always have to raise your voice to be heard, it’s often those who are quietly spoken and considered in their approach who are listened to.

So, don’t raise your voice, improve your argument and lobby for Cannabis Law Reform which will benefit not harm our communities.

After you leave here today – continue the conversation – and tell your story to your local Member of Parliament.

Justin Sinclair, Pharmacologist and Research Fellow at the National Institute of Complimentary Medicine house at Western Sydney University quotes Cicero in getting his message across “Salus populi suprema lex esto” which translates to

“The health of the people should be the supreme law.”

We must let science and those with lived experience to ultimately inform evidenced based Medical and other Cannabis policy.

In the name of the Father (first published June 2015)

 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse.

The remit of the Royal Commission is to uncover where systems have failed to protect children so it can make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices.

The terms of reference (Letters Patent) of the Royal Commission can be found at this link:http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/about-us/terms-of-reference

I have been following the investigations and resultant media with interest, a very personal interest.

Not long after my father was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer I decided that I wanted to tell his life story in a book, a personal family memento to hold dear.  Dad was more than happy to oblige, a gregarious story teller at the best of times, we got to work.

For the most part the recital of his life was him re-telling stories I’d heard some many times before and most delicately brushed with embellishments and augmented by old photos we poured over.  Whilst there was hardship and adversity, his life was predominantly contented.  It was a life of opportunities, which when they came knocking, were eagerly embraced.

Amongst the adversity lay a piece of darkness which was so dark no light could penetrate, Dad told me the story of his exploitation.  The abuse was perpetrated by a Catholic Priest and occurred when he was but a boy, an altar boy at St Anthony’s Church in Port Pirie.  It occurred in the 1940’s.

I know I should choose my words carefully and preface ‘abuse’ with ‘alleged’ because the claims are; and will remain unproven, indeed were almost unspoken.  However I won’t in this instance purely out of respect for my father.

Dad almost took his secret to his grave, I wonder how many have and how many will.  I told him, I promised him, I would seek answers but it wasn’t until 3 years after his death and following the airing of an ABC Four Corners program “Unholy Silence” that I chose not to keep mine or my father’s silence.

I sought an appointment with the Bishop of the Diocese in which my father spent his boyhood years. The meeting was cordial, respectful, business like almost.  I recounted the details my father shared with me and how his life was affected, immeasurably affected.

I wasn’t expecting answers or apologies but I wanted to be assured that if I, the mother of a young son and daughter, were to approach the church (any institution for that matter) with an allegation similar to my father’s claims that in this century I could be confident that the matter would be handled appropriately and impartially by the Church.

I received an expression of sorrow during the meeting which was later re-stated in writing along with findings.  My report was taken seriously and upon investigation it was discovered that there was a hearsay report about a priest in the parish in the early 1940’s, no actual report and no victim named.  It was also reported to me that a second priest was complained about for having ‘interfered’ with a young girl back around about 1920.

I was offered counselling “Towards Healing”, which I respectfully declined.  My wounds were superficial in comparison to those my father bared.

Remarkably, after the meeting and subsequent correspondence from the Bishop, I was not left with a sense of confidence that if a victim were to come forward in modern times that their complaint would be referred to the appropriate authorities for investigation.

I have tried to understand the actions of and I do have empathy for the (alleged) perpetrator.  I honestly can’t understand how a man or a woman for that matter can be expected to commit to a life of celibacy without support.  What that ‘support’ might look like is a mystery to me.

Celibacy, from the Latin, ‘cælibatus”, the state of being sexually abstinent, usually for religious reasons is, for most, is a foreign concept.  I personally struggle with how a human being can overcome the most primal urge to have sex.  I struggle with how some people of the cloth claim to practice and observe chastity but behind closed doors commit heinous crimes against innocent children to satisfy that primal instinct.

I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to choose or be asked (given orders) to take a path of chastity and in doing so how the Church cannot take some responsibility for the actions of their flock when they do commit horrendous crimes.

I accept that paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder and as such those who are diagnosed should be treated with respect as their illness is not something they fashioned but rather a disorder which can, in most cases I’m lead to believe, be treated.

What I can’t accept is the lengths the Church has gone to and continues to go to, to what I can only describe as to protect their brand, and power base.

I accept that Cardinal George Pell has been the target of many.  He has been scorned from within his Church and by the media.  That level of attack is not true justice but rather pursuit of the man and not the matter.  Despite that I do feel contempt for the Church despite what action has been taken.  For me it is personal, it is about what they have failed to do.

The total financial worth of the Church could never compensate the victims for the loss of self-worth, loss of dignity and for some the loss of their life.

I thought long and hard about writing this piece, however on this occasion I have let my heart rule my head. It is about my father, it is for my father.

I hope that in publishing this piece that if there are other men and women from my home town of around my father’s age (had he been alive today) that they may come forward in an attempt to get help and support.  Indeed anyone who has been a victim of child sexual abuse.

Maybe, just maybe they can find some peace by shining a light on their personal darkness.

If you or someone you know has been affected by child abuse there is much support available. Details of that support can be found at this link: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/support-services