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On the mid-slopes

We were tipped out of covid straight into Glasgow and the climate change conference. I was ready for the liberty of moving around as I pleased for a while, and doing some shopping in Melbourne, but here I was, hurried along by news and commentary to the next crisis. Survive a pandemic, and it’s back to saving the planet.

I was sceptical of what might be conjured out of slippery politicians and a world economy set in its ways, but when a friend emailed me a link to David Attenborough’s speech, I hit the link. Dear old Attenborough ascends the stage. How many times has he done this, with that rising inflection in his voice, that urgency? How long before we connect the dots and act?

David Attenborough urges action at COP26

His speech was an elaborate media event, with backing audio track and simultaneous video screens that layered data and reportage. Ordinary citizens faced the camera and said what they felt, what they wanted. With each heartfelt plea, I felt a flush of hopefulness, but it quickly drained away. The ‘Yes we can!’ enthusiasm was wearing me down!

It’s not that we don’t need to act, but a bit of sadness would make for a more complete picture of humans in 2021, alongside this insistent drumming up of belief in ourselves as a species.

What would I have said, I wondered, in 5 seconds with the camera? Something like: ‘I will do what I can, but my heart is aching at what we have lost – time, species, wonderful natural places. It’s hard to bear, and hard to act when grief gets a grip.’

As the world argued over targets and resolutions, I walked into Barrm Birrm and found my way to the mid-slopes. It was a warm afternoon. The lomandra was in flower, along with more murnong than I remember seeing in previous years. The grasses ran away under the trees and the sun slanted across the hillside. The currawong sent its long looping cry into the valley.

Can Country speak to a whitefella, the way it once used to the people who managed this land? Can we get a little less human-centric in the way we relate to the places we live?

I know we’re the problem, and the solution, but what about other voices?

What does the bush have to say?

I stood and listened. I waited.

I thought about parts per million ticking steadily higher and coking coal being shipped in long trains to ports in marginal Queensland electorates. 40,000 people, that's how many people the coal industry employs in the whole of Australia. Macdonald's employs 100,000 people. Maybe 40,000 people are on the job each morning making coffee for the rest of us as we wind up into the day.

‘Shush .... shush’ said the grasses, and left me standing quiet in the sunshine.

That felt like a good start. Shut up and listen. Wait.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

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