What’s the future for Australia?

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I’m very happy to be married to an Australian. The only problem is that most of our friends and family are over there and not here. It’s obviously a long way to go and hard to find enough time off work so it has been 10 years since we last visited. My children, now in their twenties had never been.

But there is a new problem – or one that’s been there all the time but we weren’t aware of it. It’s the CO2. About 8 tonnes per person for a return flight which is what the average EU citizen is responsible for in a year. We felt we couldn’t justify that unless we went for a couple of months and that meant after retirement. When we booked the trip 10 months ago, we had no idea how all the CO2 we’re all responsible for would impact our holiday and our future plans…….

My son wanted to spend some time volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary in the Blue Mountains near Sydney and my wife and I wanted to visit Kangaroo Island. We hadn’t managed to visit on the previous trip as we’d just had time to visit family in Melbourne and Sydney. We had a friend, Bruce, who ran “The Last Resort”, a wildlife reserve on Kangaroo Island but unfortunately he died 6 months ago. Kangaroo Island is renowned for its wildlife and unspoilt countryside. With a population of 4,000 and an area the size of Surrey, it’s very rural.

The day we arrived on Kangaroo Island, a chance conversation helping a boat being taken out of the water at American River led to some fascinating connections. The guy lifting the boat was the head of the island’s fire service and one of his fire crew, Jim, had been best mates with Bruce. So that night we were invited to the weekly community dinner. There were about 100 people there – most of the village. It was a truly memorable and emotional evening as it turned out that several people we met knew my wife’s family when they lived in Fiji in the 70s. What are the chances of that!

We visited Bruce’s now rather run down house and the kangaroos came out of the bush with their joeys so they still remembered him!

There was a further interesting turn though. We visited Kingscote Museum which is very similar in content and size to The Rural Life Centre. My wife’s family name is Knuckey. The library in the museum had a picture on the wall of a John Randall Knuckey. It turns out that her family were early settlers of Kangaroo Island in 1836 and he, with his brother, went on to survey and install the telegraph lines across Australia.

We were very lucky to see Kangaroo Island and its stunning wildlife as it was. On our last day we had coffee with Jim but he was called out to a fire. That was the start of the immense fire that has consumed half the island, a million animals and probably made many species extinct that were unique to the island. People knew something like this was coming. There has been a severe drought and water restrictions for several years. Even the largest freshwater lake on the island that is 2 miles wide should have been full in December (spring in Australia) but was almost dry. The devastating fires in Australia have been reported in the UK but it is only a fraction of what has happened and has only told a few of the personal stories.

After Kangeroo Island, we travelled to Gruyere near Melbourne. It’s a beautiful area in the heart of wine country, near Healesville. Our friends there were living outside. Partly because it was 49 degrees and partly because their mother and their sister’s family had been evacuated from the fires in Victoria – with everything they could take, including their horses.

During that time, my son’s plans changed. The animal sanctuary he was due to work at in Calga was in the path of the Gospers Mountain fire. First the animals were evacuated and then the sanctuary was shut entirely as the fire came to within 10 miles. Fortunately, the wind direction changed just in time as the fire fronts can travel 10 miles in an hour.

You can imagine that the fires were a daily conversation and there was 24/7 coverage on national and local news. There is a lot of anger towards the government that has pursued a policy of business and growth over the environment. But petrol and diesel are half the price of the UK and many people are still happy to buy large V8 petrol engine utility vehicles. Urban sprawl is immense. Melbourne is now 55 miles across and set to be larger than Sydney within a year or two. There is a dire shortage of water with water restrictions nationally yet Queensland signed an agreement with China in December to supply fresh water. White settlers have done so much damage to the environment in 200 years that Aborigines understood and protected for 60,000 years.

After the fires

As if all this wasn’t bad enough. Australia’s economy is on a precipice. 85% of the country’s energy is generated from fossil fuels, most of it coal. It exports more coal than Russia, the US and Indonesia combined. Most new houses being built rely on electric heating and cooling. Yet it has a huge opportunity for solar. If the world does shift away from fossil fuels in the next 10 year, as it must for the sake of climate change, the Australian economy is going to be as burnt out as Kangaroo Island. No wonder Australia didn’t sign up to the latest global climate control plans in COP25.

The other reason for my family going out to Australia was to decide if we wanted to emigrate there. The sad conclusion was that we couldn’t live in that sort of society or invest everything we have in a country that doesn’t seem viable without drastic change. Whether or not we are able to visit Australia again in our lifetimes, I don’t know. But I hope the sad lessons are learned from the fires this year.

By Colin (XR Plastics)

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