Australia’s by-sea-girtness, as much as its size, means meteorologists will always have their work cut out predicting the kind of weather which has caused such devastation on our eastern seaboard. The chorus of climate catastrophism which the floods triggered, on the other hand, was entirely predictable, even though these are the same voices which assured us only ten years ago that if we didn’t stop burning coal immediately our dams would never fill up again. It was the kind of working rural communities where eco-warriors don’t live that were hit hardest, of course, and as if the rain didn’t bring those communities enough Old Testament misery, in recent weeks many farmers have also had to contend with a plague of rodents. That this is the price they’ve always paid for bumper grain harvests should not deter you, however, from applying for a grant to write a doctoral thesis on The Causal Relationship between Anthropogenic Atmospheric CO2 Levels and Increased Mouse Libido. And while few Australian universities would have the courage to turn down such an application, you might accelerate the approval process by making the Australian Catholic University your first port of call and expanding that thesis title with a suitably ecumenical prefix, such as When the Heavens Open or The Wages of Sins of Emission. After all, climate change is all about faith and its congregation is no less impervious to rational debate and no less hostile to dissent than that of the Church of Rome in the seventeenth century. Australia may not yet have produced a Galileo, but I like to think future generations will recognise the courage shown by the likes of Professor Peter Ridd in the face of such institutionalised intolerance. Unfortunately, our nation’s most enduring contribution to the science de nos jours is more likely to be a word which preserves the memory of someone rather less deserving: Flannery, noun, informal – a hypothesis which may safely be relied upon never to become a reality.
Another predictable by-product of the floods was the late-night ‘Are you alright?’ emails and phone messages that expats get when an Australian weather event becomes an international news story. The urgency of such enquiries suggests that to maximise the impact of their reports the journalists responsible have made Australia sound about the same size as Cornwall. Managing such concern is, anyway, so much a part of the expat experience that some of us pre-empt it with social media posts like ‘DON’T WORRY, I’M 200KM FROM THE NEAREST FIRE’ and ‘DON’T WORRY, MY DOONA’S AS DRY AS A DEAD DINGO’S DONGA’. But this strikes me as wasting a rare opportunity to engender sympathy, so I prefer to wait for all the emails and voice-messages to arrive then preface my terse and stoic response with several days of ominous silence.
Before disaster drone footage overtook wool as an Australian export, our biggest deterrent to foreign visitors was the prospect of being eaten by a shark or crocodile. But if I was the parent of a female, Australia-bound European backpacker today, and I’d done the research, the places I’d be advising her to steer clear of would not be unpatrolled beaches and remote estuaries but university campuses and government precincts. And if, in the course of my research, I’d come across the website of White Ribbon, the charity behind the ad campaign which tells us to stop male violence against women where it starts (pre-school, Nippers, chess club), I might even be advising her to go somewhere safer, like Guatemala or Yemen. Because according to the Facts and Figures page on that website, 85 per cent of Australian women are now victims of sexual assault. What I wouldn’t be able to tell her, because that website doesn’t mention it, is that a not insignificant proportion of those assaults consist of women being stared at while using public transport. Or that, according to state and federal police records, Australian women are statistically no more likely to be raped or murdered than the female population of just about any other Western country. Or that the male violence narrative which too many Australians politicians have been too willing to endorse, and too many Australian journalists too happy to promote, is not just misleading: it’s an absolute Flannery.
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