Friday, January 9, 2015


                                                  Imagine all the people
                                               Living for today, hey,hey
                                            Some people say I'm a schemer
                                            But I'm not the only one
                                            I hope some day that you'll join us.....

                                                                                                     Apologies to John Lennon

Imagine Tony Abbott joining the ranks of aging drug-addled mathematically-challenged dreamers still gimping around the NSW north coast hinterland; living for today, hey hey. But unless you cash in your chips by dying or collecting your parliamentary pension (decently waiting until age 70 on the latter of course), today becomes tomorrow and living loses some of its attraction when you have broken the bank, spent your inheritance, chopped your forests- sorry, in Tasmania there are still some trees standing in previously protected areas for which we will all chip in to help cover the costs of removal. No need for greed or hunger, the brotherhood of man, or even some vestige of mateship, here and now; today, money rules. Although greed does have its advantages living for today – can't leave any standing timber or coal wasting in the ground after all.

So the sea-changed Prime Minister has nailed his colours to the mast at the G-20 in Brisbane. “Our concern is with the here and now” was his response to the unsettling climate-change concerns of the other participants during the record-breaking temperatures they all enjoyed at the time with over forty degrees C on a daily basis. I have experienced similar ten years ago in France and Spain. Ten thousand deaths in France were attributed to the heatwave. But it was mostly people that didn't matter – old folks with few or no concerned kin, in homes or homeless, without air-conditioned 5-star accommodation and on the way out anyway.

And forty two degrees still gives healthy people some room to move; still eighteen degrees away from the 'death zone' that was discovered by Louis Pasteur – ten minutes at sixty degrees Centigrade sterilizes milk; killing most micro-organisms including human beings. Only a few extremeophiles can survive, including botulinum which is handy if you had hoped to go looking good at your funereal viewing. 

Of course Australians are organized for hot weather and air conditioning is everywhere, just not for the flying foxes, hanging clustered in their roosting trees. They suffered like the French, with thousands dropping and dying of heat exhaustion. Their species is unlikely to disappear generally as a result of climate change, but will certainly shrink in the tropics while they extend their range to the south and higher altitudes. But they are essential pollinators for a lot of the tropical forest and if they move out it will be disastrous for the forests over the long term, and by extension the reef.

Back in the early seventies I had gone north and found a job in Tully on a banana farm. During the dry season the weather was beautiful and I lived there by the river, shooting feral pigs, spearing black bream and catfish and sleeping in a tent under some huge flowering gums. One night it was impossible to sleep, flying foxes feeding on the blossoms and nectar high above were holding some god-awful conference. I stepped out with a torch and a .22 rifle to scare them away and looking up into the branches saw that they were all peacefully feeding except for one who had better things to do, posturing and holding forth as cause and sum of all the demonic snarling and chatter. I shot it. He fell and I picked up and inspected the body as the rest looked on, animal stupidity writ large in their beady and unblinking eyes. It was a bat about the size of a grey squirrel, deep black with leathery wings, a brown mantle, a perfect little fox face and obviously male.

Silence reigned for the rest of the night. But at the first light of dawn I was awakened by a slapping sound on my tent. And I heard their wings and realized that as each animal was leaving the scene of my crime for its daytime roost the whole squadron had peeled off and each flew low, one after another, targeting my tent with a token of displeasure – a stick, a bunch of leaves, urine or the content of its bowels. And I lay there like the ancient mariner, consumed by guilt and too cowardly to step outside and face up to them as they came over.

They are normally stoic about their losses – to hawks, owls or the shotguns of orchardists or you see them hanging twisted and burned in power lines with never a defender or cortege. So I have often wondered who he was to them; obviously a special individual. Perhaps he was their leader, who got most of the girls while he saw off challengers and pretended to lead them all to greener pastures. Or maybe he was their prophet, offering unseasonal mangoes in the hereafter and the confounding of their enemies, like me, which came to pass. Or just the patronized and tolerated village idiot. Or some confluence of all three, like Queensland's Premier Joh at the time. Whichever, they are much more like us than anyone would wish to imagine, and so are our collective fates entwined.

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