Monday, January 24, 2011

Of Droughts and Flooding Rains

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

It's raining again - and for those of you who have been following the news you know that isn't a good thing.

After the terrible floods in Queensland that consumed an area the size of Germany and France combined (yes, you read that right), my home state of Victoria continues to face its own flood crisis. Over the last week more than 70 towns across the state and around 4,300 people and 1,700 properties have been affected. As I write this blog, residents are being evacuated as floodwaters advance in the northern part of the state along the Murray River. Although no one I know has been directly affected, all that has happened over the last few weeks has been a sobering reminder of just how much Australia remains at the mercy of the weather.

Jim's blog post (and comments) yesterday stressed the pitfalls of describing the weather in a novel, but anyone writing a book about Australia would have to acknowledge the weather, just like the landscape, is an integral character.

Even though I have an indifferent relationship to my 're-adopted' home, I cannot help but admire the tenacity of the people who try and tame its wild shores. Just a year or so ago Australians were facing one of the worst droughts in history and now they are facing once-in-a-century floods. If you were to describe the Australian weather as a character, you might think in terms of a Greek goddess wreaking vengeance.

But the weather has also brought out some of the best Australian characteristics - the 'mateship' and determination to go on, sacrifices made for others (including, sadly a 13 year old who gave his own life to save his 10 year old brother) and the sense of community that I know so many Australians cherish. For my own part, recent events have made me realize that, although the weather can be both boring and cliched in fiction, sometimes it must take center stage.

BTW: Many people may recognize the title of this blog post from a famous poem about Australia by Dorothea Mackellar but few are probably familiar with the poem in its entirety. I thought, in the circumstances, it was appropriate to share it:

My Country

by Dorothea Mackellar

The love of field and coppice,

Of green and shaded lanes.

Of ordered woods and gardens

Is running in your veins,

Strong love of grey-blue distance

Brown streams and soft dim skies

I know but cannot share it,

My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror -

The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest

All tragic to the moon,

The sapphire-misted mountains,

The hot gold hush of noon.

Green tangle of the brushes,

Where lithe lianas coil,

And orchids deck the tree-tops

And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!

Her pitiless blue sky,

When sick at heart, around us,

We see the cattle die -

But then the grey clouds gather,

And we can bless again

The drumming of an army,

The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!

Land of the Rainbow Gold,

For flood and fire and famine,

She pays us back threefold -

Over the thirsty paddocks,

Watch, after many days,

The filmy veil of greenness

That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,

A wilful, lavish land -

All you who have not loved her,

You will not understand -

Though earth holds many splendours,

Wherever I may die,

I know to what brown country

My homing thoughts will fly.


  1. My thoughts and prayers are with the flood victims. We love our homelands, wherever they may be--but they and their weather are ofren fickle creatures and like to remind us of their power.

    Love the poem.

  2. "And orchids deck the tree-tops", and "An opal-hearted country"...those lines alone makes me want to visit your country! I have neighbors who makes yearly forays to Australia to buy opals, which they fashion into beautiful jewelry. Whenever I think of Australia, I have visions of opals in the hills, shimmering like a setting sun over the Pacific.

    My thoughts are with you all in Australia, during this rainy, awful trial!

  3. Clare, the key term you use for weather in fiction is "integral character." That certainly applies in this case. Your post brings up images of incredible drama. May you and your family continue to stay out of harm's way.

  4. Clare, prayers and best wishes for you and your family's safety.

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  6. Being that I live in place where weather is also quite a character, albeit usually in the form of fierce winds, -70 winter temps, and scorching summer fires, I can understand both the fear and the love that place can create for those us born and bred in the extreme. I raise a pint to your mates and neighbors and say a prayer for your safety, and blessing for the lost.

  7. Well it's sunny again but I think the floods continue to rise in the North of the state. We are getting a puppy soon and the breeder has been cut off due to the floods with lots of bridges and telephone lines down. Thankfully she (and the dogs) are fine but they lost a member of their family in the Queensland floods so it's a very sad time for them. I am hoping that February doesn't bring hot winds and terrible bushfires - but given the Australian weather gods we need to be prepared!

  8. Your report from Down Under, the reference to dogs and the comments from Basil summon to mind Jack London. A master of weather as an integral character.

    Best to you and your countrymen in this challenging time.
    May your puppy bring your family many years of the fun and wonder so readily delivered by man's best friend

  9. we are certainly looking forward to getting our puppy and hoping that the floods will abate and the rest of the summer will be threat free.