On Grandmothers, Great Aunts… And Scott Morrison Burning Himself A Place In The Coalface Of History



The Prime Minister’s ‘ill-timed Hawaiian smoko’ in the face of a national disaster speaks volumes about the people and places he says he loves, writes Joshua Dabelstein.

Today is my first day of summer holidays, and I wake at 6am at my grandmother’s house in the southern highlands of NSW to the smell of smoke. A surreal glare pokes its way through the venetians; the sun is low and orange and menacing.

I take my coffee on my morning walk around a pretty, country graveyard, which I always do when I stay up here over Christmas, and then up the fairway of a local golf course.

The smoke’s cut the usually green and idyllic horizon short, and it hangs thick and silent and threatening in the air.

Half an hour’s drive north, or about the same south, and a little less east, fires are eating the land. By the afternoon, the closest fire is within 20km of the front yard.

I wonder what it smells like in Waikiki this morning. I read somewhere that Hawaii imports sand from Queensland, but have chosen not to look into that.

Having spent the last hour rescuing the gnarled and parched agapanthuses out the front with a garden hose, minutes ticking until the day’s water restrictions kick in, I take refuge in front of the fan with a bottle of ice water held up to my dripping brow.

During bushfire season, especially one like this, millions of Australians’ lives and livelihoods are put at risk. Tens of thousands of Australians are going to spend this Christmas with the constant anxiety that everything they know and love could be taken from them by a change in wind direction.

A couple of mates expressed their concerns about my trip towards the fires. The truth is that if I could afford to have stayed in Melbourne and just put my grandmother on a plane to Hawaii, I would have. After all, and much to my 87-year-old grandmother’s relief, the nation doesn’t depend on her leadership in times of great distress.

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There are a lot of differences between my grandmother and Prime Minister Morrison. My favourite difference between them is that Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal into parliament to make a point about the importance of the mining industry to Australia’s future, and then went on a holiday to Hawaii when the direct correlation between our decimation of the land and that land’s subsequent combustion, one summer, became not only too obvious to ignore, but too hot to holiday in.

My grandmother not once carried a piece of coal into work with her, has never denied the effect that mining has on our planet, and assures me that though she has been to Hawaii, it was for work, and that it was ‘kitsch’.

I crack the back door open an inch and am met with a particularly un-Hawaiian welcome. This is because I’m not in Hawaii. I’m in Bowral, NSW, and it’s 40 degrees and windy — like someone’s holding a hairdryer to your face in a sauna, only bits of the sauna are also on fire while the staff are on a week-long smoko.

Even though it could be argued that I deserve a holiday, it would be kind of weird of me to leave my grandmother’s place and piss off to Hawaii. It’s not that my presence is of any particularly material significance, but rather that my deliberate absence would speak volumes on my priorities.

The country cries out for help as another charred leaf twists its way downward. The Prime Minister is on holiday in Hawaii, and the heroism of the men and women fighting back the flames on the TV reminds me of some verse I read earlier in the year:

I bore the heat,
I blazed the track
furrowed and bloody
upon my back.
I split the rock;
I felled the tree
The nation was
Because of me!

The words of Great Australian poet and socialist Dame Mary Gilmore – Scott Morrison’s great aunt – serve as a reminder to all Australians who are contributing to the fighting of these fires, and the fight to curtail the destruction of the environment at large, that without blood, sweat, and tears — or at least being on the right continent — we can claim no deserving place in the nation’s history or future.

It’s a great shame that to her great nephew, this sentiment means nothing at all.

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Joshua Dabelstein is a writer's writer and a sporadic New Matilda contributor.