Story telling from Australia
It was a subdued Australia Day in Sydney. ‘Grim,’ said the cricket commentators. ‘Gloomy skies,’ agreed the Daily Telegraph. ‘More bad weather on its way,’ said Channel Seven.
Such pessimism! Where would we be without rain? Cricket fans must have been disappointed but I wasn’t. No amount of watering can make a garden sing like a shower of rain and that ‘shower’ dropped 105 ml in our back yard on Monday night / Tuesday morning – almost five inches. Another 25 ml fell the next day.
After days of sweltering heat in the mid to high thirties, with no respite from the energy-sapping humidity, I welcomed that rain. We’re 60% water anyway. And it’s critical to our survival.
I read in the paper this week that one of Australia’s largest property developers is thinking of cashing in his multi billion-dollar empire to invest in water. I’d like to think it’s because he cares about the future security of humanity. I suspect it’s more to do with potential profit.
Is there any better time to be outdoors than just after rain? Walking Maggie along the deserted foreshore of Callan Park the turf felt springy and alive beneath my feet. And now we’re enjoying bright sunshine. I swear some of the figs have swelled to twice their normal size in the past three days.
Another reason why Australia Day was subdued, for me anyway, was because that was the day I finished reading HhHH by Laurent Binet. It’s a true account of the events in Nazi occupied Prague that led to a brave assassination attempt on Heinrich Himmler’s ‘number two’, Reinhard Heydrich. HhHH is a cumbersome title for anyone (like me) who sounds out words in their head, but it’s a compelling book all the same.
Then I switched on the news and learnt of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Such dark empty hate. There’s no point saying, ‘Those evil people over there did it.’ We’re all capable of cruelty. It can start with a finger of suspicion pointed at a stranger whose presence unsettles us and it can end in unspeakable brutality. But we also have a shared humanity. Am I naive in hoping that such shared humanity might save us, if only we allow it to flourish? Put humanity first and let race, religion, skin colour, sexual preference, politics – you name it – come second.
There was an article on one of my favourite gardeners – eighty-seven year old Peter Cundall – in the Weekend Australian last Sunday, and his humanity shone through every word of Christine Middap’s beautifully written article.
A former soldier who served in World War II, Peter helped with the liberation of concentration camps in Austria. He also fought in Korea and those experiences helped shaped his subsequent passionate activism as a pacifist, horticulturalist and environmentalist. Amongst the many activities that keep him busy, Peter runs gardening workshops for veterans, helping war vets overcome the trauma of what they’ve been through by the simple yet powerful act of planting seeds then nurturing their growth.
Then Tom Uren died this week, another man whose humanity shone through everything he did and another war veteran turned pacifist, or anti militarist at the very least. Uren held firm to the belief that the strong should support the weak and he dedicated his life to fighting for social justice. He was born in Balmain.
I don’t know why I link all these seemingly random items other than to celebrate humanity, just like I celebrated the arrival of rain on Australia Day. When the rain eventually stopped I took a moment to enjoy the shimmering green leaves in this tiny back yard.
As the wonderful poet WH Auden wrote, ‘We have only to learn to sit still, and give no orders.’