An Appeal from Dr Margi Prideaux Wild Politics – From the Ashes
I received this appeal in the mail today from Dr Margi Prideaux, a formidable environmental activist in Australia, and a contributor to Live Encounters Magazine. The Australian bush fire has destroyed her home and many others on Kangaroo Island – the devastation of animal and human habitat is heart breaking. Please share her appeal and support her. All details are below. – Mark Ulyseas, Editor.
March 3, 2020
This is not the news I had planned to send as 2020 opened its doors. I was expecting to tell you about the imminent release of my next book, Shock and Awe, but on January 3 my life took an unexpected turn.
Unprecedented fires recently ripped across Kangaroo Island’s precious landscape—my home. Wildfires are an ancient presence in Australia, but this drier, hotter season we’ve experienced monster fires that burn too hot and are impossible to contain. Even the oldest souls within our small island community gravely shake their heads and whisper ‘never before’.
On December 20 the second fire for the island’s season—Duncan—was started by dry lightning on a neighbouring farm, not more than 8km from our home. It spread quickly into the commercial pine and blue gum plantations and onwards into native bushland. My husband Geoff joined the fire crews on the fire ground that first day. By the second day, I manned radios in the fire station. Sixteen-hour around-the-clock shifts became our lives, day and night without pause, as we stood alongside our community and volunteers from across the country battling an emergency that raged for another two weeks. Seasonal celebrations were put on hold, and people stretched themselves to new limits to meet the challenge threatening our homes, our farms, and the wildlife we share this land with. Finally, on January 1, that fire was held behind containment lines, 50m from our farmhouse door.
The ordeal was far from over. Lightning had struck again on December 30 in the jewel of the island—Flinders Chase National Park—to the southwest of our farm. This third fire for the island’s season—Ravine—quickly built into an inferno reaching the island’s north and south coasts at the same time. Firefighters and earthmovers risked their lives to build breaks to halt the fire front but, on January 3, Ravine broke through these containments and after forming a pyrocumulonimbus cloud sent a firestorm north eastward across the island at deadly speed, incinerating farms, livestock and infrastructure, lighting decades old plantations like candles, and overrunning vast ecosystems and their wildlife. Our farm and our home were caught in this destruction.
A weather station positioned centrally between the island’s north and south coasts registered temperatures of 428°C with 140km winds before it stopped transmitting—the fire was still some kilometres away. Aluminium, that melts at 660°C, pooled across shed floors. 32,000 farm animals were killed or mortally wounded. 830 beehives were destroyed. Countless wild birds were killed in mid-flight. Stunned and confused wildlife had nowhere to hide. Tragically, two people, a father and his son—firefighters—lost their lives as they made their way home, unaware of the speed of threat.
Never has Kangaroo Island experienced this phenomenon. But, never has Kangaroo Island been so dry, and the relative humidity been so low, so early in the season. This fire, and the devastation it caused is a direct result of climate change.
By January 4 Ravine dropped back to a lethal crawl that continued across the island, burning eastward for another two harrowing weeks, taking more homes, farms, and wildlife in its path. When finally declared contained, but still active, it had burnt more than 211,000ha of agricultural land, plantations, and native woodlands—an area more than twice the size of the 2019 California wildfires. At least 89 homes were reduced to ash and 296 farm buildings destroyed, many with tools and equipment collected over farming generations. Our community was left shattered like exploding glass.
With little more than our phones and laptops, Geoff and I found ourselves standing with ash on our faces and smoke in our hair in a new world shifted on its axis. Climate change had created an ecological disaster so big the army had to be called in. Farmers, already exhausted after weeks of firefighting, were forced to destroy many of their surviving animals to relieve their pain. Their sheep and cattle were buried in hastily dug trenches, and countless wildlife carcasses lined the side of the roads. The landscape evoked descriptors like apocalypse, armageddon, and hell.
Eight weeks later, with dark smoke-filled skies now returned to blue, we are collectively struggling to make sense of this event; as a community, and as individuals. We are in new, and uncharted, territory. It is not bad luck. It is not even willful poor planning. The fire’s ferocity took us by surprise because we didn’t accept how quickly and to what extent a warming Earth would disturb weather, people and animals—we believed climate-related events would strike somewhere else. Sometime else. Someone else.
Even though we were ‘climate change aware’, we failed to act—and our ignorance impacted not only human lives, livelihoods, and homes but set in motion biological annihilation. Now a profound silence cloaks our natural landscape. The few animals that remain face starvation.
We and our community are suddenly awake.
Now we see how we must live differently; how we must radically change the direction of our country. It is we who have experienced the beginning of the climate change curve and we cannot bequest this hell to future generations.
While governments across the world continue to obfuscate and dodge, and the global community continues to march towards climate annihilation, I will be standing beside my husband in our small scalded vineyard—saved by the giant plantation trees that mercifully shielded the firestorm’s might—caring for this sole loadstone from which we will rebuild our lives. We will look towards the eastern horizon, as our political class gathers, praying they will step forward with integrity. And, as the sun sets in the west of our farm, we’ll talk about our dreams of a new dawn, perhaps next year, when we can once again hear birds sing. When that day comes, we will be standing in a new landscape, with some wildlife forever gone. Ours will be a new perspective. Climate change is now embedded in the texture of our lives.
Until that first, precious, birdsong we will be dedicated to rebuilding our community, and I will write a book that must be written about my community’s dramatic journey from climate apathy to frontline witnesses of a global climate crisis.
Sometimes others express things better than we can ourselves. In this video, my dear friend Nicolas Entrup, Shifting Values, poignantly captures my next book project, and the crowdfunding campaign he has generously launched to support it.