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Environment and Climate

What do we call this terrifying summer? The special bushfire edition of ABC’s Four Corners predictably called it Black Summer. Perhaps the name will stick, for it builds on a vernacular tradition. Firestorms are always given names, generally after the day of the week they struck. There are enough ‘Black’ days in modern Australian history to fill up a week several times over – Black Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays – and a Red Tuesday too, plus the grim irony of an Ash Wednesday. The blackness of the day evokes mourning and grief, the funereal silence of the forests after a firestorm. Black and still. And when the fires burn for months, a single Black Day morphs into a Black Summer.

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During cold southern winters, the islands and atolls of the Pacific seem to offer an idyllic escape. Advertisements for cheap flights to Fiji or New Caledonia present smiling ukulele players and al fresco massages. More bleakly, despairing islanders, by virtue of their place of birth, experience the devastation wrought by urbanisation and the climate crisis.

For Melbourne writer Tom Bamforth, the Pacific is much more complex than either of these extremes. Over ten years, he has pursued and discovered a collection of layered and interesting places, learning much about the unique delights and challenges of life in our neighbouring Pacific nations.

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To complement the reviews and commentaries in our Environment issue, we invited a number of writers and scholars to nominate a book that will give readers a better appreciation of the environment.

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The Australian outback has long been a muse for artists and storytellers. Australian flora – including the iconic eucalypt in its many forms – has the ability to tell a story about cultural identity and our rich history with the land. This extends to our urban landscape, with native plants common throughout our bustling city streets and parks – they can transf ...

The enchanting of rats has a long history. The Pied Piper, who enchanted first the rats then the children of Hamelin, is familiar to European readers. Here, Tim Bonyhady brings us a new story of rat enchantment by the Diyari and the Yandruwandha people in the eastern Lake Eyre basin. According to explorer Edwin Welch, they sang ‘in low, weird and dirge-like tones ...

‘Climate change is coming,’ fourth-generation farmer Charlie Prell told an Independent Planning Commission hearing on a proposed expansion of the windfarm near his Crookwell property on 6 June 2019. He and his family constantly hear the noise of the turbines spinning five hundred metres away, generating electricity. They hear the sounds of traffic from the road, ...

Since the 1960s, US military bases have continuously occupied Australian territory, with the permission of successive governments. Of the original sites, the missile-launch tracker Nurrungar is closed and North West Cape no longer communicates with US nuclear submarines, but it has since gained space surveillance and military signals intelligence functions. Pine Gap ...

A Future History of Water by Andrea Ballestero & Anthropogenic Rivers by Jerome Whitington

October 2019, no. 415

This June I attended a major Aboriginal fire-management workshop in Barmah National Park on Yorta Yorta woka, or Country. Camping on the floodplain of Dhungala – the Murray River – the participants’ discussions of bushfire led repeatedly back to another elemental force: walla, or water. As several elders explained, the flammability of the surrounding red gum forest is inextricably linked to the industrial regulation of the river’s movements. Anthropogenic infrastructures such as Lake Dartmouth have turned the forest’s wetting regime ‘upside down’, repurposing a millennia-old ecological pattern to capture spring floods and create summer flows. One perverse outcome, as Yorta Yorta man Corey Walker said, is that holidaymakers experience the river as rich in water. When urbanites encounter news reports of plunder in the wider Murray–Darling Basin, the channelling of its vitality into irrigation, they think back to summer breaks and long Invasion Day weekends enjoying a generous current, likely unaware that those flows were a gift from water authorities sending a strategic pulse through the system.


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Drive not too far inland from Melbourne in most directions, past thick bands of ordered suburbia, and you’ll reach bush localities that shiver on breezy days with the sound of gumleaves. At dusk, you might glimpse kangaroos slinking like grey ghosts through blocks of steep, rocky land. Despite this poetry, these bushland escapes represent nature in a third life ...

Asbestos in Australia: From boom to dust edited by Lenore Layman and Gail Phillips

October 2019, no. 415

Wittenoom is no more. The notorious mine has been abandoned and the township, ten kilometres away across the Pilbara, has been demolished and buried. The name has been erased from road signs along Route 95. Blue asbestos – the mineral that created and then condemned the place – is still virulently present in its soil, air, and water. But while Wittenoom is no mo ...