from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: O if we but knew what we do …

Anne Chappel, author of two novels about Africa: Zanzibar Uhuru & Shadow of the Hyena

December 31.

Update. Our Australian state borders are closing once more. The fight continues as countries try to stop this virus killing more people. There are numbers I have read in the media, from the UK, from the USA, from South Africa that tell a story of more infections than ever before, of more deaths per day. Numbers.

And every one of those infected people facing possible death holds a personal story. My daughter in Seattle said her friend’s father, aged 80+, is dying of Covid-19 but won’t go to ICU because he refuses to leave his wife. How many children in South Africa cannot find a hospital place for their infected father or mother because there are no beds available? No oxygen, no remdesivir, no comfort in their final hours.

Back to Sydney, NSW. It appears that the virus has spread into greater Sydney. There is now a ‘Cronulla’ cluster and various more cases where the connections to known cases is unclear. Yet still Premier Gladys Berejiklian has not mandated masks (Victoria has) and continues to stand by her decision to allow the New Year’s cricket test (Australia vs India) to go ahead at the Sydney Cricket ground. Up to 20,000 spectators will be allowed (50% capacity). This seems reckless. You only have to look back to Europe and the February 19 soccer match in Bergamo, Italy, between Altlanta and Valancia. This is now regarded as a ‘super-spreader’ event.

True, our numbers are low. 10 more cases today in NSW and 3 in Victoria (after 2 months of no community spread). But, by now, we all know that it only takes a few infected people to explode the virus into the community.

World News. The problem with world news is that its seldom happy, seldom uplifting. We wake up for the 6.30 or 7am news. For months it has not been a good start to the day. Too efficient, our ABC find every bad event around the world. Maybe that is the nature of this pandemic year; maybe, being anxious, we home in on bad news that confirms our night-time fears.

Behind all this news of the virus, the environmental news is likewise miserable. Are the harvesters and destroyers of our wild animals and wild places getting bolder under cover of the pandemic? It is likely.

Before I was a bird-watcher in South Africa, I was interested in native orchids and trees. Durban, semi-tropical with a rich soil, had many remnant native forest reserves as well as magnificent old street trees.

I have this distinct memory from some time in the 1960s, of being driven around Durban North by an estate agent when we were looking to buy our first home. We drove into a street of flowering erythrina trees (the coral tree).

My estate agent said, ‘Erythrina crista-galli’.

‘WHAT? Say that again?’ I said, for I had never heard the scientific name of a tree said out aloud. It was beautiful, like a three-word poem.

I didn’t buy a house, I learnt the name of a tree.

I was hooked, mesmerised. At some stage, we collected the brown bean-like seeds of this tree and my young daughter planted them outside her bedroom window. Very quickly one took and grew big enough to hold a bird table, big enough to develop its own generous cascades of red blooms.

My life-long interest in trees had begun. The street trees of Durban are a year-round spectacle, a demonstration of the fecundity of immigrants: avenues of Latin America’s jacarandas, of Madagascar’s flamboyant, Delonix regia, of India’s golden shower, Cassia fistula, of the dark and solid Natal mahogany, Trichilia emetica which housed the roosting flocks of feral Indian Myna birds.

When you are a birdwatcher you appreciate trees and the rest: the wild places. Hence, when we retired in South Australia, almost 20 years ago, we bought a larger property on the city edge with lots of bush and we set about removing feral olive trees and planting native trees and bushes.

The bird life we now have is nothing short of delightful. We are an oasis on the hillside.

Superb blue wren, New Holland honeyeater

We were helped by an organisation in South Australia called Trees for Life. They supply appropriate native seeds, the wherewithal to plant them and the advice of how to care for them. In such a manner you can easily raise 60, 120 seedlings in one season for your own property. A gift for the future.

https://treesforlife.org.au/

Ancient eucalypts near Adelaide, Australia, surviving drought and fire.

Maybe as you get older you become more determined – and fierce – in your views. I get most unhappy when I hear about the clearing of old-growth forests. Australia is guilty – big time – forests are still being cleared in Queensland and in other states. Our record is not good at all. The land cleared in Queensland is for agriculture – mostly for beef production. The (cruel) live export trade remains strong.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-10-08/deforestation-land-clearing-australia-state-by-state/12535438

This week the news contained a non-virus story but still upsetting. Ancient, remnant trees in NE Namibia, in the semi-desert lands near the Okavango, are being cut down and exported to China. An investigation shows criminal elements in conjunction with Namibian elite are destroying in wholesale fashion these valuable ancient, African rosewood, Zambezi teak, and Kiaat trees.

https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/chinese-companies-and-namibian-elites-make-millions-illegally-logging-the-last-rosewoods#:~:text=Namibia%20is%20a%20signatory%20to,red%2Dwood%20furniture%20in%20Asia.

Humans come and go, each of us takes from the world, from the environment. Huge trees are survivors, bearing the marks of their efforts. To harvest 700-year-old trees from marginal communities is criminal.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. I am sorry, it is hardly likely to be so.

There is always poetry. Here is a poignant one to finish the year.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44390/binsey-poplars

Binsey Poplars by G.M.Hopkins

felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, 
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, 
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
               Not spared, not one
                That dandled a sandalled
         Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

  O if we but knew what we do
         When we delve or hew —
     Hack and rack the growing green!
          Since country is so tender
     To touch, her being só slender,
     That, like this sleek and seeing ball
     But a prick will make no eye at all,
     Where we, even where we mean
                 To mend her we end her,
            When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
     Strokes of havoc unselve
           The sweet especial scene,
     Rural scene, a rural scene,
     Sweet especial rural scene.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: it’s the environment, stupid …

Adelaide: from the hills to the sea

May 18. What has been noticeable in our community over the last 2 months is the emphasis people place on our environment – on the pleasure of walking and the freedom to get outside without restriction. In South Australia we have been allowed to walk: walk with a partner, walk the dog, throughout our severest lockdown, even when, at first, no one quite knew what was in store for us. On social media these activities featured prominently. People commented on the things they noticed and photographed: the sunsets; the animals and plants; the teddy bears they found perched in trees, hanging on front gates or looking out of windows.

People went to the beach, maintained social distancing, and spoke about how special it was to go there. Suddenly, the normal became appreciated. Did we miss going shopping? Not really. Did we miss travelling? Maybe – but what we missed was family more than the act of seeing new places.

Walking, or getting out of our houses, the freedom to move around became the number one thing we wanted to do – we took pictures, posted on Instagram and told others about it. Walking is therapeutic, no question. At 3 in the morning you can feel anxious about the way forward … but once you walk out into the forest, the bush, the park, those thoughts are blunted. This effect is not rocket science.

What we should now realise is that we must preserve our parks and wilder places in our cities and our urban fringe. Whenever I flew into Los Angeles, our Air New Zealand flight circling to land, I was amazed by how little green space there was visible in the city. Where were the great parks? The city appeared to be a crosshatching of buildings under a mist of pollution. Contrast Los Angeles with my Adelaide. (Not fair really: 18 million residents in greater LA compared to 1 million in Adelaide.)

downtown Los Angeles from Griffiths Observatory
Harbor12 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Adelaide is a small city, a young city in European terms. It was planned with great foresight by Colonel William Light in 1837. The main city grid is based on a Roman ‘castrum’ with a central public open space, 4 smaller ones in each quarter sector and the whole square surrounded by a 500-metre wide band of parkland. Town Planners love it, study it. This city works and the plan has stood the test of time. The encircling public parkland is a joy to residents and fiercely defended when various state governments have tried to invade it with what they regard as essential, ‘progressive’ development.

1839. Plan of the City of Adelaide, Australia by Colonel William Light

Add to our environment a slow meandering river, the River Torrens, which runs west out of our Hills, right through the city to the sea. It is flanked by a 30 km ribbon of parks and bike ways. The Torrens is a thin, seasonal river lined with ancient River Red Gums. And when you reach the sea, there is a 70km coastal park path along the seafront from North Haven to Sellicks Beach. Indeed, this is a city that is a happy place for bike riders.

People are wondering how Covid-19 will change our societies. Could we perhaps build a better world? Or is that pie in the sky? It is apparent that, for some time, there won’t be funds in our government’s budget to be generous with such plans. But on a small scale we could start thinking of things to do.

Could there be a change of emphasis driven by the community, a community now more aware of the precious nature of our public spaces?

New Zealand, led by their PM, Jacinda Ardern, plans to do things differently with a ‘Well Being Budget’. This is like a breath of fresh air.

“Finance Minister Grant Robertson outlined the plan to the country’s parliament – with billions released for mental health services, child poverty and measures to tackle family violence.

“Success is about making New Zealand both a great place to make a living, and a great place to make a life,” he said.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/new-zealand-is-publishing-its-first-well-being-budget/

Could we not lobby our councils to: offer maps for walking and bike riding; provide a listing of street trees; grant conservation protection for older stands of trees; proactively advise residents on trees to plant; halt building plans that cover the full block? Our council already offers cheap sessions of yoga and exercise for older people. They could also offer supervised walks by environmentalists to educate about the bushland that we have within the council area. Get inventive.

Schoolkids could get involved in planting trees along waterways and cleaning them regularly – perhaps to ‘own’ a section of the river. We could lobby to reduce the speed levels on urban roads and add more dedicated bike path ways. More people will be working from home. Make the home area more community friendly.

We don’t have enough community gardens. In Seattle people seldom have front fences and use their sidewalks as planting space for herbs and vegetables. We don’t do that in Adelaide and our tree filled urban back yards are disappearing under the onslaught of huge double homes on old single blocks.

What other ideas are out there?