November 28, 2022

'We brought the disease': Will the pandemic shift Australia's historical imagination?

The global story unfolding is not only about microbes; it is also about culture, politics...

The global story unfolding is not only about microbes; it is also about culture, politics and history. The spread of disease is not without responsibility

  • This is part of a series of essays by Australian writers responding to the challenges of 2020

The year began in haze. We felt relatively safe where we were on the New South Wales south coast, despite the blanket of smoke. The Currowan blaze had passed through here a month earlier, leaving little left to burn. I could see for hundreds of metres into the once-thick bush. Charred black trunks rose from scorched earth towards auburn treetops. The trees at the fringe of the small township were stained pink with fire retardant: the eerie residue of an airdrop that ultimately saved my partner’s family house.

We were not safe, of course, as so many Australians learned this fire season. There was nothing predictable about the fires that raged from winter into spring into summer, smouldering into autumn. Not only was fire reaching into ecologies unfamiliar with flame, but it was looping back on itself, with fallen leaf litter fuelling new spot fires. This was a new breed of fire: a biome pushed to its limits by anthropogenic climate change. I later read how the smoke from the south-east fires had carried east across the seas to choke cities in New Zealand and, after circumnavigating the globe, bruise the skies of Perth.

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