This was a long-planned trip to visit family in Australia but I was not filled with the usual mounting excitement. Our skies in Auckland reflected the awful reality of the fires burning over there, made all the more alarming given that New Zealand is over 3000 kilometres away. For days we had viewed flames ripping through communities in several parts of Australia, leaving utter devastation in their wake. And loss of life. Although we were heading north of the worst affected areas, there had been fires reported close to Toowoomba, near where my youngest lives. With assurances from her, that the area was quite safe apart from a smokey atmosphere, we flew to Brisbane, the closest International airport.
What we didn’t expect to find in Brisbane was rain. But it cleared, leaving patchy cloud, and were able to explore the Art museums, and catch up with in-laws, the rain holding off until evening. We picked up a rental on the third day, where we were told some roads were closed. Not from fire, but floods. Our route was not flood-affected apparently, and with only slight apprehension about extreme weather hazards, we set the NavMan and left for Toowoomba, the clouds hugging the air above our heads. The trees alongside the highway were green; a heartening sign. But just a few kilometres on, the landscape changed, to the familiar dry, reddened earth and sparse eucalypts depicted by many artists and photographers.
It was a reminder of how vulnerable Australia is, with its trees as brittle as paper, igniting faster than any match, and long periods of drought often followed by floods. I hoped not to experience either. But those brooding skies …
It rained hard during the night, leaving a minted freshness to the day. Mt Lofty, the area we were staying, clearly knew rain rather well. It was lush; the trees leaf-laden. But out on the road towards the Greenmount turnoff, the landscape had returned to the artists’ renditions, brown, arid and scruffy. There were signs of recent flooding too, on the approach to the tiny town, but not in the centre. The skies were lightening and I relaxed. I am happy to report that we found our family safe and well.
So far, we had evaded fires, and floods, although we had experienced some short, very heavy downpours in the Queensland area. Torrential rain greeted us again when we arrived in Victoria a few days later. This weather was short-lived however, and the days zig-zagged between cool and hot, cloudy and clear. Usually dry and dusty throughout summer, the neighbourhood gardens in Melbourne never looked so green.
We spent a delightful few days, seeing old friends, and more children and grandchildren. We walked, talked, ate well, visited art galleries and saw a film. One of the exhibitions we viewed was from the Lyon Housemuseum collection and one particular image resonated with me. The previous day was very hot and extremely windy, with red dust littering streets, patios, and people. This dust blew in from Mallee, a dry area nearly four hours from Melbourne. A reminder, that it is not just what we see, but what lies beyond that we fail to comprehend.
Colour Test: Mundi Mundi Plains (Blue), 2009, by Shaun Gladwell, from the Lyon Housemuseum Collection, Melbourne
On the day of our departure we learned that most of the Pacific Highway had reopened as vast tracts of fire had been subdued. May the rain reach these torched lands and lay its touch widely and softly. No more yellow skies please.