Floods and fires

The eastern coast of Australia has been on the wrong side of nature’s umbrella since the beginning of the year. The drought that had given us the tinder box which ignited into devastating bushfires in the Black Summer of 2019-20 was replaced by floods of near biblical proportions in March 2022.

Communities in the very south of Queensland and the far north coast of NSW (Big River Country) have been inundated by record breaking floods. Further south, areas around Sydney and Wollongong were also lashed by the East Coast Low – a quaint term for a cyclone-like event that occurs south of the areas cyclones are supposed to stick to.

Waiting to be rescued

My new town of Armidale was not affected by flood. The thirsty paddocks around here soaked up the welcome rain. It got a bit boggy but given nearly everywhere is downhill from Armidale, there is no risk of widespread flooding. Not so for the residents of towns like Lismore and Woodburn. The news was filled with heartbreaking images of families huddled on the roof of their two story homes with water lapping at the gutters waiting their turn to be rescued. Some of them waited for days. The demand for rescues exceeded the capacity of the emergency services and everyone with a “tinny” (a small aluminium boat) joined the effort to deposit soggy, hungry people on drier land.

The rains continue

A month later when recovery efforts were well underway, and widespread tidying up in full swing, another East Coast Low dumped more rain. Less than the previous event but because the ground was already sodden it did not take much to over top the levee again and people were evacuated for a second time. This time there were few rooftop rescues, mainly because those families were yet to return to their homes and because of swift enforcement of evacuation orders. 

Lismore’s future

Flood is a frequent visitor to Lismore. There is a levee around the town which is meant to protect them but this year the flood was a full 2 metres past previous records. Climate change? Probably.

I listened to an interview many years ago, when another bad flooding event had submerged the town. When the ABC reporter asked the hydrologist what could be done to protect the town, she drew a sharp breath and said “Move it”.

Move the whole darn town. Sounds crazy but not that crazy. With the the millions of dollars that are spent in fixing things after flood every couple of years, it seems like a good long term strategy. When you add in the personal cost, the trauma; the loss of household “stuff” and the fatalities, it seems like an even better idea.

Will it happen? Probably not.

I wouldn’t like to be trying to insure my home there though.

Here to help.

I am here in the disaster zone, helping out as an SES volunteer. My role is a small one. Working in the “back room” logistical side of things at an airbase. The helicopters are busy dropping food and supplies to people and animals. Today I helped load a chopper with sleeping bags and air mattresses for people still stuck in an evacuation centre.

I’m not getting wet and I’m not getting dirty, but I’m here and doing my bit. Just like hundreds of others of my orange colleagues and those from other agencies like the Rural Fire Service, the Police, the Defence Force and NSW Fire and Rescue. Some get paid, but for others (like the SES and RFS) this is a labour of love. For me it’s all part of my personal strategy to improve my life. Volunteering is one of the things that contribute to your own positive mental health and happiness.

Remember this!

To get here, I drove through the towns worst hit by this 1 in 1000 year flood. The scene was horrific. I found it hard to keep driving. I wanted to leap from the car and help the family I saw sweeping mud from their home. I wanted to hold the hose for the firies (fire fighters) who were sluicing out the shops. I wanted to take photos of the mud on the roofs, the caravans tipped sideways; the cars randomly wedged against trees; the bits of furniture stuck in the branches 10 metres above the ground. The piles of books and furniture stacked outside on the street waiting for collection. I wanted to record and share it all. But that seemed disrespectful. Disaster tourism. It didn’t seem right.

Or is it a chance to share an historic moment in time when Australians once again pulled together to help a community in trouble. A time when we decided climate change was here, and now.

Fellow Australians, It’s only a few weeks out from an election. Remember this. Which party has our long term interests at heart? The planet’s?

Remember that handshake during the fires? Where is he now?


There are no photos for this post. Maybe I’ll take some on the way home.

Plogging along.

The last Sunday in October has been a  standing date in my diary for the last decade or so. This is the day the Seven Bridges Walk (SWB) is normally held. The Seven Bridges Walk is a 30-ish km walk around the foreshores of Sydney. (You can see the route in the Alltrails app) It is organised each year by the Cancer Council as a fundraiser. Well, every year except the last two, when it’s been interrupted by Covid. 

I have participated in this fundraising event at least 12 times (maybe more!?). Sometimes alone, but usually with 2 or 3 friends. It’s a fun day out and apart from what you may spend on donations/registration fees you could make it a very cheap day’s entertainment. There are “villages” set up along the way to buy food and drinks, but you could bring your own. The whole route is accessible by public transport, which on Sunday has an $8:15 cap

At the end of the walk, my friends and I always reward ourselves with a beer and some potato wedges at a pub at our endpoint. After that, we haul our tired bodies out of the chairs and head home. 

This one from 2017, with my buddy Michele.

Stanwell Park to Wollongong

Last year, since the “real” walk, was cancelled two of my buddies and I decided to do a local walk from Stanwell Park to Wollongong. This as it happens, is also a 30 km walk. 

The scenery is amazing and heading south, it is all downhill! There are shops, parks, water fountains and public toilets at convenient intervals so you don’t have to carry much if you don’t want to. In contrast to the Seven Bridges Walk, we lost count at twenty bridges of one kind or another, but here is one spectacular bridge – The Seacliff Bridge which makes the walk worthwhile in itself.

The deck of the Seacliff Bridge.

Cancelled again!

This year the SBW was cancelled again due to the uncertainties of Covid. The organisers were encouraging people to do it on their own or in small groups,  without the usual support crews, villages and checkpoints. While many restrictions have been lifted since Freedom Day (11 October), large crowds are still not a great idea and LOTS of people usually join the walk. In fact, due to overcrowding, the walk has been capped at 15,000 participants.

Once again the idea of going into the city when things were still a bit sketchy in terms of safety was unpalatable, so we decided to do the Stanwell Park to Wollongong walk again. This year we changed it up by adding plogging. That is, we walked and picked up rubbish as we went. Plogging is a Swedish term that has become a worldwide movement. According to the plogging.org website the first organised plog happened in 2016 in Stockholm. 

Grabbers and garbage bags at the ready!

Plogga (or plogging) is the basis of a collective name where we want to change the setting and get everyone to become “Proud litter pickers”.

plogging.org

Although it took us longer to walk the 30 km than usual, the beer at the end was still a goal to aim for. We picked up rubbish for the first 25 km but decided we better hurry as it was getting later and we really needed to be getting home. We walked the last 5km at a cracking pace which made the beer even sweeter!

Add plogging to your eco-warrior repertoire

Plogging is an easy thing to add to your eco-warrior quiver. The ocean is downhill from everywhere and it’s sad to think all those bits of plastic wrapper will eventually end up there. Some will fly down and sea creatures will eat them thinking it’s food, or if the plastic hangs around in the sun long enough it will degrade and the microplastic will contaminate the soil. 

Apart from plogging, alternative solutions to littering include taking better care of our own rubbish or even better still avoiding stuff that makes rubbish. If you want ice cream, get one in a cone without the packaging. Easy!

Even though I think plogging is a great idea and it’s fun and easy to do when you’re with your buddies, I’m working up the courage to do it solo. I haven’t seen anyone in my area do it yet. Maybe I can be a plogging trail blazer! 

ahhhhhhhhhhhh!

PS: The previously promised Part 2 of Eco-friendly painting will appear soon!

Eco-friendly Painting? Part 1

Painting and the flow state.

During the last NSW school holidays and while Greater Sydney was into its fourth month of COVID Lockdown 2.0, I painted the interior walls of my home. Coupled with some good podcasts it was a marvellous way to pass a week in home-bound productive mess-making!

Some of you may find painting a chore, but I like it! It requires my attention, but not too much. While it’s within my skill set, I need to concentrate on the tricky bits like cutting in the edges around windows, door frames and cornices. I can do it all day and lose track of time. Some days, I get a sudden pang of hunger only to realise I haven’t had lunch and it’s nearly dinner time.  I know what I have to do and how long it will take so it’s an activity with a clear goal. The new paint job looks fresh and bright and my home is looking good.  You may recognise that these parameters offer a wonderful opportunity to enter a state of flow

The idea of flow is not a new one and the concept was developed by psychology professor and happiness researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the mid-1970s. If you are not familiar with flow, this TED Talk will get you up to speed. (And help you pronounce his name! Chick-sent-me-high!) 

Preparing the walls

My steps to Eco-friendly painting

Finding flow is a bit like finding the Holy Grail for happiness seekers like me but is not really what this post is meant to be about! My goal was to write about eco-friendly painting.

Before I started, I considered the best way to reduce the impact my painting would have on the environment. Even so, I seemed to be using an awful lot of plastic!! The steps I took included:

  • wrapping my brushes and rollers in plastic bags at the end of each session rather than washing them out to save water and save all that paint going down the drain. 
  • using the same plastic wrappers each time to reduce plastic use.
  • using plastic roller tray liners rather than washing the trays out each time,  again to stop water contamination. Mind you I stood in the aisle in the hardware store for a long while debating this point with myself! 
  • using more expensive paper-backed plastic drop sheets that I could re-use next time I paint rather than single-use ones. 
  • Buying wooden-handled brushes (win!) but they had synthetic bristles (lose!). A win-lose rather than a win-win
  • Using old cloth rags to wipe my hands and drips rather than “new wipes” although I still did use a whole roll of paper towel because I am not a very neat painter.

On the whole, I thought I was doing ok! High five to me!

It’s a bit smelly in here! 

With the painting finished and the mess cleared away it struck me (a little late in the piece)  that I had missed an eco-warrior opportunity.  After all, I had essentially just coated my walls with a thin film of plastic, the very thing I was trying to avoid. 

And then there was the smell!   It took the next three days, even with all the windows and doors open, to vent the fumes that lingered. Thankfully the weather was perfect; a light breeze swished through the house to chase that painty odour away. 

Although I deliberately bought a low fume, water-based paint, it still stank! I mulled over a barrage of questions. Were those fumes bad for me? Was there a more environmentally friendly non-plastic paint? Would a non-plastic based paint also be smelly?  Would it work as well? Would it be in the colour I wanted? Would I have been able to buy it in my area? Would I be able to afford it? So many questions!

Google was invented for questions such as these!

After a few hours down the painted internet rabbit hole, I came away with some answers and even more questions. The answers to the seven questions in the paragraph above are: yes, yes, yes, maybe, perhaps, no and probably not! 

The desk was too heavy for me to move, so I painted around it!

So what did I find out? Stay tuned for the answers in Part 2 in two weeks time!