We borrow the earth from our children

Photo: Dean Sewell, SMH
Photo: Dean Sewell, SMH

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by Wauchope Gazette journalist Letitia Fitzpatrick.

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.

I came to Australia from Northern Ireland four years ago, and got a job as a journalist at the Wauchope Gazette near Port Macquarie six months later.

Back in Belfast, I had covered killings, bombings, shootings and riots during decades reporting on the conflict known as The Troubles. I also reported on the painstaking peace process which brought sworn enemies together to create a fragile agreement to end the violence.

Nothing prepared me for covering bushfires and the destruction that could be wrought so quickly and terribly, despite warnings.

The Pappinbarra bushfire of February 2017 was on a day of catastrophic fire danger, and thankfully no lives were lost, but homes were.

The huge community effort to help the firefighters and the fire victims astonished and impressed me. I already knew that many Australians give up their time and money to help others, no matter how little of either they have, but the kindness shown to those in need was staggering.

In September 2017, I reported on bushfires in the village of Comboyne, normally one of the wettest places in Australia. I remember how brave the rural firies were, how old they were, and the fact that most of them were battling cancer as well as risking their lives to save their neighbours.

These last few weeks of bushfires have been terrifying and unprecedented.

Are we now accepting a future where drought is commonplace, and the bushfire season gets longer and deadlier?

Will we concede that people will die and homes will be lost across our beautiful country every year in rising numbers?

Will our children miss school and sports because of fire danger and lingering smoke levels that are worse than Beijing or New Delhi?

Will asthma sufferers become used to queuing at the doctor's for oxygen to help them breathe?

I have no answers, except to say that when people with political differences put them aside and work together for the greater good, lives can be saved, and the whole landscape can change.