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Cyclone Larry and climate change 17 Mar 2010

There’s a Category-4 cyclone approaching the Queensland coast, Cyclone Ului. It is currently on track to hit the coast on 20 March. If it does, it will be four years to the day since Category-5 Cyclone Larry hit the Queensland coast at Innisfail.

And in the last few days, Fiji has been so devastated by Cyclone Tomas that the country has been declared to be in a state of catastrophe.

I was there for Cyclone Larry and it was no easy experience. The winds began to blow late at night and only three hours later it was strong enough for all the electricity to go out. It was the last of the electricity for a whole month.

It’s the aftermath of a cyclone that hits hardest, because although the cyclone itself is scary, the drudgery of the cleanup, the day-after-day of mess, the skeleton trees, the garden plants uprooted, the leaf matter pasted on every surface, the roofing and guttering strewn hundreds of metres from where it should be – these are the things that wear you down during the day. And at night, in come the nightmares. You wake already exhausted from battling your own demons and the demons of trauma.

I didn’t think that I was in any way traumatised by the experience until I started to document it. Months afterwards I was still responding to TV reports of cyclones in far flung places and though the level of emotional noise has reduced, I’m far more hypersensitive to these things now than I was before Larry.

So when I hear that Tomas has left behind catastrophe in Fiji, and that Ului is waiting to pounce on Queensland, I too am getting ready to respond.

With climate change, such events will increase in frequency and in intensity. One of my readers, Jordie Albiston, said that the book of poems that arose from my experience of Cyclone Larry, Earth’s Breath, reminded her in its intensity of the Victorian bushfires. Climate change will bring more bushfires as well.

What will we do, when it’s too late to argue about whether climate change is on its way, and we are all half traumatised by our latest experience of severe weather events – whether it be cyclones, bushfires, flooding, tidal surges or blizzards? It isn’t just the science we need to investigate, it’s the human response. Will it make us more in tune with nature? I think that’s unlikely. Will it raise the pitch of emotional wobbliness? Probably. Will it increase levels of crime, disorientation, dispossession, homelessness? This sounds extreme even to me. But if I were to multiply my experience and be subjected to events such as these more often, I can see what might happen.

This weekend on ABC’s Radio National you can hear the sounds of the cyclone I recorded, hear me read from Earth’s Breath. It’s on Poetica, 3 pm, 20 March, four years to the day after Cyclone Larry.

To listen to the podcast go to Poetica.

For more information on the book go to the Spinifex site.

Associated Author: Susan Hawthorne

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