Highway to the End of the World (2016)
Australia Climate and weather Politics

Sins of emission: Thoughts on climate and culture in Australia in the 1860s, 1960s and today


You never know what thirst is unless you have travelled a whole day under the Australian sun without water.

Rachel Henning, Australian pioneer (1862)

It is a beautiful blue Spring day on the eastern seaboard of Australia, with no signs of climate catastrophe yet. For a change of pace, I think we should talk about the weather.

When I started this blog, part of the plan was to review ten of my late dad’s favourite books, partly to see where he was coming from—intellectually, politically, emotionally—and partly to resurface their contents if those books had something relevant to say about today.

Well, The Letters of Rachel Henning is not my first review in the planned set of ten but a snapshot of another book of his that is also relevant but rarely discussed.  From Rachel’s letters, emerges an eminently sensible woman who lived in 1860s Australia, feared almost nothing and led a fuller, more evidently thoughtful life perhaps, than the hordes of spooked women across Australia who came out last week (admittedly with the best of intentions) to shout at clouds. 

This weekend another taxpayer-funded climate junket is happening in New York city, whereupon the global elite will again scramble their jets to signal their virtue.

Right on cue, our junior woke-scolds went on a coordinated ‘climate strike’ as part of globally orchestrated, media-friendly outbursts of street activism mimed by the typically underemployed—school students, boomers, uni students, and dole bludgers. It was staged of course on a school day to encourage kids to skip school and propelled as usual by seedy activists who hide behind children (h/t Instapundit) to manipulate public goodwill.

(h/t Tony Heller)

Attendance at our modern rain dance was around 300,000 according to the lamestream media (begging the now ancient question, if snowfalls are a thing of the past how come there are so many snowflakes?). Also as usual, the home-grown eco-chamber looked majority female. Sigh, smh.

It is wonderful how soon you get used to heat. I quite thrive on it as if it was my ‘native air’…They say it is a much hotter summer than last was.

Exmoor, Queensland, 27th January 1863

Although I strongly support their right to gather and say whatever they think, I just wish the climate crazies would lower their verbal emissions since I never plan to join their religion. No one I have ever met disputes that the earth’s climate changes over time. If you honestly believe that the world will end in 12 years because of climate change though, I’ve got nothing for you. 

Anyway, isn’t it nice to live between ice ages? Nope, apparently.

As an atheist but not a climatista I totally agree with Richard’s tweet and would simply add that lacking any faith themselves, these useful idiots succumb to superstition, and in a terribly ironic case of Stockholm Syndrome are now worshipping eco-angels like St Greta of Thunberg, that poor bewildered human shield for creepy left wing ideologuesMothers and fathers but mostly mothers everywhere are scaring their kids to death and IMHO that amounts to child abuse.

Look, we orbit a boiling star; the greenhouse effect is handy and there  is no crisis on earth worth establishing a New socialist World Order for. None. And although carbon (C) is not CO2, and CO2 is not a pollutant, and climate alarmism is a political project of power and wealth redistribution not environmental protection, using computer models that don’t track with reality, nothing seems to deter the New Puritans from their climate crusade.

If I were asked what I would do (which I of course will never be) I’d eliminate taxpayer subsidies for ruinable energy, build five (coal or nukes) power stations near five of our cities, clean out our creeks and rivers, clear our country of exotic weeds and ferals, and remorselessly pursue actual pollution like littering and illegal dumping. I’d like a few other things too. I would love, for example, if everyone would stop fantasising that in the future all of us will ride bicycles to work. (I’ve seen The Jetsons – where are our flying cars?)

(You know where this is, 2016)

At Ayers Rock/Uluru, desert temps are said to range from -8°C [17.6F] to 48°C [118.4F]. This is it in 2016, the weather was simply lovely and I arrived well after a torrential downpour so flowers and animal tracks were everywhere.

Walking through the Olgas you can see the gritty marine sediment thrust up above the soil line and made into giant conglomerate boulders – remnants of an ancient seabed. Yes, the climate changes, and yes, it changes because of Nature – a more awesome force than we. 

(The Olgas/Kata Tjuta, 2016)

There is one comfort as to the climate. Morrell … says that he has known far worse floods than those of 1863, but never such a drought as 1864.

Exmoor, Qld, 19th August 1865

My father’s copy of The Letters of Rachel Henning was published in 1963 by Sirius Books, edited by David Adams, and contains a foreword and ‘Pen-drawings’ by Norman Lindsay. According to Lindsay, her letters to England appeared in The Bulletin in 1951-2 and became very popular in Australia.

Rachel wrote many letters to England over the years and most refer to the weather in some way. In light of the climate emergency and everything, it’s worth noting her ad hoc commentary on the weather and bush life. (One of her contemporaries, Charlotte Godley, lived in New Zealand for about three years and she too may have made useful observations at that time, but I don’t have any writings).

No rain yet, and the country gets browner. Most of the sheep have been sent across the river, where there is better feed. We think nothing of the thermometer being 95 [35C], as it generally is that. If it gets to 100 [37.7C] we say it is hot. It goes down to 70 [21C] at night sometimes, as we know by Mr Hedgeland’s registering thermometer.

Exmoor, Qld, 27th January 1863

Norman Lindsay describes Rachel as a ‘genteel Englishwoman’ who came ashore in 1854, hated the place and buggered off again for five years. Then, accompanied by family members and following in her brother’s pioneering footsteps, set off from England once more, and this time for the term of her natural life, which was 1914.

The very strong early influences on ‘Australian’ life then were English culture and law, Aborigines, convicts, the burden of climate and distance, Ireland and Scotland. According to Wikipedia, convict transportation peaked in the 1830s and then dropped off until by 1868, two decades after transportation to the eastern seaboard had ceased, the last convict ship from England arrived in Western Australia. Least appealing of the many influences on board apart from scurvy were the various class, race and religious (primarily denominational) distinctions that were commonplace overseas.

       Biddulph [Rachel’s brother] is come back at last … bringing with him some new horses and two freshly imported Irish emigrants, whom he hired from the ship … The two Irishmen work very well and look the picture of good temper, but as they have only just arrived they have the queerest ideas about Australia. They amused Biddulph extremely on the road up … but they had a great talent for losing their way, and were most mortally afraid of blacks, who they thought lined the road on both sides all ready to pounce out upon them.

       They mentioned that they thought the beef had a ‘wild flavour’ in this country, and, having passed Mr Taylor on the road, who is bringing up the seven thousand sheep that Biddulph bought, Biddulph overheard them conversing by their own fire at night and expressing their unmitigated astonishment that “a gentleman, a ‘rale’ gentleman, who had thousands of sheep, should be travelling in this wild country and sleeping under trees like a tramp.

Whatever you may think of Rachel from the letters – and to me, especially early on, she comes across as a polite snob – the life she describes in a good-humoured way was arduous, unhappy and uncertain. She is also a kind person who grows into her new home and is not the worst of her generation judging by some tender writings. She was an expatriate and a casualty of her time, as we of ours. 

Mr Cressall I like the least of the party. He is not ungentlemanly, but he thinks by far the most of himself. He is up here “to get colonial experience”, though Biddulph pays him. I do not think he particularly enjoys the sort of colonial experience he is at present gaining on a lambing station. Biddulph says he never saw a man with such a capacity for losing himself in the bush.

Exmoor, Qld, 19th October 1862

Also, the inherited divisions did not hew the same line in Australia as on the continent or in England. Why? Nature to begin with. The hot sun bears down on the poor and rich and black and white and Anglican and Catholic alike, and makes social affectations hard to sustain. Airs and graces quickly decay in the bush. Hard slow yakka (work) is also levelling to say the least, and it might be slowly rewarded or quickly punished by sudden circumstance regardless of your station in life. Injury, drought and flood could mean death, starvation, fever and ruin while lonely, back-breaking toil might, just might, bring a fortune.

(Central Australia, 2016)

I wish I could send you a little of our sunshine. England is a far better country than this in many respects, but there is nothing like the bright warm Australian climate for comfort and also, I think, for cheerfulness. It is difficult to be out of spirits when the warm sun is shining.

Myall River, NSW, 20th March 1867

When Rachel got off the boat there was no railway, when she died there were 22,000 miles of rail. Roads beyond the cities were non-existent or very poor tracks (just like ,many today), and the creeks and rivers regularly unpassable (just like many today) even with oxen. At one stage she moves up to Queensland, where her brother had set himself up successfully, and where she ‘took to pioneering with amazing gusto’, became a ‘fine rider; breaking her horse to a side saddle’, patching her clothes and ‘clouting’ her own shoes.

Rachel rode long distances side saddle, camped in the bush and caught steamers up and down the coast. She records the results of cricket matches between England and Victoria and the exciting news of Thunderbolt the bushranger’s shooting. She lives in Appin, Bathurst, ‘Bulladillah’, Sydney and Stroud, and on stations in Queensland like Lara and at Marlborough and Exmoor. She marries and settles in the Illawarra.

It is getting very warm now, but I stand the heat very well so far – better than Annie [Rachel’s sister] does, I think. The mornings and evenings are always cool, but in the afternoon, the thermometer is often up to 95 [35C] and 96 [35.5C] in the parlour. It is wonderful to me that we do not feel such a degree of heat more, but Biddulph rides in it all day and we work and read and write without being at all melted.

 Exmoor, Qld, 22nd November 1862

After my Dad landed in Australia, he headed to Darwin, Melbourne, Sydney and into the bush. For someone from such a mountainous chocolate box as his country (where wild-erness exists in its purest form today only on the highest of alpine ridges), the contrast with our unfenced arid plain must have been astonishing and maybe a little shocking, but also liberating.

How different from your Christmas weather! I dare say you have snow on the ground and hard frost perhaps. How well I remember the last Christmas I was at home. This morning was cloudy, and we were all saying how nice and cool it was, though the thermometer over our heads was standing at 85 [29.4C], which we should call very hot in England. We begin to shiver when it is 70 [21C] only.

Exmoor, Qld, 20th December 1863

While Australia was growing small pretty cities around its coastline my dad went off camping and fossicking for black opal at Lightning Ridge or sapphires at Tomahawk Creek too. Going bush was as much part of the Australian identity in the 1960s as it was demanded of Australians in the 1860s through the sheer lack of roads. Where I live right now it is the common habit of many people who, like me, own four-wheel drives for a reason.

Our afternoon’s stage ended rather unluckily; just before reaching our camping place, we had to cross a dreadful creek. These creeks are the great plague of Australian travelling; they are deep river-beds, sometimes narrow, sometimes very wide, often with the sides nearly perpendicular, except where drays have found some passage…Well, this Tooloomba Creek was worse than usual, the banks being like the roof of a house.

Tooloomba Creek, Qld 30th August 1832

To Dad, Australia was still frontier. From arrival, he collected books by authors such as Xavier Herbert, Patrick White, Mary Durack and historian Geoffrey Blainey. For a new Australian this place was a whole lot wilder, bigger, older, newer, rougher, friendlier and less concretely stratified than the one he left behind. 

Immigrant Voyage by Les Murray

My wife came out on the Goya
in the mid-year of our century.

In the fogs of that winter
many hundred ships were sounding;
the DP camps were being washed to sea.

The bombsites and the ghettoes
were edging out to Israel,
to Brazil, to Africa, America.

The separating ships were bound away
to the cities of refuge
built for the age of progress.

At last, a low coastline,
old horror of Dutch sail-captains.

Behind it, still unknown,
sunburnt farms, strange trees, family jokes
and all the classes of equality

For example, I recall walking through his rural hometown with him many years ago while on holiday. It was a custom there—maybe still is—to greet other passers-by with a brisk friendly hello. One day we left the local supermarket and walked past the large sheds of the railway station where narrow terrace houses line the road on the other side. Everything was neat and tidy. As we went along, a lady was sweeping her front courtyard, I greeted her accordingly and we kept walking. She wore a small scarf as some others did that did not much cover her hair, and as she was close by, I assumed I should acknowledge her using the one useful word that I knew. You know—when in Rome.

Pattern-bombed out of babyhood,
the children heard their parents:
Argentina? Or Australia?
Less politics, in Australia …

I recall a slightly startled face, then my father said we don’t usually say hello. I must add he didn’t say this with animosity. At the time I took him to be noting a ‘village norm’ but I didn’t really know what he meant and didn’t ask. I have since wondered if she was a recent resident from the Balkans (given this was the nineties), but I could be wrong. In Australia, you bloody well say g’day to anyone on the side of the road, it depends on the circumstance not on ilk.

So in temperament Europeans could be, as I think my teenage son might say, a bit judgy all round, and Australia offered Dad a less highly-strung and more hopeful society—not idyllic but practical, with fewer entrenched social cares and quite different rituals. In the end, Dad never fully assimilated into Australian society and culture the way Rachel Henning did 150 years ago, but he assimilated to the land itself instantly I think, and headed for the bush as often as as he could. Norman Lindsay writes:

        From that moment, it seemed, Rachel shed the shell of her class-conscious spinsterhood and emerged to discover that life could be an exciting adventure, once freed from all its petty restrictions. She took to pioneering with amazing gusto. The long journeys on horseback, the campfire at night with damper and quart-pot tea, the sleeping under the stars with a saddle for a pillow, enchanted her. The thrill of opening up new prospects inspired her with a lyrical love for the beauties of the Australian landscape.

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