BRON Dahlstrom stood with her husband, Ray and their daughter Karen beside their pet pig’s wallow in Steels Creek on Black Saturday and watched their house and all their belongings burn. They had taken nothing with them when they fled their house because it had been drummed into them in the fire readiness drills they had attended that people have died because they took things with them. Only minutes before, Bron had been too frightened to open their home’s door to escape the fire that had started in their roof for fear she would leave one inferno for another. Ray was the one to open the door and the one to take them to relative safety.
They lost neighbours, they lost animals, they lost their home and its belongings. Their car remained only because the embers had pierced the rubber hose at just the right spot to create a spray directed at the bonnet. There were some other things that did survive, including a monster’s face that their son had made at school in year 8. It gained a glass eye and extra colour. Some of the things that survived are now starting to crumble. The face has remained in good condition.
The fire-fighters never made it to help put out the fire. It was the police who arrived but it was too late for anything other than to give the family a lift away from their scorched land. The drive was a short one as Bron, Ray and Karen got out to help neighbours deal with their own fires.
Unable to bear the thought of rebuilding, Bron and Ray looked around for somewhere near the ocean to start a new life. They found the Bass Coast. They viewed plenty of properties and were aware there was one called an executive property but didn’t visit it because Bron said, “Well, we weren’t executives.” A real estate agent convinced them to have a look and they have been living there ever since – so from the fires to water.
Bron had always had a great affinity for nature, and Black Saturday became the catalyst to appreciate the very real effects of climate change and to agitate for action. She has no doubt climate change – with temperatures increasing and rainfall decreasing – was a contributing factor to their bushfire.
Of particular concern to her is rising sea levels that threaten our Pacific neighbours. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, globally averaged sea level has risen more than 20 centimetres since the late 19th century, with about one third of this rise due to ocean warming and the rest from melting land ice and changes in the amount of water stored on the land. Places like Kiribati are drowning in a rising sea not of their own making. Low-lying villages have been abandoned and crops die due to the encroaching salt water. The Kiribati government has taken the extreme measure of purchasing land in neighbouring Fiji so they can make a dignified migration. They are literally refugees.
What Bron finds extraordinary is that despite the fact that 97 per cent of scientists agree on climate change, the few doubters gain a disproportionately large share of attention, causing many lay people not to take the matter seriously.
With a wide and varied group of friends and acquaintances, Bron also finds that Australians tend not to take the issue as seriously as those of European descent who are very much aware of the consequences. Could it be that it is part of the Australian psyche to distrust academics and politicians?
Here are a few facts from the Bureau of Meteorology:
- Australia's climate has warmed in both mean surface air temperature and surrounding sea surface temperature by around 1°C since 1910.
- The duration, frequency and intensity of extreme heat events have increased across large parts of Australia.
- There has been an increase in extreme fire weather, and a longer fire season, across large parts of Australia since the 1970s.
- May-July rainfall has reduced by around 19 per cent since 1970 in the southwest of Australia.
- There has been a decline of around 11 per cent since the mid-1990s in the April-October growing season rainfall in the continental southeast.
- Rainfall has increased across parts of northern Australia since the 1970s.
- Oceans around Australia have warmed and ocean acidity levels have increased.
- Sea levels have risen around Australia. The rise in mean sea level amplifies the effects of high tides and storm surges.
When Groundswell members discussed ways to reach a wider audience, Bron thought of Ray’s answer about his art. And so ClimArt was born.
Last year Groundswell collaborated with ArtSpace Wonthaggi to hold the first ClimArt show. It was so successful that it will be held again this year. Visual, literary and even performing art can be entered in adult and student categories.
If you think you can help to get the message about climate change across to people through your art, Bron encourages you to enter the art show. “It can be poetry, painting, sculpture, jewellery, video, performing art, or writing. Anything that tells the story of climate change. We hold the world in our hands.”
The Climart exhibition is at ArtSpace Wonthaggi from May 8-June 18. The launch is on May 13 at 2pm.