A homecoming tainted by ash

By Alana Sundermann

Email: sundermanna@findlay.edu


“Ashes came through the screens of the windows. So, in the morning, when I’d wake up, I’d go in the bathroom and the bathtub in my mom’s bathroom was just black.”

Waking up to smoke and ash was just another day for University of Findlay’s Athletic trainer, Fiona Hanks when she visited her family in Australia in December. In the past, she was used to the summer seasons of her country but nothing quite like this one.

“We’ve had ash every once in a while, in the past, but this time it was every single day,” said Hanks. “We were there for a little over two weeks and I think we only saw blue sky twice and it wasn’t because the sun wasn’t shinning it was just because there was so much smoke the sky made it look like a cloudy day.”

Returning home this time was only slightly different from the rest. The same water restrictions, the same fire bans, the same rules at the supermarket, and the same bushfires.

“We’ve always had bushfires in Australia, so ever since I’ve grown up, we’ve known about them,” said Hanks. “It’s just that, this summer was the biggest, the hottest and the worst bushfires we’ve ever had.”

“The sheer relentlessness of the fires—which have burned more than 15 million acres, killed at least 24 people and destroyed about 2,000 homes—is increasingly pushing Australia beyond crisis mode into a jumble of contemplation, anger and traumatized fatigue,” the New York Times reporter, Livia Albeck-Ripka, stated.

None of Hanks close friends or family suffered from the destruction of this tragedy, but the crisis is still very real.

“My friend she showed me a photograph, from her deck, of how close the flames were to her house and it would have been probably…maybe a hundred and fifty meters or yards from her house,” said Hanks. “It didn’t get to her house thank goodness, but you know that puts stuff into perspective that she’s standing on a deck at night taking photos of the flames.”

Australia’s bushfires have grabbed the attention of countries worldwide. While, bushfires seem to be a normal occurrence in the summer season, the people and animals of Australia were ill-prepared for the destruction of this summer’s bushfires.

Wildfires can be essential to the environment of Australia, however if they get out of hand, ecosystems can suffer extensive damage while also costing the country billions of dollars to clean up the mess. Journalist, Sarah Martin states that Prime Minster, Scott Morrison, announced that $40 million had been paid to cover the damages to more than 30,000 people.

Tragedy sparks throughout the country of Australia but, the people are strong and are coming together as a nation in more ways than one.  Although, Hanks fears it won’t last long.

“I think there’s always that emotional thing that causes people to support, but then again a lot of people while they may be sympathetic and probably donated money and things like that, in a very short time will, and I don’t know if they’ll forget about it, but it will definitely not be a high priority because they are still going about their business,” said Hanks.    

However, the destruction of property, loss of animals and loss of ecosystems has made locals more aware of the impacts of climate change.  The people of Australia know the impact of this climate crisis and has always been used to and aware of the limitations put in place to help the conservation of Earth’s natural resources, even more so now. Their culture and way of life are extremely different from that of an American lifestyle.

“I noticed more so this visit that people are already starting to pay more attention but, Australia has always been one of the leaders in areas such as how conscious we are of the direct effect we have on the planet,” said Hanks. “Water restrictions have always been in place, even more so now and you cannot go to a supermarket and walk out with a plastic bag, you have to pay for it.”

Since moving to America in 1999, Hanks has developed a frustration for the lack of consciousness Americans seem to have when it comes to conserving Earth’s natural resources.

“Australia is trying to conserve water which is something I know for a fact that Americans don’t even think about,” said Hanks. “Everybody thinks it’s an unlimited resource and it’s not.”

Hanks’ frustration has only grown throughout the years, especially living in the Midwest. Her biggest concern is the lack of knowledge people have to the effects of climate change and the ignorance of those who do not believe that this phenomenon exists because it could have been part of the reason why the bushfires were so intense this year. 

“They’ll water their grass, hose off their driveways and they’ll have really long showers and things like that, and it’s cause they’re just not aware of it,” said Hanks. “I believe climate change exists. And I believe climate change and global warming have a lot to do with what happened.” 

Returning to Australia certainly gives Hanks clarity and relief from the American culture however this visit was one she’ll never forget, and will forever feel the impact.  

 “Any one day wasn’t any different. Every day you smelled the smoke and every day expect probably two, you couldn’t see blue sky,” said Hanks. “From the minute we got off the airplane, it just smelled like burning. And it didn’t stop until we got back on the airplane to come back here.”


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