letter from braidwood, new south wales to a nephew in wales. 2040

by Harry Laing


So you’re coming out here again. That’s great news and about time. I can at least promise you some dry ground. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be rained on and flooded out the entire time. I’m not surprised so many folk never come out of their helmets or whatever the new smart-head-things are called.

And you are joking, aren’t you when you say it’s such a long boring flight? Three hours? Do you realise how long it used to take? 23. And yes, I know I’ve told you many times but it took your Great (Great Great Great) grandfather 6 weeks to sail from Scotland to Van Diemen’s Land in 1822. At least you don’t have to worry about destroying the atmosphere (if it can be destroyed any more.) These new Ultraliners use supercharged compost or grass-clippings or something. No emissions. The jet trails are literally green these days. I’d hop on one if I could but the price is unbelievable. All that flitting round the world people did back in the tens and twenties…at least that little delusion is over.

It will be so good to have you here. When did you last come…was it threeyears ago? You won’t recognise the place. I sometimes have trouble remembering what it used to look like. Things have been changing so fast. I have to keep looking at the (ancient) photos to jog the memory. I have to remind myself that the forest was unbroken from here to the coast. When we bought the place back in 1998, the forest rolled up over the escarpment and finished here. Just this great green wave. The odd dead tree.

Now it’s all broken teeth. The megafires, or at least the edges of them just keep sweeping through and the trees can’t take it. They get burnt a couple of times in a year and that’s it. Remember that gully where you set your traps for the quolls and potoroos? Slogging through tree ferns, collecting plenty of leeches. That’s all grassland now.

So you’ll just have to prepare yourself for the new look forest, a ghost of itself really, just endless burnt black trunks. And the older ones silvering over time. It’s beautiful I suppose if I try and see it as a new thing. But the trouble is I can’t. I keep thinking of the sound those trees used to make when they had big leafy heads, always shifting in the wind. And the bark ribbons clattering away. And more light means more weeds.

Mutaberry is the worst. It’s the repulsive lovechild of blackberry and some GE monster. You remember those big clumps of blackberry I was always trying to get you to spray? They were nothing. These new things grow big as houses. Five metres high and throwing out canes as thick as your arm. They laugh at chemicals and fire only makes them stronger.

Perhaps you should come and apply your undoubted research talents on the mutations going on round here. Honestly, I think you’re wasted on Wales…what’s there left to study in the animal line? So many animals and plants have disappeared here before anyone really got round to knowing much about them. Sometimes I think I can see things mutate in front of me. The feral pigs are the size of horses. When they go for a digging orgy they leave bomb-sized craters behind. I have to carry my own laser all the time now and a couple of times I’ve had a mob turn on me and very nearly copped it. The foxes are the size of large collies, the rabbits are huge and back almost to 1930’s numbers, so they say. But, apart from the roos it’s only the ferals that are doing so well. The wombats are getting smaller and scarcer. It must be the temperatures. They can’t take the warm nights (neither can I!). Still, you get used to anything, they say.

I suppose I have got used to the fact we don’t get winters any more. What I can’t get used to is the sky. It’s grey almost all the time. Drives me mad. I know I’m your gloomy Uncle but I’ve got good reason. I’m not getting enough sun. It’s got a lot worse recently – all that methane streaming out of the sea and the ice-caps and the Tundra seems to react with other rubbish in the atmosphere and the result is this endless pall. It feels like an affront. This country was designed to glitter. Glittering eucalypt leaves. Shining rock. Mirages. Now it’s hot and wet and dull. Makes me feel heavy all the time. Like I’m living in a sack.

But I’m trying to be positive (even if you find that hard to believe.) I tell myself someone will come up with a new formula, some chemical they’ll blast into the atmosphere which will soak up all the methane, burn off the grey and allow the sun back in. And I’ll wake up and see everything glinting. In the meantime, don’t panic! I can take you to one of the new Canberra ‘Memory Domes’. You pay for a day of hanging out in the Aussie of yesteryear. They do beach, complete with confected surf and a few spray-on-tanned lifeguards. They feature sheep in a paddock panting in the shade of an old gum tree. They do cobalt blue sky and a few puffy clouds. And birdsong. Which makes me cry.

It’s not cheap. But you won’t have to pay, I’ll get you in for free. You won’t believe it but I’m actually making a bit of money these days just for having a memory. I’m part of this Memory Web thing. Most of us are well over 70 but it seems we have memories that work. So many of the kids (anyone under 30) aren’t able to evoke what they’ve seen or heard. They’ve lost the ability to hold that image or sound. It’s all the technology implanted in them. They can’t mimic any more.

I do a little spot at the Memory Dome and give people an idea what it was like to live in the bush. What it felt like to be woken by the sound of Kookaburras. The way the mist used to lie on the plateau and roll up over the mountain on summer afternoons. I do a good impression of mist I can tell you. And an even better one of Black Cockatoos ripping off Banksia cones and crooning to each other. I go into a bit of a trance while I’m doing it. Sometimes they have to stop me.

And it’s true, I do begin to feel like I’m channelling those birds we don’t see anymore. Lyrebirds, cockies, bowerbirds. Oh yes, people come up in the street now and ask me for particular sounds of creatures they used to love. I might even be becoming a bit of a local celebrity which makes me laugh. It helps with the gloomy times.

OK…it’s time to go and split a bit of firewood. Yes, I know I shouldn’t do it and it makes me a bit dizzy but I do it because nobody else does. They banned all that a few years ago. Big fines if they catch you cutting and burning the stuff. But it’s how everyone used to live round here and I’m not stopping. I’ve hidden a big pile of logs. Actually I’ve been saving it for you. I bet your muscles need a bit of toning. Apparently with the new bodypod things everyone flies in these days, you don’t get jetlag. Great. I’ll pick you up from the airhub and you can come here and start chopping straightaway. Sound familiar?

At least some things haven’t changed.

About the author:

Harry Laing is a poet, comic performer and creative writing teacher. “I have a passion for poetry, comic performance and for teaching. As a poet I’ve had two books published Thirst (1993) and Backbone (2010). I’ve written and performed 6 solo shows and toured the most recent of them, Away with the birds for STARTS (Southern Tablelands Arts). I’ve also written for radio. My two series of quirky country tales Stories from the edge of the forest and Tales of a Tree Changer were broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph in 2005/2006.”

Visit Harry Laing’s website.