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Climate indifference is an Aussie tradition

  • 31 January 2019


My Canadian friend first learned of Australia Day when he saw the snow bogans. It was 26 January in the Rocky Mountains, and three blokes were snowboarding bare-chested down the slope wearing Australian flags as capes.

He told me this story as we drove up a winding road to the Victorian alps on 26 January this year. Rather than white with snow, the grass was drought-yellow in the paddocks on the valley floor far below. At the car park to our hiking trail we applied sunscreen and tightened the chinstraps on our floppy hats. The sun was low in the sky but already searing.

As we took our first steps on the trail, I thought how my friend's story provided a refreshing perspective on Australia Day. Rather than the conflict over colonial invasion, he had identified something else in the national holiday — a kind of yobbo pride at defying the elements.

Those blokes snowboarding shirtless in Canada were braving the cold, but back home many Australians show the same macho attitude to the heat. We are weirdly boastful of our sweltering summers. I've been guilty of it myself. When my Canadian friend arrived on a hot December day, I joked about him struggling in a mere 32 degrees.

But for all this tough talk, a study by Macquarie University academics found that since 1900 more Australians have died from the heat than all the floods, cyclones, bushfires, lightning strikes, earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis and landslides combined. And the most deaths from the heat were on 27 January, which the researchers suggested was probably due to the after effects of boozy barbecues in the sun on the preceding national holiday.

It says a lot about our attitude to the environment here. On 26 January, in the peak of summer, many Australians fire up their personal furnaces and drink diuretic alcohol, pissing away every last drop of deference to the hot climate.

In a sense, our current prime minister was channeling this pride when he held a lump of coal aloft in Parliament. It was a defence of our coal export industry, of course, but also a she'll-be-right shrug at the elements. We don't change our plans just because it's going to be hot, his gesture seemed to say. We're Australian. We wipe the sweat off our brows and keep right on digging.


"Our current prime minister was channeling this pride when he held a lump of coal aloft