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The content of our winter

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Next week we officially enter winter. The associations of winter are largely negative. They mourn the loss of the summer that has passed. For that reason it may seem incongruous that winter should begin immediately after a Federal Election campaign that ended with the excitement of the people’s choice of a new Government. The potential for a new beginning might fit better with spring.

Certainly many of the cultural associations of winter are sombre. They speak of cold, dull days, of fallen leaves turning to mulch, of bare trees, of the chance of snow, of more time spent indoors. One of the phrases used to describe a human caused apocalypse is the nuclear winter. Those images, which are characteristic of our European cultural heritage, resonate with the southern states of Australia. For the northern regions, however, winter has become the time when the song of tourists is heard in the land and its seaside towns hopefully flow with milk and honey.

The reality of winter, of course, is more mixed. Before corporate interests made its season a business for all seasons, football was identified with winter. Winter is also the time when a house becomes a home, a warm place to welcome with hot soup those who come in from the cold. It is also a time to treasure the occasional sunny day and Indian Summer. The number of poems written about winter, too, suggests that it is a time of reflection, of slowing down, of asking what matters most deeply, of attending to necessary grieving. It is a season in human living, a season that seasons the spirit.     

In that respect the coming of winter after the election is appropriate. The hyperbole and vacuousness of the election campaign confirmed the ending of a season in public life when gaudy leaves had been falling and were corrupting into mulch. The mismatch between the large challenges facing Australia and the pusillanimous proposals to address them will inevitably become clear in coming years. For many Australians already doing it hard it will be a lean and wintry time.

Winter can be a time of depressed spirits and of escape. A time for heavy drinking to forget the cheerlessness of a chilly world, a time for shutting the door against the public world and to focus on ourselves and our discontents. It can be better spent, however, in reflection and in planning for spring. We may take care of the garden of the spirit and of the land, preparing its garden beds for later planting, devising ways of dealing with pests, and pruning.


'His final winter recalled King Lear as to what matters most in governing: the human beings, each of equal high value, whom rulers serve, and particularly those most hidden and most in need.' 


In Australia it will be a time to forget the superficialities of polls, confected divisions and promises of easy political fixes, and to focus on the large issues that threaten our planet and our future. Chief among these is climate change, which the advocacy of Greens and Independent newcomers to Federal Parliament will make central in public conversation. It is time to cease debating whether climate change and its consequences are real and to focus on how to reduce emissions. This will demand leadership and honesty in government. It will require all sectors of society to sacrifice self-interest for the good of the whole community, as they did in the initial response to the coronavirus.

To provide the conditions for planting for spring we need also to take time to reflect on the distortions that lead to public cynicism about governments’ pretensions to govern for all Australians. The gross inequality in wealth and consequently in power that divides property owners from those without, those who are debt free from those who are heavily indebted, those in management and in financial positions from the casual and poorly paid on whose work the welfare of the sick and the health of the nation depends, those in nursing homes from those living with their families, and those relying on welfare from those with steady employment, all reinforce the impression that government rhetoric about commitment to the common revenue and call to self-sacrifice is dishonest. In dealing with debt and finding new sources of income to insure that in the move away from coal and oil the regions and workers affected find new sources of income and employment the Government must ensure that large corporations bear a fair share of the cost.

An exploration of winter can do no better than conclude with poetry. One excerpt from King Lear finds winter a time for regretting past mistakes and the lost opportunities to attend to people neglected within society. Lear, brutally unelected and abandoned on the moors in a storm, thought of the people to whom he should have given priority during his rule: 

Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

His final winter recalled King Lear as to what matters most in governing: the human beings, each of equal high value, whom rulers serve, and particularly those most hidden and most in need. Attending to the value of each human being dispels fear and builds solidarity as is shown in Francis Webb’s poem ‘Five Days Old’, set at Christmas in an English winter.

If this is man, then the danger
And fear are as lights of the inn,
Faint and remote as sin
Out here by the manger
In the sleeping, weeping weather
We shall all kneel down together.




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Wild weather hits Melbourne. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images)

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Existing comments

Warm and witty, Andy, thanks. I like winter. I feel better when the bitter wind is biting, although I can relate to the struggle of many during this time. Call it perverse human nature! In Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” Leontes, in speaking to Hermione - “Tongue-tied, our queen? Speak you.” After Hermione’s reply he is moved to respond “Well said, Hermione.” We are each of us of equal value and what matters most is our warmth and caring for each other.

Pam | 26 May 2022  

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