I spent most of summer in an oven. All through December and January, there were a handful of days under 40 degrees. The birds stopped singing for two weeks as we had our longest string of days over 40. Alice Springs broke it’s heat record in December – 45.6 degrees.
Through the summer I witnessed how climate change ratchets up the level of privilege required to keep safe, and the violence that protecting this privilege entails.
My friends and I were comfortable enough in our air conditioned houses with pools. There were many who were not as fortunate. The library and shopping centers were full of people, and those not admitted remained outside. Those without cars walked the streets during the day, and those without houses did the same through the heat of the night. Summer in Alice Springs always intensifies inequities, and then, there were the riots.
Alice Springs prison was at double capacity, some 650 people in a space for 350. One hot night, three days before Christmas, people were herded into cells with tear gas, after being refused cordial and cold ice. With the extractor fans broken, there was no air circulation; the prison has no air conditioning (or heating). Sixteen people were being kept in cells meant to house eight. There are reports that it was 50C inside. I cannot imagine the horror of that night, or the days and nights since. I have no idea how those people survive.
The most disturbing reflection of the riots is that this is the way it has always been. Climate change is just making it worse. The culture that pays people to spray people with poison gas in order to force them back into a sweltering overcrowded cell, is the same culture that brought violence to a peaceful people in a peaceful land. It is a culture of inhumanity, and through participation or complicity, we become less than human.
This summary and suite of poems was produced from field notes written in Mparntwe/Alice Springs during the summer of 2019.
Notes from a Heatwave
Mparntwe/Alice Springs 25/12/18 – 4/1/19
Above forty degrees
of life cease.
There is a low. Clouds
blow in from the west. That’s our rain
we sing to the sky.
All the nests are abandoned.
The pea chick dies
in my hands.
Cells overflow with sweat
and men. There are riots
The desert yawns
into the heat. In the morning
the clouds are gone.
Published in the Australian Poetry Anthology Vol. 7 2019
50 Degrees of Separation
Alice Springs Prison, December 29, 2018
The call comes.
There will be more riots.
Security is beefed up, bolstered.
So many prisoners in one room.
Crammed together. The extraction
fans were broken.
Attempts to negotiate failed.
Chemical spray was used
in accordance with standard procedures.
No injuries were sustained.
An investigation commences.
Nothing has changed.
Source: Hayman, Rani, and Matt Garrick. “Call for Air-Conditioners in Cells after Outback Heatwave Triggers Prison Riot.” Text. ABC News, December 31, 2018. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-31/union-calls-for-alice-springs-prison-air-conditioning-after-riot/10675502.
Published in Rabbit Journal of Non Fiction Poetry Issue 27: tense
An Intimate Erasure
For the Spectacled Flying Fox and the Murray Cod
The numbers are
impenetrable. They never show
mass graves on the news
for animals. Only barrows
of bodies, and farmers holding
back tears and spew.
Now everything beautiful
is painful. How do you grieve
so much death in a day?
A memory of country within
a memory of selves
This research takes place on the unceded sovereign lands of the Arrernte and Larrakia people.
I pay respect to their elders, past, present and emerging, and the continued resistance and resilience of all First Nation’s people.
Always was, always will be, Aboriginal Land