First published on Overland Journal, 18 March 2020.
I’ve just come back to Canberra from a visit home to the West. I’ve been living in Canberra for four months, and it’s been rocky. People keep saying I’ll get used to it, that it’s so ‘easy and convenient’ to live in the capital.
But how I feel about Canberra is not really the point.
The point is that this is the first time that living away from family, community and a place I’m connected to has not felt like an adventure – it has felt like entirely the wrong place to be.
My partner and I moved to Canberra at the beginning of November. It was dry, grass crunching underfoot. Then the smoke started and, as the year drew to a close, the city began to seem like a hostile place.
We went north to western Queensland to visit my partner’s family, a 3000-kilometre round trip through some of the driest non-desert country I’ve ever seen. It was forty-three degrees on Christmas day. It was so good to be in the open, far away from the smoke of Canberra and its mini mountains.
By the time that horrible first weekend of January came, we were back in the capital. I felt trapped. Trapped in our apartment by smoke. Trapped in a city with few connections. Far from my family in the West and of no use to my extended family in Gippsland, who were encircled by fire for weeks. I was being confronted with the actuality of climate change – a reality that many communities have been dealing with for years, including Australian farmers facing serious drought and some of our nearest neighbours in the Pacific who are rapidly losing land to coastal erosion.