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I am Earth - Three powerful and creative stories from the RD Walshe Memorial Writing for the Environment Prize Winners for 2020.

September 18, 2020

Germinate

By Olivia Rushin.

It was clearly once the world, but nothing’s where it should be.

The lumpy sphere has swivelled off its axis; the wire orb frame underneath is all warped and lopsided. A piece of Australia — cobbled together out of juice bottles and covered over with sheets of painted newspaper — dangles from an unravelled piece of tape on one side. North America hangs tenuously nearby, having somehow slipped down and hooked itself on the crooked hoop of the equator.

Even half-collapsed, the globe is too big for the kid to properly bend his elbows in. His arms sprout from two jagged holes cut into the top, like knobbed twigs stuck into the sides of a snowman. He waddles down the corridor, and when he inevitably gets stuck on the way into the office, leans his weight forward to pop himself through the door.

Plastic Earth........
Photo from: globalpolymerscorps.com

The whole contraption rotates as he pauses to size up the well-worn chair in front of the desk. He reverses up to it, hops, and plants his butt as far back as he can.

It’s a squeeze — the already mangled costume bends even more, scraping streaks of blue and green paint onto the metal arms of the chair as he settles in. Loose continents of takeaway containers groan on gaping fault lines. Bottle-cap mountain ranges clink and quake. He clutches the seat of the chair for stability.

“Right, so, David, isn’t it? Want to tell me what happened?”

David’s bottom lip quivers nearly as much as the slumped mess of detritus caught in his orbit. The principal senses a long and sniffly silence stretching out, so breaks it before it grows.

“Miss Thornberg told me you gave an excellent presentation to the class today.”

Still nothing. David just droops and stares down at his bruised shins.

The principal tries again. “After we had our talk, I found these behind the science block. Want them back?”

She holds out a stack of dirt-smeared palm cards. David’s wobbly printing is a little smudged but still legible. The top card reads: Good morning, 2B. My name is David and for my presentation today I am Earth. 

David’s eyes flick up, and he leverages himself forward to grab the cards. He picks at the corners until the sharp card turns blunt.

“My costume was way better than this,” he says eventually. “Mum said I should use paper mache but I told her that was bad for the environment, so we did it with not-smelly things from the bin instead.”

“I can see that. Very clever of you, David.”

He swallows, nods, and turns to look out the window. His gaze is distant, fixed somewhere beyond the wattle trees swaying outside.

“Yeah. I did the cutting myself for the cereal boxes and the newspaper so we could make a smooth surface for the…” he hesitates and grimaces, eyebrows contorting with effort as he tries to remember the term without his palm cards.

“The Earth’s crust?”

His face relaxes, blooms a smile.

“Yeah. And the oceans.”

The principal smiles back.

“I bet it looked awesome when it was all in one piece. Hope you and your mum took a photo?”

David shakes his head solemnly.

“Oh. Well that’s okay. All of your classmates saw it, didn’t they? I’m sure it made a big impression.”

David squints again.

“What’s —”

“A big impression just means that they saw it, and they’ll probably remember it because it made them think. You can think of it like planting a seed in their brains. A seed that might grow into something really positive one day.”

David’s shoulders sag, and it’s like planet Earth heaves a sigh with him.

“Od-viously I didn’t plant anything, then,” he says, huffing. He starts prodding the wrinkles of a scrunched-up plastic bag, adrift on a swathe of blue cardboard still miraculously intact at his front.

"I had a bit where I told them facts about the Great Specific —” He sucks in a breath.  “— Pacific Garbage Patch. Like how it’s as big as three times France and mostly made of fishing nets and how it tricks the turtles by making them eat bags.”

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Photo source: The Ocean Clean Up

The principal sits back, taps her pen. Eyes the takeaway coffee cup on her desk.

“I’m sure your classmates will have learned a lot, David.”

David shakes his head emphatically, and again everything clatters.

“No. Because as soon as I left for morning tea, Harper and Brayden and Isabella came and told me that I was a garbage patch and should be called The Germ-inator and that my Earth looked like a dumb piñata.”

He looks right at the principal, gauging her reaction.

“And they said that if they kept hitting it maybe lollies would come out.”

“I see.”

There’s a pause. David goes back to rustling the plastic bag and shrugs.

“I didn’t put any lollies in it.” he says. “They’re not recycled.”

***

Miss Thornberg keeps the culprits back at lunch. She herds them up through the playground and back to the science block, where fragments of David’s costume pepper everything from the bag racks to the bushes. They collect up all the scattered bits and bottle caps, dump them unceremoniously in the red bin, and leg it back to the playground as soon as they’re let go.

Lunch break’s nearly over by the time Brayden manages to sneak back to the bin.

After checking none of his friends bothered to follow, he dives in headfirst, bent at the waist, and tosses out every last piece of rubbish they threw in before clambering out to sort it meticulously into piles on the concrete.

One pile for hard plastic, one pile for soft plastics — shopping bags, mostly (the things that trick turtles, he thinks, as he pins them down with a rock) — and a last pile for the cardboard and paper.

He sorts them and checks them, then ferries each lot to the corresponding bin, until every last piece is in its place.

Olivia Rushin, 24, is from Moonee Valley in Victoria, and was the 18-25 category winner of the RD Walshe Writing for the Environment Award for 2020. 

Tired, Tired Earth

By Charlee Rose Murtough-Coombes.

“How sad.” they say when they look at the TV. They see the islands of rubbish and the oil spills, the dying reefs and the melting ice.

They hear the complaints, the stories, the worries and concerns. Yet they just change the channel and ignore it.

But I feel it. I feel myself suffocate, choking on the plastics, the fish nets, the glass bottles that they throw at me. I feel my animals rot away as they swim through the toxins and the old fishing gear that wrap around their necks. I feel the heat of the water on my already burning skin that kills my precious gardens of corals.

.....we are drowning, Mumbai, India.
Photo by: Randy Olson

‘They would care if the animals were like them,’ I think bitterly. ‘They would care if my animals were human.’

“How sad.” they say after every site is blown up. They see the gaping hole in the ground, the Indigenous people on their hands and knees crippled in emotional pain. They see the national park signs, the names of streets dedicated to the original owners, the history books and acknowledgements. They hear the pleas of the rightful owners, the traditions and the chants.

But I feel it. I feel the tears of my Indigenous people mix with the blood of their ancestors. I feel the sinking craters in my skin that was once the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people’s ancient sites that held for them many secrets, legends and history.

I see the nauseating appropriation of American Indigenous people’s traditional clothing on tiny bikinis and Halloween costumes. Every time a slur or insult is thrown the way of the Indigenous of any country my heart aches. Some days my brain gets fuzzy when I try to remember Malta’s amazing history that has been slowly erased with every invasion and with every war they were dragged into.

‘They would care if their land or their culture was destroyed.’ I think melancholy. ‘They would care if their homes were taken away.’ 

“How sad,” they say after every natural disaster. They see the millions of hectares incinerated, the hurricanes that devastate country after country, the oceans thrown onto the land and the earthquakes that bring down cities. They donate a couple of bucks and leave it without a second thought.

But I feel it. I feel the raging fires on my fragile skin, leaving gruesome markings in their paths. I feel myself drowning in the tsunamis that destroy everything in their way. I hear the sirens too, too late. I feel myself shaking and breaking from the inside out, my stomach ripping itself apart so it can tear down the great cities that my children created.

Natural Disasters
Photo from: Shutterstock

It hurts so badly. It hurts because I do it. It’s my fault and I can’t stop it. Sometimes a bomb will go off inside of me and I break, sometimes Brother Sun becomes too hot and I burst. Sometimes my plates will grind and my whole being shakes. Even still, they sadden me with their carelessness and selfishness.

‘They would care if the disasters affected all of them,’ I think sadly. ‘They would care if they weren't so selfish.’

“How sad.” they say when they look at the TV. They see the protests and the wars, the speeches and the campaigns. The kidnappings, the terror attacks, the murders and the intolerance. They hear the cries, the articles, the pleas. They just flick the channel and ignore it.

But I feel it. I feel the blood of my children in my veins, the thumping of bombs and guns that make my skin throb. The screams of the victim’s ring through my ears for a millennium, yet the chants to end the disgraces are silenced much too quickly. The gasses they let loose make my eyes bleed and the merciless fires singe my hair, but the shrieks when a mother buries her baby shakes me to my molten core.

‘This affects them all, yet they continue to ignore it!’ I think furiously. ‘They would care though if the killer was unseen. They would care if the killer wasn’t human.’

“How sad.” they say from the comfort of their living room. They’re more affected this time, yet they still don’t really care about anything but themselves. They see the deaths, the suffering and the overcrowded hospitals, the shutdowns, the poverty and the job losses. They hear the reports, the announcements, the restriction PSA and they pretend to understand.

But I feel it. I feel the weight of the crowded graves on my heart, the cries for help from struggling hospitals that give me a migraine lasting weeks. I can’t rest though the broken peace from the foolish protesters who claim to want the best for their communities but in reality, just want to golf.

Sometimes when I wake up my entire body is covered in discarded masks that were made only to keep humans safe, yet they only harm my animals and my oceans. But none of this compares the days when I am awakened by the sudden emptiness in my heart.

Sometimes that emptiness is the size of 20 people, sometimes 670, more recently 9000. Some days entire villages or towns are at risk of being erased, other days other countries like my beautiful Yemen. But they still do nothing. Media outlets focus on four countries and chose to ignore the struggles of the other 192 countries who are going through the same struggles.

Whatever happened to the United Nations?

‘I don’t understand,’ I think, completely exhausted. ‘Why don’t they care? Why won’t they cooperate? Don’t they know that I am merely earth? That they were given me to look after? Yet they destroy my body, my precious animals, my oceans, my mountains and rivers. And they destroy themselves.’

‘I am Earth,’ I think to myself as I finally let myself rest. ‘And I am tired.’ 

Charlee Rose Murtough-Coombes, 14, is from Claremont Meadows, Sydney, and won the Pat Strong Award for a Young Writer at the 2020 RD Walshe Writing for the Environment Awards.  This is the first time a junior category has been included and is sponsored by the Sutherland Shire Writers Group. 


I Am

By Katrina Hayler.

I am the wind that soars. I can lift up the leaves from the ground and together we can twirl, and we spin, and we dance the quickstep. I can be a soft and gentle breeze that blows dandelions across fields and teasingly brushes against your skin. I can carry the sound of a delicious melody to your ears and indulge you in beauty.

I can tauntingly wave the fragrance of a meal under your nose and then dart away mischievously. I can sculpt the clouds above you and sketch masterpieces for you to gaze upon and puzzle the shape of. I can heave the oceans up towards the sky and let them come crashing down upon you. 

Clouds and Wind
Photo by: Triff

I can roar and tear down trees and wreak havoc wherever I go. I am powerful but I am generous. I spread the pollen of flowers amongst the paddocks. I spin the contraptions you build me and help you produce power.

I am invisible but I am here. I whisper to you in the night as you sleep. You cannot see me, but I can see you.

I watch.

I am the rain that cleanses. I fall from the clouds and I bring life to what I touch. Each drop is small and insignificant but together they form a storm. I can gently descend from above and float down tickling the top of your head or I can plummet loudly with a splatter, making my presence known. 

On cold, lonely nights, I rhythmically beat upon your roof and sing you lullabies while you sleep. I refill the lakes, the dams, the rivers, the ditches. I make puddles for you to jump and splash in. 

I water the seeds that you have planted in your backyard. I nourish the lands and turn dry dust to rich soil eager to feed the saplings that starve. A timid touch is all it takes for the brown and dying plants to burst into vivid greenness and liveliness.

I delicately wash away the dirt that cakes up over time and reveal new layers that haven’t seen the light in centuries. I create vitality and leave the crisp smell of freshness in my wake. I rejuvenate the world you live in and leave perfect droplets to race down your windows.

The World is in Our Hands
Photo from: Shutterstock

You stand outside looking up in wonder as I shower upon you. Your hair is wet and tangled, your clothes are drenched through, but you remain in position and shout with glee as the water tank in the distance steadily increases in level.

I resurrect.

I am the tree that reaches. My branches take the form of witches’ fingers, knobbly and grasping and twisted. I fight for room to grow and I stretch for the stars never stopping. My leaves paint the floor beneath me as they fall from my grip. My roots search for unclaimed territory, constantly expanding and exploring the unknown beneath your feet.

I provide boughs for birds to build upon and weave between. I provide the structure for a spider to lovingly craft their web from one limb to the next, one intricate strand at a time. I provide the oxygen for you to take your first breath.

Brush Box Tree
Photo source: Fraser Island Tours

I provide the framework for the treehouses and rope swings of your youth. I provide the canvas for the initials and hearts of your teenage infatuations to be carved into. I provide the shade for you to sit and read under on the warm afternoons of adulthood. I provide the wood you will rest in when you return to me once more.

I provide.

I am the purple glow at dusk. I bask the world with a radiance that transforms the greens of the land to lavender. I illuminate your features as you sit and look upon the grey rugged cliffs.

Your hands trace the rough surface of the rock upon which you are perched and your eyes drift to the river that lays between your humble seat and the impenetrable foliage of the other side. The river before you reflects the sky or perhaps, the sky reflects the river. It’s blue, it’s pink, it’s orange, yet, it is more for it is me.

Shapes drift across the water, rippling in and out of existence creating your very own Rorschach test. It is quiet but so very loud. A splash in the distance as a fish leaps for joy or perhaps in fear. The bickering of birds as they try to get the last word of the night. Cicadas and crickets call into the evening searching for love, or at least their own form of it.

You are quiet, though. You sit and absorb and think and imagine and remember. Your thoughts turn to those who may have sat in the very same place as you, thousands of lifetimes ago. Your thoughts turn to those who once sat with you in your lifetime.

Your thoughts turn to those who will sit here in another thousand lifetimes. You fear being forgotten but you won’t be. Your mark will be left upon me long after you leave.

I will remember.

But will you remember me before you go?

For I am the infinite becoming finite.

I am the unforgettable becoming forgotten.

I am earth.

Katrina Hayler, 17, from St George Girls High School, was the under 18 category winner of the 2020 RD Walshe Writing for the Environment Award.
The RD Walshe Writing for the Environment Prize is run annually by the Sutherland Shire Environment Centre https://ssec.org.au/ The 2020 theme was "I am Earth"

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