I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Red Skies - are we looking at the future?

What did the kookaburras think of this lot?

While the world's leaders were ducking and weaving about climate change solutions in New York this week, Australia saw a real live demonstration of what our future could be if we don't act with speed on this front.

My brother lives just outside Sydney and woke up at dawn on Wednesday to see that the sky was what he described as 'fire engine red'.  It was 'the day the outback dropped in'.

A gigantic dust storm had picked up many many tonnes of our precious outback topsoil and flung it, willy-nilly, 1500km across the country and out to sea.  The air pollution was 1500 times as bad it would have been on a normal day - the highest since such records began here.

This is how it looked soon after dawn from beneath the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

Peer through the haze to the majestic sails of the Opera House ...

As my brother said, the sky changed from fire engine red at dawn to bright orange and gradually, over some hours, to yellow and to grey.  This image would have been taken around mid morning. 

Young people made their way to school in an orange glow. 

People put handkerchiefs to their noses and unwise joggers, fit and young, ended up in hospital emergency departments struggling for breath. 

This amazing image is Luna Park, a fun fair on Sydney's northern shore.

How eerie and frightening it must have been ...

This householder/photographer wouldn't have kept the laundry door open for long.  Everything is too clean. Cars, houses and plants were swamped with the clinging dust.

The images above were from websites of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Telegraph, some taken by staff, but many sent in by readers.  

Results of the dust storm reached the coast and spread more than 2,000km from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria not far from the northernmost tip of the land.  

The dust struck my home 900km north of Sydney late in the morning.  I was speaking to my sister on the phone and looking out of the window at the same time.  I became mesmerised when the landscape began to disappear.

Five minutes later a whoosh of wind changed the world.  I could see no further than houses 200m away.  Everything beyond that disappeared: the trees, cars, high rises on the border, houses.  

I could taste dust on my tongue.  I had no shoes on and the ceramic floor tiles felt gritty. I was frightened because I am an asthmatic.  

I'd closed down hours before thinking the dust might reach us, but left one door open for fresh air.  I shut it quickly and all doors and windows at my place remained tightly closed for the rest of the day, and throughout the night.

So you see, I took no photographs of our dust.  By the time it reached northern NSW the sun was high in the sky, and the dust had taken on a grey hue. No outdoor photography for me!

Next morning though the skies were blue, but so was I, feeling much like a dishrag, needing a good clean out.  I went for a long bike ride to get rid of the grit.  

Today the dust is back in a reduced way, bringing only a haze on our horizon, and leaving the high rises as so many ghosts in the distance.  Even so, I won't be going outside today ...  

Ben Cubby, an environment reporter on the Sydney Morning Herald said the dust storm on Wednesday was 'consistent with what we know about the effects of climate change'.  

Those politicians had better get cracking!

Melbourne Age website - images of the Sydney dust storm set against an excerpt from John Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath'. 

As a little lamented Prime Minister of Australia once said 'we should be alert but not alarmed'.  He was talking about terrorism, not our environment. But my goodness we MUST surely be more alert than we've been when such signs of climate change become ever more relentless. 

Have you signed petitions or other ways acted on the climate change front? 

Do you try to do your little personal bit towards easing this problem - eg using less water or installing a solar panel on the roof? Add such individual efforts together and it will mean something.  

Please tell me in a comment. 


  1. I have never even seen pictures of a dust storm let alone a live one.....I'm sure it must be frightening not too mention how everything would be covered in a film of red dust.......and I live on the prairies!!!!
    We have had several blizzards where I am unable to see my neighbors front doors....snow I can handle dust uhmmmmmmm not so much.... have a great weekend......:-) Hugs

  2. Hi BERNIE
    Apparently Sydney had one of these 70 years ago and none since. It's the drought of course. Dry weather is becoming more common I'm afraid, and that means the top soil is easily disturbed in a strong wind.

    Dust storms are much more common in the outback, although again this was particularly serious. People on the coast rarely see such phenomona, as a rule.

  3. Hi June

    We followed the news of this via our BBC news bulletins. It looked pretty scary from where we were. Goodness knows how you must have felt.

    The climate change issue is so complex isn't it? So many agendas driven by politics and/or economics. Yes, we try to do our bit as far as we can but while we're filling our recycling bins, our short-sighted politicians are busy filling the 'too hard to do' bins.

    Will they ever really be brave enough to grasp the nettle?

  4. Hi Martin
    There's no doubt in my book that adjusting will be a big one for all of us. However, the job will be indeed much more difficult the longer we leave it ... at least it seems that way to me.
    I do wish the leaders would at least get moving on green industries.
    Do you agree?

  5. Hi June,

    What horrendous images - and I have the cheek to moan about all the rain we get huh?? I'd hate to have been in the vicinity of that lot... It must have been terrible. I wonder what these polititians will come up with next? What gets me though is there's always been climate changes, it's not something new!

    Climate conditions have been changing for centuries ... It's not a new phenomenum.. For centuries the Earth and it's climates have been changing - The thing that has altered is the attitude of ability of greedy folk using earth's resources and not giving a toss about the future of our world!

    Now it's got to the stage of our Earth being affected by their greed and now all the panic is setting in. Let's hope that some of the changes coming in will make a difference... Let's hope !! What are the chances June ? I have a feeling that's it's not that easy ...

    This last week it came out on a new programme I was watching that on the moon there is evidence of water .... That will be the next thing ! Our grandchildren's grandchildren way in the future may just be living on other planets and having a bloody good try at ruining them as well - Or maybe, just maybe human beings will learn ....

    What d'you think ??

    OK mate that's my thoughts at the mo..
    Cheers from this corner of the Earth - Kate x.

  6. The dust storm seems reminiscent of the storms of the '30's in the States. But we didn't have as many cars and pollution. Is it possible that this is cyclical?

  7. June-how frightening--I am glad to hear that you are ok and stayed clear of the dust. I agree that we all need to start paying attention to climate change and urging our politicians to address solutions.


  8. June, thank you for this stunning post. We have experienced a couple of scary (though much smaller) dust storms here in the U.S. Southwest since we have lived here. In one of them, people on a highway were killed just behind us because they were suddenly blinded by the airborne dirt and sand. Very frightening: The storm was approaching from the side of the road and we didn't know what to do--drive as fast as possible to get through before it hit, or pull over and risk having someone hit us with a car or truck. We chose to race it and just passed the piece of highway as it came across.

    As a children's librarian, I have read a lot of books to kids. One of the most memorable was "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse, which was about the Dustbowl in the 1930s in Oklahoma. None of us ever forgot the scene where the family sat down to supper in the middle of one of the storms. Although the doors and windows were sealed with rags, the dust still filled the air. The table was set so that the dishes and glassware were upside down, to protect them from the grit. The mother brought the food to the table and, on her signal, the family turned their dishes over quickly and received their servings. The 11-year old narrator explained that, no matter how quickly they did this, their food and drink was always filled with dirt in those years.

    That scene made a huge impression on my young listeners and they came back years later to talk about that book. 80 years after the time in that fictional work, I find myself not so far from that place, and we are still experiencing occasional dustbowl conditions, to my great surprise and concern. I thought we had learned our lesson and changed our agricultural methods, but not so...

  9. These pictures are eerie for sure. I'm sure I would almost feel panic should I wake up to such a sight.


  10. The world would get devastated if we keep quiet. I see this post as the wake up clarion call. Brilliant.

  11. wow! this is so fascinating. thanks for posting this and spreading the message.

  12. I had read and watched TV footage of this dust storm. Here in India, we are notoriously bad at protecting our environment, but many of us try to keep use of plastic to the minimum, save as much water as we can and do our bit to save the planet.

  13. Hi KATE
    Well perhaps you've hit on a solution for the rich - migrate their families to the moon once the earth has had its day.

    Seriously though, the climate has always had its ups and downs but as you point out it's the emphasis on greed that's probably speeding things up today. Technology has allowed us to rape and pillage the earth in a much more efficient manner!

    I agree with you that it won't be easy, but crikey we must have a go mate.

  14. CAROL
    It was amazing, but I hope it's not too frightening for anyone. I just hope that people will give climate change a bit more thought. Most Australians have seen the serious signs in our environment in recent years and are doing much to encourage action.

  15. CATHY M
    It might be cyclical, but almost every Australian will suggest that the effects on our environment are increasing month by month. Climate change is gathering pace I reckon.

    We have never had such severe widespread dust storms, think Victorian bush fires, severe drought that lasts for years.

    Home gardeners notice plants don't seem to be following annual patterns any more. They don't know when to flower ... and do so at unusual times. On and on Cath.

    Polls are saying that by far the greater majority of Australians want action on climate change. And they've even said they'd pay MORE for petrol in the cause.

    That says something doesn't it?

    Thanks for the good wishes. It was important to take care on those dusty days ... especially if you have a history of breathing problems.

  17. CLAIR
    As wise as ever.
    I have seen your type of dust storms in our outback, and they can be scary.

    However, there is no way anyone could have raced last Wednesday's monster. It just happened, with the change seemingly instant and all pervasive. The tiny dust particles infested everything.

    I don't think it's so much farming methods that are the problem, as global warming and its attendant climate change including drought.

    One video I saw showed the sky turn from bright red to black in seconds. This was taken by a woman who lived at one source of the dust - in Broken Hill, 1500km west of the coast.

    Her images revealed how the sun disappeared completely, so thick was the dust. We could see a farm shed almost in front of the camera, and nothing else. The sky was literally velvet black.

    This was the topsoil-turned-dust that was blown at a tremendous rate across our huge land, and across the waters. This was the soil that infested the homes of citizens of the coastline from Canberra to the Gulf of Carpentaria - probably 2,500kms, having already travelled 1,500km from the west.

    This was the precious soil in which food could be grown. And now it's in the sea.

  18. GRAMMY OF 13
    I felt puzzled enough when our sky turned yellow-grey late morning, and yet I knew there was a dust storm about to arrive. I agree that it would be hard to know one's reactions to a first-thing-in-the-morning red sky!

  19. NSIYER
    I don't know about 'brilliant', but my words are heartfelt. Thank you.

    I agree that things do not change if we don't speak about them.

  20. Thanks JEVE
    You're right - we can all spread the message - and we must.

    Yes, there is so much to be done, but beginning at the beginning - with ourselves - is surely the way to go.

  22. Oh my goodness - it's terrible! I regularly sign Internet petitions and last week we had an action to ring our politicians and urge them to do something.

    The economic crisis has put climate change on the back burner... time to start acting NOW!

  23. LadyFi
    You may have been signing the same international petitions as I did!

    More power to you lady.

  24. Hi again June,

    I've just read the most recent comments on your blog and one comment of yours rang bells, the wee bit about paying more for petrol etc... to Cathy M. Now I know your feelings and intentions are correct and to a certain degree I agree with you .... BUT !! It could be that I'm just an old fart who has been around the block a bit more and don't have the same faith in 'good old human nature' but Hells Bells June...

    Can you honestly say that any extra money added on to the cost of petrol will 'REALLY ' be put into the fund for fighting global warming ??? I have a bloody good idea what would happen here in this country anyway - unfortunately 'ALL' the money that should be put into the global fund will to to the usual place that all and as usual none of the 'special fund spondulux' will find it's way to where it should be going and global warning will carry on it's merry way ...Even if it were taken out of wages it would get lumped together with all the rest of the pot and get spent with the rest. We used to have road tax for instance which was supposedly spent on sorting the roads - our roads never saw much of the money because the goal posts were changed and so it goes.

    I'll give you another wee example, one of our major shops has boxes into which people are supposed to put in their change 'for global warning supposedly'. Only whoever empties it knows where it goes at the end of the day... where in the world do you think it goes, I asked the question ... no one knows!

    It's a HUGE problem ... God help us if we human beings don't get off their backsides and act rather than talk and I mean the polititians who are the ones who CAN do something ... They through are caught up in Arms proliferation etc etc and telling other countries how to live ... and organizing them so that THEY don't have to actually act and DO something which could really save the world.

    Blimey, where in blue blazes did all that come from eh.. I gather I must be an old fart right enough eh ?? Lecture over for the day hehehe.

    Cheers from a glorious morning (unusual I know) in the land of the tartan and heather we even have a big yellow ball in the sky .

    Love Kate x.

    p.s. Sorry June for 'going on' but ain't it great just to be able to let fly with your opinions (yeah I know they're not worth much) and any rubbish in her head on blogs and no big policeman can come knocking on yer door and haul you away straightjacket style huhh..
    p.p.s. (Boy am I looking forward to your comments on this lot of blethers)

  25. I like what you've written here.
    Yes I do consider the world we live in and try to be kind to it.

    Doesn't pollution make such wonderful photos/sky?

    Lovely blog.
    best wishes

  26. Hi June .... again! I have just reread my latest blethers, I do hope you can make sense of it... I had been typing it so fast that I was tripping over my words and getting all mixed up ! I should just write it out and scan it before sending - unfortunately, that is much too sensible for 'yours truly'. Please put it down to exasperation at the way the powers that be are not dealing with the problem.

    I do hope you got the jist of it anyway.

    Hugs Kate x.

  27. Hi June, I watched this on the news, too, and thought about you and how frightening it must have been there. My Bob swears that the weather is going to bring us to our knees. I don't run my air during the day and I have started hanging clothes up to dry and put dimmer switches on the lights. There is so much that can be done by each of us. I hope you do not experience this again. Hugs, Judy

  28. KATE
    I REALLY love your passion in life. Don't ever change! And I share your frustration at the slow pace towards actually DOING something about preparing for the future.

    The comment I made was quoting a poll taken here this week seeking to test the depth of Australian determination on climate change. It asked people if they would pay more for petrol in the cause - but not a donation I believe.

    It was alluding to the certain increase in the cost of oil products during such preparations. We'll need to make individual sacrifices in order to combat the problem.

    After all pollution from industries and other oil burning enterprises such as cars, have made a big contribution towards global warming. Other ways will need to be found to provide for our needs (or reduce them) and that's likely to be expensive, at least in the short run.

    Hopefully other ways such as wind power and solar will be used widely and this will reduce costs in time. As will individual, personal measures we are beginning to think about now.

  29. RIBBON
    Yes the sky made stunning images, if you don't think too much about the cause!

  30. Hi JUDY
    It seems as though you're off the starting line with your climate change measures. Onyer girl!

  31. I can't imagine such a horrible thing as that dust storm. I'm in Atlanta Georgia where towns flooded and people lost their homes last week, but I, personally would be in danger with all that pollution from the dust as I, too, have asthma. Scares me to think of what you and others had to deal with that day.

  32. Hi GLENDA
    Many people were caught unawares by the dust, but those of us with experience of asthma et al knew what to do - lie very low and stay indoors, and give our puffers a workout. That took care of us.

  33. I'm so glad you are okay, June. What a nightmare for all those in the parh of the dust storms. Makes me glad the last three days were rainy around here.

  34. Hi CROW
    But have you heard about the floods in the Phillipines? Hundreds died this week and half a million people are homeless. Makes one ask what's next?

  35. That dust storm must have been awful. I have never seen one before. Of coarse in the first half of the 1900's they had a lot of dust storms. They even named the area the Dustbowl!
    How do you link your site to mine?

  36. Hi NANCY
    Thanks for visiting.
    Perhaps you might become a follower as a way of linking ... or click 'create a link' below.

  37. I have been worried about my friends in Australia...I hope this doesn't happen again...but nature has it's own way of coping with stress.

    I was born in Oklahoma (my ears perked up when I heard the Steinbeck!) and my family has also lived in Arizona (another dusty part of the US)... In Japan, the yellow sand from the deserts in China come blowing over and things get gritty...but that red sky that you had over there is just plain scary...

    I hope you didn't have any problems with asthma etc.

    I will try to stay aware and do what I can to help the Earth too...

  38. Hi Tulsa
    You've seen dust at work haven't you! Hey wasn't the excerpt from Steinbeck effective in this context?

    If all of us just thinks a little about doing our bit we will make a difference I believe. Also, it's setting an example for those in power and those who pollute in a big way. We are all beginning to talk about it and we are beginning to be heard ...

    In an earlier comment I wondered aloud after the dust storm in Oz and floods in the Philippines just what would be next. Perhaps I shouldn't have voiced that - given the horrors of typhoons, earth quakes, tsunamis et al this week in many parts of the Pacific.

  39. I heard from a sweet nephew in Sydney and a dear friend in heart & soul from Melbourne of what was happening downunder. It seems so scary when I saw this in tv. I can't imagine walking around with the red dust on the air.

    Can we blame the politicians and people who are concern in environmental issues? I guess, when Mother Nature strikes, I surely know that no one can't stop her. The only thing we should do is to be ready in every step we take. No alarming, indeed. Or else what life can be, if we always think of an nationwide alarm?

    Live life to the fullest, as I always said and God Bless the world.

  40. Mesmerizing!

    This equaled the locust 'storm' at one time in Vietnam when millions of locusts just flew through a large area all day and all night and the day turned 'overcast'.

    The first photo with a bird was like a Chinese painting.

    Thanks for visiting.
    I like your idea of being 'ready' and not alarmed. However what is 'ready"? Perhaps living life to the fullest in all senses is not it.
    I believe we need to live simpler lives, prepared to avoid waste and other issues which affect our planet so badly.

  42. Hi KHAN HA

    We occasionally have locust storms in Australia's outback as well. They're devastating to crops and other plants.

  43. Hello, just passing thru and enjoying your blog very much. I'm going to visit the other one now and will take link . thanks a million, beautiful blog. Keri

  44. Welcome Keri - I enjoyed your 'Spit and Glue' too and admired your approach to Asian food in the recent post. It's also my experience that an imaginative cook can turn out delicious food using unfamiliar ingredients. It's confidence that does the trick. And the recognition that recipes don't have to be perfect the first time.

  45. It's been a while since you've updated your blog, june. I'm just checking in to say hello and see how you are doing.

  46. Thanks for the 'nice touch' Robin. Yes, I'm doing less blogging right now to give myself some 'me' reading and writing time. Might even have a wee holiday ...
    I'll still blog - but when I feel I can spare the time.
    I love all of my bloggy mates and and want to keep in touch often, but you just can't do everything you'd like and still do the right thing by yourself ...
    I'm so pleased that you and Roger seem to be more settled and marking out your new patch ...

  47. That is so surreal! :-0

    I can't remember... do you know about Blogblast for Peace day? It's Nov 5th and last year we had hundreds of bloggers participating. I hope you'll be joining us and adding your name to the list. :-)

    PS... I'd love your opinions on my Peace video too. It's posted on my blog now.

  48. Ok... i'm officially "losing it". I posted without remembering to add:

    1. How are you? I've been outof the blog reading loop for months (health and ISP woes) and am way behind in checking in on blog friends.

    2. My great grandfather owned a funfair called Luna Park... in Rhodesia. :-)

  49. Hi June,
    That looks dreadful. The only time I've had anything like this was when we had major fires. But this just look scary and I hope it doesn't happen again.

  50. Thanks to my faughter's partner I am well aware of the effects of climate change and am doing what little I can to help combat it but it is only through posts like yours that we really begin to appreciate the effect. Thank you very much.

  51. Thanks for this write-up. So thought provoking, even if scary!
    But where have you disappeared?

  52. Michelle
    As you see I have posted a badge for Blog Blast for Peace - a great idea. It's certainly time that we concentrated on peace-producing matters, such as wars and climate change action. Our lives may depend upon it.

    I love your poems - they're so full of feeling about Africa and your family. And very nicely written.

    'Lovely' pix, but very frightening.
    I hasten to underline that they are not my work, but came from Ozzie papers on the day - many sent in by readers.

  54. KANANI
    You and me both. But I am concerned that it will certainly happen again, although the event emphasised to Australians that we are just so vulnerable to climate change. We are a dry countrey now.

    There was a doco on tele last night about the millions of camels running wild in the outback and destroying the vegetation, leaving only dust. These animals were imported and are not native. What to do?
    They're not the soul cause of course ... far from it! Good old man has done his darndest by knocking down the rainforests, for one.

  55. Hi June,

    I've just tried again to send you an email and it was returned - wrong address or summat.

    It feels really weird to check out me site and see your last blog still showing as being
    your latest one ... Hope you are OK and the delay is because you are enjoying yourself
    and you are ' just faffing about ' ... or riding yer bike around in the sunshine ringing yer bell at all the 'talent' hehehehe...

    Seriously though missus - drop me a line - y'know I'm a bit of a worry wort....

    Cheers, Kate x.

    Thought you would appreciate a laugh - enjoy !

    Little Melanie comes home from 1st grade and tells her father that they
    learned about the history of Valentine's Day.

    "Since Valentine's Day is for a Christian saint, and we're Jewish," she
    asks, "will God get mad at me for giving someone a valentine?

    Melanie's father thinks a bit, then says: "No, I don't think God would
    Get mad. To whom do you want to give a Valentine?"

    "Osama Bin Laden," she says.

    "Why Osama Bin Laden?" her father asks in shock.

    "Well," she answers, "I thought that if a little American Jewish girl could have enough love to give Osama a Valentine, he might start to think that maybe we're not all bad, and maybe start loving people a little bit. And if other kids saw what I did and sent Valentines to Osama, he'd love everyone a lot. And then he'd start going all over the place to tell everyone how much he loved them, and how he didn't hate anyone anymore."

    Her father's heart swells and he looks at his daughter with new found
    pride. "Melanie, that's the most wonderful thing I have ever heard."

    "I know, " Melanie says, "and once that gets him out in the open, the
    Marines could shoot the Bugger"!

    Cheers Peer, Hugs Kate x.

    Australia is certainly experiencing all sorts of effects of climate change already - fires, dust storms, flowers don't know when to bloom ...

    And many of our near neighbours in the South Pacific face life threatening problems with rising seas. Some little islands are becoming unlivable as the salt seas invade veggie patches and house sites. Terrible.

    It's good that you are aware as well.

  57. SMITA
    Good to hear from you. I haven't disappeared - life has lead me elsewhere. A little 'me' time.

    How's your writing?

  58. Dearest most lovable KATE
    I'm fine mate. Just having a blog break. I had a holiday, got swine flu, my daughter's moving house at last, I want to read and write for myself more. You know the deal ...

    Don't worry about me. How're you doin?

  59. Hi June, I'm Donna B from Henderson, Nevada. Saw your link on someone else's blog and came to check you out. GOOD FOR YOU!! Your pics were amazing...they looked like an over exposed photo. Can't imagine what it must have been to breath in that dust! The one pic of the laundry room with the open made the walls look celery green and such an interesting contrast to the bright orange outside. I am going to follow you because I enjoy what you have to say. Stop by and visit me too please. Good day!

  60. Opps...I did not see my pic pop up, so my blog is and it is called Mystical Journeys. My email is Looking forward to your visit...

  61. Welcome Donna B.
    I see on your blog that you are having some of life's ups and downs at the moment. Take care.

  62. Hi June,Im trying to leave a coment for some time now and each time Im getting message from de google that they could not deliver so I hope this one is coming over.Anuhoo,just a greeting and best whishes,Aleksandra

  63. Hi Aleks
    Good to hear from you. I must post a little something in the next day or so to keep my blogs going. I'm enjoying the 'me time' I've organised recently ...
    Hope things are fine with you and appreciate the 'nice touch'.

  64. Hi June,hope everything is all right,greetings
    Aleksandra :O)

  65. Cuddles back Aleksandra. I'm fine - still kicking as strong as ever. Just having a well deserved break ...
    Hi to everyone of my mates out there!


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