A rescue pig mourning the loss of his lifelong companion brings easy tears in the opening pages of Celermajer’s haunting memoir of Australia’s deadly bushfire summer. Through the loss of this one pig, Katy, we can start to feel the depth of the collective loss of human, animal, plant and ecological life during the ravaging fires. The pain of surviving pig Jimmy caught global attention during the deadly summer with an article penned by Celermajer in January 2020. But more than one year and a global pandemic later, how can we shift our attention back to the urgent and continual loss of so much of our landscape?
As a philosopher with firsthand and frontline experience of the 2019/2020 Black Summer, Celermajer is the perfect candidate to explore the damage to Australian forests and bush in this profound and moving elegy. Her observations of Jimmy’s grief are poetic but never overwritten; “it seems that he is taking himself back to an ecology not wrought by the terror of the fires, not fuelled by our violence on the earth. He is letting another earth heal him.”
The story of how Katy came to die in the deadly summer reads like so many horrific tales of the bushfires: a wrong turn, a decision at the last minute to stay and defend or swiftly depart for an evacuation centre. A story of how those involved can make every sound and right decision and still get a wrong and devastating outcome. As Celermajer points out “the very idea of being ‘safe’, however, is one of the many casualties of the climate catastrophe.”
Chloe Hooper’s superb The Arsonist traced the intersections of abandoned industry, a town starved of opportunity, an outsider and an unforgiving day of windy and crackling dry heat; the parts that make up the sum of destruction and fire. Celermajer’s work is just as remarkably written and sheds the same amount of forensic and unforgiving light on ecology neglected, a landscape starved of climate leadership and the evergreen ache of grief.