"this is coal don't be afraid," by Ali Whitelock

Reading time: approximately 3 minutes

"this is coal don't be afraid" will appear in our next issue, Issue 17. We are posting this now because of its urgent topicality. The devastation of Australia's bush fires has shocked and saddened the world, but their scale and—for us in the United States—their distance could have a numbing effect. This found poem cures any chance of numbness and brings the destruction to your doorstep.


this is coal don’t be afraid.

if you are in or close to the bush leave now. if you choose to stay we may not be able to save you. save any woollen blankets you may have wrap yourself in them when the fire comes there is no better place to raise kids. if you are trapped in your car face towards the oncoming fire tightly close windows and doors get down below window level this is your highest priority. the prime minister regrets any offence caused to anyone for him being away at this time of crisis. for those of you in fire affected [insert town name here], it is now too late to leave. the girls and jen will stay on and stay out the rest of the time we had booked here we will not be changing our climate policy settings. but i’m comforted by the fact that australians would like me to be here, just simply so i can be here, alongside them as they're going through this terrible time how good is hawaii? if you don’t have a Bush Fire Smoke Respirator P2 Aura Flat Fold mask including valve 9322A+ (max 2 packets per customer, was $94.95 now $77.45), stay indoors. i don’t hold a hose mate but i understand people are angry people are hurting. this is coal don’t be scared don’t be afraid seek shelter from the heat of the fire. but look, the girls and jen, they love holidaying in hawaii and so we’ve had a few nice days here. drink water to prevent dehydration evacuate your horse to the beach have your children row for their lives. australians will be inspired by the great feats of our cricketers this is not about climate change we are meeting and beating our paris agreement targets how good’s australia? to the five hundred million species we burned how good’s the cricket? you won’t be getting any votes down here buddy you’re an idiot leave the pregnant woman’s hand alone. the sky will turn black turn your headlights on. you’re out son. do you have a bush fire survival plan? activate it.


Ali had this to say about "this is coal don't be afraid."

This is a found poem made up of statements by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Rural Fire Service, residents in affected communities, and a tweet offering advice on what to do if you are threatened by oncoming fire. I’ve also played with Scott Morrison’s now classic line, ‘how good’s australia’ coined by Morrison on winning the 2019 Australian federal election. 

Living in the bush (although I was not affected by the fire) and hearing the Rural Fire Service give survival advice over the radio was chilling. Scott Morrison believes there is no link between Australia’s carbon emissions and the current bush fires. When Scott Morrison, still on holiday in Hawaii, announced he’d come home and that he felt, ‘comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be there…’ my blood boiled in ways it has never boiled before. My heart goes out to all those affected by these fires, to all the animals, birds, reptiles and insects we have decimated. And my deepest apologies go out to the land we treat in the way that we do.

 Ali Whitelock is a Scottish poet and writer living on the south coast of Sydney. Her debut collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can was published by Wakefield Press in 2018 (with a forthcoming UK edition by Polygon in 2020) and her second poetry collection, the lactic acid in the calves of your despair will be published by Wakefield Press in March 2020. Her memoir, Poking seaweed with a stick and running away from the smell was launched to critical acclaim in Australia (2008) and the UK (2009). www.aliwhitelock.com