A sunburnt country of fake rain but real climate challenges

At first I thought it might have been drips from an air conditioner but that didn’t quite make sense

The light was dim, and mum and I were tucking into our roast veges at the Outback Shack, a dining area inside the Narrabri RSL.

The décor was an amalgam of outback and regional nostalgia, from the Dog on the Tuckerbox to Ned Kelly, a whole gum tree complete with soft toys representing koalas and cockatoos to cracked old saddles and cart wheels.

I looked up, searching for the source of the splashes of water landing on my plate.

Then I realised what it was: this side of the room had been made over as a wide outback veranda with a tin roof, and those splashes were meant to be rain gently beating down upon it. The water was dripping gently from the corrugated iron into a discreet little drain at our feet.

All day, we’d been out in the drought-stricken countryside, looking at tumbleweeds blowing across empty, destocked paddocks. Giant trucks were carrying giant bales of hay for hand-feeding.

But here, under the artificial lights of the RSL, there was rain, albeit fake rain.

The next morning we hit the road again. At Breeza, I got out to take a photograph of the giant words hand-painted on the side of towering grain silos: FARMS NOT COAL.

Then, on cue, a long coal train began to rumble by. If the Outback Shack was pure myth, here was a big dose of reality: the sheep, wheat and cattle of a romanticised past is now threatened by the drive to extract coal and coal seam gas.

My friend Julia sent me a text me from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), an epic hike from near the border of Mexico all the way up the west coast of the USA to the Canadian border in the north. She knew it would be hard, but not hard in quite this way.

“Wildfires everywhere. 4 trail closures in the Washington section of PCT alone… there is a pall of smoke everywhere.”

When we got back to my sister’s place in Wyong, the family was glued to the television set. A prime minister who had spent weeks trying to reach some kind of compromise with his climate-denying back benchers over the National Energy Guarantee was putting a brave face on it, but his leadership was in death-throes.

Like Rudd and Gillard before him, he is finding the reality of climate change an impossible “sell” next to the myth of coal-driven business as usual. It’s like depending on fake rain instead of the real thing.

Tracy Sorensen is president of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network.