By Stan Stewart
Dictionary definition: Aftermath - the consequences or after-effects of a significant unpleasant event.
When I was thinking about coming to live in Whitianga, I asked a long time resident was there concern in the town about global warming – sea level rise etc? He said, “Some. However, that’s a problem for future generations, not ours!” Hmm! Really?
Sitting in Brisbane and viewing video clips of Whitianga and district it looks to me like sea level rise is our problem too - now! We are facing a problem with no easy answers – no quick fixes. Anyway, quick fixes can have disastrous consequences.
It reminds me of a political ‘quick’ fix aftermath of the first world war, in Victoria, Australia. The Victorian Government’s Soldier Settlement Scheme promised the brave boys who could still march a plot of land suitable for farming. Crown land in Victoria was plentiful, and the political planners set their eyes on the Strzelecki Ranges. What could be better! Uninhabited, covered with ancient virgin forests, which incidentally, contained what is now believed to be the tallest trees on earth. The problem was how to clear it to prepare it for grazing and agriculture. Some bright spark (hmm!) came up with the easiest and quickest way to remove the forest – the match. They deliberately burnt down one of the most significant, ancient forests on the face of the earth. The aftermath - wait for it – the land which nourished huge forests was useless for European style farming. After a year or two, the returned soldiers walked off their plots, penniless. To this day the Strzelecki hills are bare except for blackberry and bracken fern. The few remaining settler’s shacks are in ruins.
This ill-considered plan led to a disastrous aftermath, the results of which are permanent.
The dictionary tells me that ‘Aftermath’ can also have a positive meaning. Specifically, it mentions the meaning of the term when applied to farming. “Aftermath - new grass growing after mowing or harvest.” It suggests to me that me that a huge disruption can leave in its wake the opportunity to do something different - even a new start!
All my life I have lacked the ability to spell. My earliest memories of primary school are of an impatient elderly teacher berating me because of my mistakes in spelling. “You’re too lazy to learn,” she told me. The problem plagued me through all my educational endeavours. Exams were no problem. I passed them all. But when it came to written assignments, papers, essays it was hopeless. Condescending lecturers told me I lacked the intelligence for higher education. I believed them.
My college grudgingly passed me because of my enthusiasm and positive attitude. My written work was never finished and what I submitted was invariably covered with red marks correcting my misspelt words.
In my early thirties I had a brief session a guidance counsellor. He asked why I had not considered higher education. Shame faced, I told him of my inability to spell. He laughed at me. “That’s no problem” he said. “You have strong ideas and good communication skills. Your spelling can be easily fixed! I am sure you know someone who can spell and can type. Write your stuff and pay a person to type it up. She ( and it as a she) will fix up your spelling in a jiffy”. Eureka! Light dawned! The solution to my life paralysis became obvious. I did this and immediately my written work went from fail or ‘D’, to ‘A’ and ‘A+’. I have been writing ever since and now I have spell-check and grammerly on my computer.
Inability to spell was my personal disaster. It crippled me. The result being I viewed my future through a narrow lens. However, one short, off-the-cuff conversation changed my whole life. Because of this brief session, my personal aftermath changed. I was enabled to look at life through fresh eyes.
This brings me back to our present reality in Whitianga. The weather and the encroaching ocean Is undeniably an enormous continuing threat. These elements have battered us. However, this could also be a wake-up call. We know that some things in the future must change. However, as we face that future, there will be choices. We can face it by doing more of what we have always done, or, perhaps the aftermath of our troubles could lead to new ways of doing some things, and onto new horizons? Whatever, there will be no easy ways forward. However, there may be different ways worth considering.