We Could Start a Riot

Ismene Panaretos

A procession of yellow caps bob past the window. Chirpy voices and flushed faces. School kids teem through the city, weaving past cars and business suits and clacking high heels. People that are greyed and numbed and text text texting. The children wield hand painted cardboard signs.  There is no Planet B.  Time to panic. Our future, our voices.

I feign interest in the exposed brick wall. I feel unsettled and the culprit isn’t the triple shot almond latte. There is a nagging and a chipping. Something about them has made me pause. I notice others around me feel it to. They shift uncomfortably, punctuate dialogue that is words and nothing more with false laughter. I can’t quite explain why this scene is so distinctly unpalatable. I feel guilty. I suppose there’s nothing preventing us from doing the same. We could start a riot, if we wanted to. We could march all the way to Canberra and bring the country to a standstill. Fence off the pollies and set fire to Parliament House. We won’t though. We don’t.

On the café wall there is a grey photograph of waves smashing onto the base of a cliff. Who decorates these hipster joints? I suppose someone appealing to people like me. Admittedly, gazing at it I am transported. The only thing I miss about moving here is the coast.

The sea has always been my constant. My childhood was spent dancing with the waves. Curling my toes beneath warm sand and succumbing to the lullaby of the swell. Digging holes to China in a bucket hat, my play pen framed with coastal banksias, pines and a burning sun. When it was a scorcher, the gravelly cement softened my thongs until they became malleable. There was always a blonde woman with a straw hat, sun battered face, unhealthy kind of wrinkled tan. She sold steaming corn with butter and salt in a white cart on the promenade. Time passed and the spades and sandcastles turned to goon sacks and punching cones in the skate park. First kisses, first time sneaking out. Wagging school on particularly glorious days to eat potato scallops wrapped up in greasy butcher’s paper. That special spot atop the cliffs where I went whenever I felt sad to read. The countless tears spilt into the salt water. The sea a backdrop, always. Apparently you don’t realise what you have until you’re separated by the Hume Highway.

Last week a part of me stopped. For a second, at least. The paper read that they’re planning to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight. A spill would seep all the way up the east coast, past Surfer’s Paradise and beyond. Gasping fish, grey coral, gulls with wings too heavy to fly. I saw the sands from the Gong to Cronulla a glittering black. I saw them and swallowed my fears with a lungful of grit. I squeezed my eyes so tightly, I forgot. It’s easy to make excuses. Numb yourself with daily life and lose sight of the larger picture.

‘Kids should be playing, not getting involved in politics they don’t even understand’, the barista says to me.

And with that something moves. My thoughts are spinning. Into rivers and oceans and off the end of the horizon. Where exactly will they play? We’ve picked the bones of the earth clean and left behind a skeleton. One day all the beasts and creatures of the earth will be run to the ground and the seas will part to reveal a garbage wasteland.  The fish that wash up on the shore already have plastic bags for lungs. The kids don’t have the luxury to stick their heads in the sand, not like we are. Where will they play when the lands are inundated in salt and the creek beds are barren and shriveled? When it’s so hot that bats are dropping from the sky and the waters are evaporating. Too little is being done too late and the gravity of the situation isn’t sinking in.  Those that succeed me may never get to spend afternoons in pursuit of soldier crabs. Even in this city, I wake to the sound of kookaburras laughing and packs of galahs destroying the lawn. Will my children’s children have that? I don’t know who I’d be without the expanse of the Pacific always be my side and within me. My eyes prickle, I feel an abrupt sadness.

It has always been there, pushed down in the depths of my gullet. It has always been there waiting for its moment in the sun and if not now, when? If not now, when? When? If the earth could speak, she wouldn’t. She’d shriek. Carved and halved, suffocated and devastated. I hear the pleas of the earth, the ocean and this time, I respond. I ignore the barista and join the parade of people that curls up Elizabeth Street.

We are there in our thousands; all ages, all demographics. Surrounded by them, I cannot help but feel hope. The situation is dire but it isn’t too late, not yet. The generations of the future are rising up with their hands on their hips. The kids are alright and they have brought us here. Parents and grandparents and aunties and friends and neighbors. People like me who have allowed themselves to stop.

Across the globe, the streets are filled with laughter. The future is bright and it is joyous. Their image, our image, is broadcast on televisions, printed on newspapers, announced on the radios, tweeted and retweeted, shared and hash tagged. No one is doing anything, so it falls to them. It falls to them when it should have fallen to us, all this time.

When I see the photographs, I smile. Dotted throughout the undulating colour there are pinpricks of grey. Little grey threads of people, like myself, sewn into a blue horizon.

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