I've been reading reports about the bushfires in Victoria (Australia) and, among the many other thoughts I had in response to them, I wondered to what extent Australia is, in my mind, populated by the characters from the romances I've read. Juliet Flesch, in her From Australia with Love: A History of Modern Australian Popular Romance Novels, wrote that
The global reach of Australia's romance novels means that [...] what they tell readers about Australian life and customs, and the ethical positions they express, are as important as how well they describe the physical environment. (294)and
They [...] speak with a voice that is distinctively Australian. [...] Some are both subtle and humorous; in general they endorse qualities of openness, inclusion, egalitarianism, community spirit and self-reliance. These qualities are not gendered and women as well as men in these novels possess them. The picture of Australian society which emerges is idealised - though in fairness it is perhaps unrealistic to expect greater complexity of viewpoint in work the length of a novella. (296)Idealised or not, I can't help but think of heroes and heroines such as those created by Marion Lennox and Ann Charlton, who have faced drought and bushfires in the outback. And one thing is certain: there definitely has been a demonstration of "community spirit" in Australia's response to this tragedy:
The Red Cross and Salvation Army have both launched public appeal, and say they have been overwhelmed by the response from around the country.There are still more stories to be told and read. Kat at the (mainly) Australian romance blog Book Thingo has a poignant post up about the bushfires. She discusses the importance of storytelling:
Salvation Army spokeswoman Pat Daley says would-be donors need to be patient, as phone lines have been jammed with offers of help.
"We're being inundated and we're just asking people to be patient," she said.
"We are very, very gratified and pleased at the response - not only us, but the other agencies and the government response to the special appeal that's been set up," she said. (Radio Australia News)
Just this morning, I was listening to news reports of the devastation that has occurred and may possibly continue. One of the segments was an interview with a psychologist on how to help survivors cope with their loss. One of the suggestions was to just let people tell their stories, because that the act of articulating their experiences helps in some way to make sense of and deal with it. And it was obvious from seeing news footage that in fact many people are just looking for some human contact and to be able to express to another person what they went through.Edited to add:
As a reader and a lover of stories, this really resonated with me. Even though I read mostly fiction, to me the act of storytelling is, at its core, a way for the author to express and explore and expose to me essential truths about human existence and human life. Storytelling is an essential part of how I make sense of my world (as you’d know if you’ve ever had to endure a dinner conversation with me), but receiving stories is how I connect with other people and make sense of things beyond myself.
A recent news item from Australia seems to prove the point about the power of storytelling and also demonstrates people's need for happy stories, including romances. Media sites from around the world (including some in Spain, the US, Canada and the UK) have been reporting on a "love story" between two koalas:
A love story between two badly burned koalas rescued from Australia's deadliest bushfires has provided some heart-warming relief after days of devastation and the loss of over 180 lives.
The story of Sam and her new boyfriend Bob emerged after volunteer firefighter Dave Tree used a mobile phone to film the rescue of the bewildered female.
She was found cowering in a burned out forest at Mirboo North, 90 miles southeast of Melbourne. [...] it was after reaching a wildlife shelter that Sam met and befriended Bob, who was saved by wildlife workers on Friday, two days before Sam. [...]
Tree, a volunteer with the Country Fire Authority Victoria, has visited Sam since her rescue and was delighted to see she had found a boyfriend in Bob.
'They've really taken a shine to each other as they are both burnt and share the same burnt smell,' he said.
'My heart goes out to the people in these fires and this was so innocent so people have used this to distract them from all the sad stuff that has gone on.
'It gives people a bit of hope.' (from the report on the Daily Mail's website)
- Flesch, Juliet. From Australia with Love: A History of Modern Australian Popular Romance Novels. Fremantle, Western Australia: Curtin University Books, 2004.