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Of droughts and flooding rains

Mark Knight, March 25, 2021 6:30PM Kids News

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Picture: Mark Knight media_cameraPicture: Mark Knight

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Reading level: green

Australian poet Dorothea MacKellar surely nailed it* when she wrote her classic poem My Country in 1904. It sums up this land of amazing contrasts so well. Here are a few lines:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.

We have seen those words played out in NSW and Queensland this week with the once-in-a-generation floods down the east coast of the country, hitting areas around Sydney’s northwest particularly hard. Nearly a metre of rain fell in a few days. We saw the incredible image of a farmhouse sailing down the Hawkesbury River, the Warragamba Dam overflowing and farm livestock swimming for their lives.

What makes this extreme weather event all the more devastating is that little over a year ago a lot of these areas were hit with devastating bushfires. Those fires were the result of a prolonged* drought. So you can see how the people that live there may start to feel like they can’t take a trick*.

We know the climate is changing and there seems to be an increase in the frequency of such extreme weather events and natural disasters: the fact is it’s making some parts of the country very hard to live in. Imagine the poem Dorothea MacKellar could write today!

I thought this weather event should be the topic for a cartoon. I wanted to comment on the fact that we are a nation of extremes when it comes to weather. I live in a bushfire zone and have fought two major fires, one being Black Saturday.

Our ecology* is designed in part to regenerate through these events. Two years after the fires, the forests around our property are lush, and the new eucalyptus saplings* are abundant due to the fires. Our river systems are designed by nature to flood to irrigate natural flood plains, but now there are houses being built in these areas.

I wanted to draw a cartoon that said something about these weather contrasts. Seeing the image of the house sailing down that flooded valley got me started. I drew it in a sea of swirling floodwaters, looking like a torrent* of swirling chocolate milk. But how do I make the contrast point between floods then fires?

One of the most popular symbols of our summer bushfire season are the signs we see dotted along our country highways that alert us to the fire danger at the time. They indicate conditions from low to moderate to catastrophic extreme! Scary stuff! But we all know these signs, they are a part of our lives now. I thought that if any of those signs were in the Hawkesbury valley this week they would be under metres of water!

And that became my contrast point in the cartoon. I drew a Fire Danger Warning sign inundated* by flood water, which on its own is a strong image pointing out the extremes of our environment. In the background, the little farmhouse floats by.

To show the impacts the floods are having on the community, a cow is seeking safety perched atop the fire warning sign. Rain is still falling. I thought the cartoon painted a picture of how our weather challenges us.

Mark Knight's flood cartoon. Picture: Mark Knight media_cameraMark Knight’s cartoon. Right click to open in new tab and view full size.

This is the land we call ’straya*. As MacKellar says in My Country:

I love her far horizons
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

GLOSSARY

  • nailed it: got it right
  • prolonged: going on for a long time
  • take a trick: have any luck
  • ecology: relationship between all living things in an environment
  • saplings: young trees
  • torrent: strong, fast-moving stream of water
  • inundated: flooded
  • ’straya: slang for Australia

EXTRA READING

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Aussie spirit front and centre at rock concert

Tough battle ahead for state of disaster

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Who drew this cartoon?
  2. Who or what is the main character in the cartoon?
  3. What news event is the cartoon about?
  4. What is happening in the background?
  5. What is the cow sitting on?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Caption it!
Cartoonist Mark Knight has not used a caption on this cartoon, letting the imagery speak for itself.

Read Mark’s explanation of what the cartoon means again and write two, three or four short sentences, just to make sure you understand what the cartoon is saying.

Using your sentences to help you, write a caption for the cartoon or some thought bubbles or quotes from the person or animal in the cartoon that will make Mark’s meaning clearer for children or people who haven’t been reading the news this week.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Look through the most recent stories on Kids News and choose one to draw a cartoon about.

Use Mark’s three-step process to get started:

What is my subject?

What do I want to say about this issue?

How do I say it? Do I use visual metaphors (an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else), multiple panels or symbolism (when one idea, feeling or emotion is represented by something else such as a: picture, character, colour or object)?

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Stretch your sentence
Find a ‘who’ in the cartoon. A person or animal.

Write it down.

Add 3 adjectives to describe them better.

Now add a verb to your list. What are they doing?

Add an adverb about how they are doing the action.

Using all the words listed, create one descriptive sentence.

Extra Reading in arts