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Local author’s book a call to arms

Wednesday, 1st September, 2021

By Neil Pigot

Anika Molesworth was 12 years old when her family moved from Melbourne to a sheep farm just outside Broken Hill.  
Rather than the distressing wrench some children feel at leaving an old life behind, young Anika was bedazzled.
“Everything I had known up till that point was city life,” she says. “Then, up here, there were horizons forever. I would get up early in the morning and go for walks across the paddocks and see kangaroos and emu nests. I fell in love with this place very easily. It was an almost instant connection.”
In those early days, life on The Barrier was almost non-stop excitement.
“Driving a car on the farm when you can barely see over the dashboard, splashing around in a dam. It was incredible.”  
But the days of innocent fun were to be short lived. The family’s arrival had rather cruelly coincided with the onset of the millennium drought, and very soon young Anika began to see the country she had fallen in love with slowly change.
“It was becoming apparent that something was going on. There were more dust storms, less vegetation, the dams were evaporating. I saw the land suffering but what surprised me was that it quickly became an emotional experience. I felt this sadness brewing inside me.”  
Conversations around the kitchen table, as she tried to reconcile her own private response to the real time transformation of the world around her, sparked a sense of personal responsibility.  
“When you feel a deep sense of care for something it’s difficult not to act. I felt that profound sense of care as a teenager and I was determined to do something positive about it.”  
Now, almost 20 years later, Anika has a doctorate in Agroecology, is a founding director of the influential Farmers for Climate Action, a network of over 5,000 Australian farmers recognised as a global exemplar of grassroots community action. She is also an Australian Young Farmer of the Year and, as of this week, she can add “published author” to her impressive CV. Our Sunburnt Country hits the stores this week, and it’s a book that COVID made.
“At the start of 2020, I had a busy diary, and then, quite suddenly, it wasn’t anymore. So, I decided to blow the dust off the book idea that had been sitting in the corner of my mind and put pen to paper.”
The result is a memoir of climate change from one who has experienced it, a highly readable dance through the truth of the science, of the importance of sustainability and practical solutions, a book brimming with ideas and unflagging optimism.  
“When we reflect on what we all want, the outcomes are actually quite similar. We all want a stable prosperous community, an environment we can enjoy, good nutritious food on our plate, meaningful employment. It’s just that, at the moment, we all seem to be pointing in different directions.”  
The key to aligning ourselves, according to Anika, is in reconnecting.
“As a larger society, 90% or more of us live in urban areas and, sadly, we’ve become dissociated from the country. We can feel as though we’re somehow separate. It’s important for us to remember that we’re all actually dependent on the natural environment and the health of our rural communities for our survival.
“It’s very important to look at the science but not to politicise it. We have a situation where in some hands the science has been overexaggerated and doom laden, and then we have the deliberate misreading of the science or the dismissal of it. Neither of those approaches is helpful. Honest, open discussion is what we need.”
And according to Anika, the answers to the more sustainable practices that will secure our future are already there, we just require the collective will to put them in place.
“It’s not like we have to imagine these industries and practices. Renewable technologies, vegetation re-establishment, water infrastructure and efficiency projects, there’s an abundance of existing opportunities to inject wealth and to create skilled jobs, jobs that can lead the country to that thing we all want. A sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future.”
For Anika the key is to let go of what we think we know and to start listening.
“We can tend to look at the world with short and narrow vision, thinking what we have is normal. When we look back the facts say something different and so do those that have lived it. I can recall conversations with people from Broken Hill in their 80’s talking about the crystal-clear waters in the Darling, days when they could see the cod swimming amongst the roots of the trees. I don’t see that now. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine it. That is normal.”  
More intelligent conversations, less 200-word tweets, fewer band aids and the big one, courageous leadership. It’s a tall order but despite the challenges, Anika is optimistic.
“It’s an exciting time. We do have a challenge to overcome but we already have the means. All we need to do is come together. I hope the book will help us to do that.”

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