Tinderbox Down Under

From the February 2003 Trumpet Print Edition

“The worst ever!” was the description of the inferno that fumed across five of Australia’s six states and one of its two territories—from coast to coast, east to west—last month.

With much of the island continent in the grip of unprecedented drought, dry, hot summer conditions created a nationwide tinderbox ready for the slightest spark—and spark it did.

A huge pall of smoke hung over great swaths of Australia, forcing motorists in the national capital, Canberra, to drive with headlights on during the middle of the day. Whipped along by high winds, the fires reduced hundreds of homes to smoking ashes. Whole pine forests became raging infernos as massive fireballs leapt from treetop to treetop, wiping out one of the capital territory’s main commercial enterprises.

Further south, almost a million acres of Victoria’s prime state parks and forests were destroyed in two weeks of raging fires—more than three times the national annual average for this drought- and fire-prone continent. The southern island state of Tasmania faced major grassland fires. In the premier east coast state of New South Wales, both farmer and city slicker reeled from massive bush fires that at one point came to within only a few miles of the perimeter of Sydney. To the west, firefighters battled scores of fires across the states of South Australia and Western Australia.

Hard hit by a collective national paranoia due to terror threats following the Bali bombing, and with an economy largely dependent on commodity prices, the last thing Australia wants is a national disaster. But this long, hot southern summer is producing just that.

It seems that either flood or drought perpetually strikes at some part of the “lucky country” every year—both contributing to an endemic soil erosion problem that has ripped the heart out of many a rural property. But generally, it is lack of water that is this country’s constant problem. Slightly smaller than the U.S. contiguous 48 states, this wide brown land simply lacks the accessible water resources in a quantity to fight many of its worst fires.

The most tantalizing fact is that underneath the center of the continent lies a massive, largely untapped artesian basin, replete with an abundance of water which, if unleashed, would literally make Australia’s “dead heart” bloom and blossom.

This is one country which will greatly benefit from the coming fulfillment of Isaiah’s end-time prophecy: “[T]he desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose” (Isa. 35:1).