Australia Diary: Weathering the Weather

Australia Diary: Weathering the Weather

By Jasmine Zamprogno

On my 11th birthday, a cyclone hit.

My parents shook me awake before dawn, wished me a happy birthday, and told me I needed to get out of my room in case the old gum tree in the backyard fell to the force of Category 4 winds. I received a digital camera as a gift, but I could not charge it until four days later, when the power was finally restored to our little Cairns suburb. My special birthday dinner was sausages cooked on a gas fire by candlelight.

There is the perception that Australian grit is defined by our nonchalance toward the many deadly animals we peacefully, indeed happily, coexist with.

The truth is that what makes us tough is how we weather the weather.

It takes guts to live in a country where our fire warning system starts at “Moderate” and methodically progresses toward “Catastrophic.” Where, in Far North Queensland, cyclones are so common they are described by locals as “a bit of a light breeze.” Where, to quote Forrest Gump, some days, it just starts to rain — and rains, and rains, and rains until you forget what the sun looked like and what it was like not to be constantly damp.

My childhood was defined by the weather. Christmas plans were canceled when the roads were cut by swollen rivers, classrooms were entered with muddy bare feet after braving saturated school playgrounds, and the same feet were burned by bitumen roads that sizzled in the summer sun, melting the rubber off the tires of overheated cars.

Instead of four seasons, there were two: wet and dry. During the wet season, I remember how the humidity would cling to your skin from early in the morning, and would slowly build, until it felt as though the very air you were breathing was more moisture than oxygen.

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Then, as I stood in the backyard and raised my eyes to the heavens, the spell would break with a deafening roll of thunder, and the storm would race in from the horizon, a sheer wall of dark cloud cloaking the whole town, and bringing with it glorious, torrential rain.

Then there were the cyclones. “Queenslander” homes, a colonial design on stilts for relief from hot weather, were useless in the face of winds that could topple power lines and tear off roofs.

Once, in the face of a looming Category 5 cyclone, Dad decided the house wouldn’t hold, so we sought refuge in the local high school, which was built of bricks and mortar instead of lofty vaulted timber. We slept on gym mats as the wind howled through the night.

You could even measure time by the weather. Was that the year that Larry hit or Yasi? Was that the Monday that it reached 35°C or the Monday the thunderstorm hit?

The question “what’s the weather like?” was answered in varying degrees of “hot.”

Pretty hot, hey.

Not too hot.

Stinking hot. Bloody hot. Unbearably hot.

Like I said, they breed them tough Down Under, if only to survive weather that is even tougher. Ask any local, though: The weather is a show by Mother Nature that never ends, and we wouldn’t have changed the temperamental, trying tropical weather of our childhoods for all the snow in the world.


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