Ciara Kenny

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Hot times under the Australian sun

Long-term emigrant Philip Lynch describes the soaring temperatures

Sunbathers keep cool at Brighton Beach in Melbourne, where temperatures have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius. Photograph: Craig Sillitoe/Getty Images

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 16:45


Philip Lynch

If you’re Australia bound, be prepared to steel yourself for our merciless heat that awaits your arrival. Long-term emigrant Patrick McKenna vividly described the harshness of Canadian winters on this blog recently. So permit me to fill you in on the brutal heat that often characterises Australian summers.

Needless to say pale freckled Irish skin doesn’t fare too well under the Australian sun. You’d be well advised to dispense with your stash of Barry’s tea and replace it with a supply of sunblock.

I’m not exaggerating. Last summer (2012-2013) was our hottest ever recorded. It was so hot that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology introduced a new purple colour on its graph to show when temperatures reached the 52 – 54 degrees range.

While there can be significant difference in temperatures across the length and breadth of this continent (Tasmania and the Northern Territory are often at opposite ends of the spectrum) you can rest assured few places will escape extreme temperatures at some stage during the warmer months.

The Top End and North Queensland are always hot. Right now, fire-fighters are battling scores of fires in difficult conditions in Victoria and NSW. Just yesterday scores of houses were lost in a bushfire near Perth. Last October, areas of NSW sustained catastrophic damage as properties and thousands of hectares and stock were burnt. And closer to my home, in January last year, within a 24-hour period almost 200 houses were lost here in southern Tasmania. Bushfires in Australia are simply part of our landscape.

West Australia is one of the hottest places in the country. In the Pilbara region, just one of the mining boom areas, summer temperatures invariably surge well into the 40s. Even overnight minimums hover in the mid-20s, incredible inhospitable conditions however you look at it. Whatever those workers take home in their pay packets in those regions, they certainly earn every cent.

At the moment, the cities in south-east Australia (an otherwise temperate region) are experiencing absolute scorchers. Melbourne hit 43 degrees today and 44 is forecast for tomorrow. Such was the sizzling courtside temperature at the Australian Open, a ball-boy collapsed and a Canadian player complained about what he termed the inhumane playing conditions. Watching the play from the relative comfort of my lounge room, the sweat dripping from the players was clearly visible.

Yes, Australian summers are not for the faint-hearted. And not everyone can afford air-conditioning. It’s a sobering statistic that every year far more Australians, especially the elderly, succumb to heatwaves than they do to bushfires.

Many Australians affect to have a certain insouciance about their summer temperatures – as if the heat has become woven into their very being. Thus far, Tennis Australia have, over the past few years, resisted calls to reschedule the Australian Open to a cooler time of the year. Thongs, singlets and shorts are the traditional recreational de-rigeuer dress code throughout the summer months. And many Australians still nurture disdain for sensible hats, which may explain our continuing high levels of skin cancer.

Some years, summer may start late, but rest assured that unlike Ireland we never have to endure soggy overcast conditions for very long. This year, Christmas in Tasmania was unseasonably cool. We even lit a fire on Boxing Day evening, it was that chilly. But yesterday the mercury was nudging 40 degrees in parts of the island, our house is like a sauna and once again we are on bushfire alert.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. At this time of year, the beach inevitably beckons. It’s hard to equal that fantastic sensation of an instant drop in one’s body temperature that comes a full submerge in the Southern Ocean. It is a temporary respite of course but a respite all the same.

When the heat of the day eases a tad, and the sun has set, at nightfall there’s no better time to sit back and sink a cold drink or two. And as the darkness sets in, the shrill of cicadas yet again fill the night air – an unmistakable reminder that, like myself, the heat is here to stay.

Philip Lynch lives in Tasmania and is a regular contributor to Generation Emigration. Read more of his articles here.