Give me soft Irish weather over Australian drought any day
Others might yearn for clear blue skies but I long for rain here in Tasmania
Philip Lynch, waiting for the rain: ‘Perhaps my hankering for cooler climes is the main reason why I choose to live in Tasmania after a long sojourn in Melbourne.’
Australia is a wide brown land. And its landscape seems set to become even browner. This continent has had a downward trend in rainfall since 1970; and we can expect longer drier periods and more extreme rainfall events. And as if this isn’t enough, one in 100-year flooding events are predicted to occur every 20 years.
Even here in temperate Tasmania, 240 kilometres south of mainland Australia, we haven’t escaped the effects of climate change. Catastrophic bushfires are becoming more frequent. Flooding caused AUS$180 million (EUR113 million) in damage to property and livestock in the north of the island in 2016. But of late, rainfall, especially around here in southern Tasmania, has been infrequent and miserly. Last year, Tasmania experienced a 15 per cent drop in its annual rainfall. Farmers in the east of the state are still experiencing drought-like conditions.
Some rain finally arrived at our place last week. True to the Bureau of Meteorology’s prediction, it swept in from the west during the night. In the morning we watched almost in disbelief as it fell sideways, alternating between heavy showers and soft drizzle, and soon everything looked saturated.
Our dog took one look at what was unfolding, thought better of it, and she promptly made a bee-line for her bed under the kitchen table. By the afternoon, just when I thought it was showing signs of clearing, the rain began again in earnest. We were house-bound all day but I didn’t mind. The chores outside would have to keep for another day.
By this time of the year, most of the work in our vegetable garden is just about done. The urgency of having to water and weed is rapidly fading. By some stroke of luck, we’ve managed to keep the pesky possums at bay. The last of the spinach and silver beet is yet to be harvested as are the potatoes and pumpkins; but the tomatoes, zucchini and corn are all finished, and, with the cooler temperatures, growth is starting to slow down.
Others may yearn for clear blue skies and endless days of sunshine or even a dusting of snow on Hobart’s kunanyi/Mount Wellington, but I’ll take overcast conditions and rain any day. My preference for a damp climate probably goes way back to growing up on a farm in Ireland. And perhaps my hankering for cooler climes is the main reason why I choose to live in Tasmania after a long sojourn in Melbourne.
Throughout my childhood, rain was seldom far away. We tolerated the damp weather with barely concealed resignation. Rain jackets were always within easy reach on the hallstand. Most of the kids in primary school wore wellingtons, almost all year round. In mucky conditions, wellingtons were ideal for executing sliding tackles during our lunch time soccer games. Mud-caked jeans, despite our mother’s horror, were worn home as a badge of honour and indisputable evidence of our heroic feats on the field.
I remember summers were often soggy and saving the hay and turf were trying affairs. Using tanks to harvest rain water for domestic use simply didn’t happen. Perhaps rain was regarded as some kind of inconvenience to be endured. Our father hauled our household water from a stream, two miles down the road. It was one of the chores my brothers and I reluctantly inherited when we were almost old enough to legally drive the tractor. When the stream ran dry, as it did every summer, we had to rely on a neighbour’s goodwill to draw water from the well on his property at Corboy. So, I grew up learning never to take the supply of water for granted.
Here in Tasmania, I’ve often watched ominous low black clouds gather, only for them to disperse and give way to clear blue skies. The ground is rock hard. Surface cracks are now starting to widen and deepen. On our block, trees and shrubs are suffering and several have perished. Those supposed harbingers of rain, the elegant yellow-tailed black cockatoos, who often noisily and nonchalantly sweep past in groups of 25 or more, have not lived up to their reputation.
And yet, even modest rainfall makes a difference. A shower or two is often enough for small birds to flit about foraging with renewed vigour. After rain, frogs are always noisier, and of course our chooks are in their element. The trunks of gum trees glisten as if they are relishing this new-found moisture. We gain some respite from the dust that’s thrown up by passing traffic on our gravel road. And we’re inclined to linger for longer and to lather up more lavishly without the usual guilt while having our morning showers.
If it’s a worthwhile downpour, and I happen to be at home, I’ll be out there, up on the ladder, ridding the gutters and downpipes of leaves and debris. It hardly needs to be said that living on tank water, every drop counts. I’ve even been known to stop and stare at the water flowing unimpeded into the tank. I know I’m not alone as friends have also confessed to engaging in this slightly odd behaviour.
When rain finally arrives, we have to be prepared. A month’s worth can fall in the space a few hours. A deluge, complete with flash-flooding at the start of last summer boosted our capacity and kept us going for several months. There is always the option of buying water but something inside of me baulks at having to pay for something that falls from the sky. Fully-laden water cartage trucks lugging their precious cargo are a common sight around these parts. But, buying water to grow vegetables doesn’t make economic sense. And sinking a bore as an additional water source is simply too expensive.
Our small dam has seen better days. It relies on runoff and by Christmas, it has usually shrunk to a puddle size shadow of its former self; having barely enough water to accommodate a handful of frogs. It’s hardly surprising that the pair of ducks that regularly swept in low and fast every morning have long since sought more bountiful destinations.
So, for now, I guess out of habit, I’ll continue to monitor the Bureau’s radar; and, to keep an eye out for the black cockatoos. But as for mud-caked jeans; they are well and truly consigned to my memory of a wetter yesteryear.