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Sydney Weather Lore




F. Fowler, J859 Memoirs. Mitchell Library

Having mentioned, in passing, a hot wind, let me endeavour to convey some notion of what a hot wind really is. It is early morning, and as you look from your window, in the suburbs of Sydney, you see a thin white vapour rising from the far-off bush. The sheep out there in the distance are congregated beneath the trees, while the old cows are standing knee-deep in those clayey creeks of water that trickle from the heaped-up rocks above. You have seen all this before, and know too well what it means. Before breakfast time, there will be a hot wind.

It comes. The white earth cracks as it passes over it as though it were a globe of crystal struck by one invisible and mighty hand. The air is hot and murky, as the breath from an oven; and you see trees whither – the fruit shrivel and drop from the vines – as though the Last Seal were opened and the breath of the Destroying Angel had gone forth. The cicadas seem to shriek (their shrill note is always shrillest in hot weather), and the birds drop dead from the trees. The dogs in the street, lie down and hide their dry protruding tongues in the dust. Higher and higher rises the Mercury in the glass, until now, at noon, it stands at 147F! You stop up every keyhole and crevice in your room to keep out the burning Sirocco, and endeavour, perhaps, to read. In a minute stars dance before your eyes, and your temples throb like pulses of hot iron You allow the book to fall from your hands, and strive to drop to sleep. It is not much relief if you succeed, for you are safe to dream of the Inferno or Beckford’s Hall of Eblis. There is only one thing you can do that gives relief. Light your pipe, mix your sherry-cobbler, and smoke and drink until the change arrives. The ‘Southerly Buster’, as this change is called, generally comes

‘Sounding on,
Like the storm-wind from Labrador,
The wind furodydon,’

nearly in the evening. A cloud of dust – they call it, in Sydney, a ‘brickfielder’ – thicker than any London fog, heralds it’s approach, and moves like a compact wall across the country. In a minute the temperature will sink fifty or sixty degrees, and so keenly does the sudden change affect the system, that hot toddy takes the place of the sherry-cobbler, and the greatcoat is buttoned tightly around you until a fire can be lighted. Now, if you look from your window in the direction where you saw that white vapour ascending in the morning, a spectacle terrible in its magnificence will meet your eye. For miles around Û as far as the gaze can reach Û bush fires are blazing. You see the trail of flame extending into the interior until it glows faint and thin along the hill-tops as though a wounded deer had moved, bleeding upon the road. Nearer, however, the sight is grand and awful, and hints the Final Apocalypse when the stars fall like those charred branches that drop with a thunderous crash and scatter a cloud of glowing embers around them.

No matter where you live in Sydney, looking from your window across the harbour into the sur-rounding bush, you can always see sights like this after a hot wind. The reflection upon the water itself is very fine. The emerald changes into ruby Û the water into wine. The white sails of boats become a ‘purple’ and Ïtheir prows of beaten goldÓ. Everything seems bathed in an atmosphere of romance, and, if the impression were not lowered by the idea, the sheets of flame in the distance might be taken for the crimson walls of Aladdin’s palace gleaming through the woods. Sometimes these hot winds last two or three days, and then the effects are something lamentable. Scarcely a blade of vegetation is left in the ground Ûthe sere leaves fall from the trees as in a blast of autumn. The same week that I landed in Sydney, a hot wind lasted for four days, on the last of which no less than thirty persons dropped dead in the streets. I remember I had a little garden to my house, and the white-stemmed jessamine (sic: jasmine) was in full flower in front of the lower windows. Before the wind was over nothing remained but a bunch of dry sticks, set to the wall by the pieces of doth with which they were fastened. But I have witnessed other phenomena in Australia as remarkable – if not as terrible – as a hot wind, and I must therefore pass on.