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Bipolar Barometer

03/30/2013

March is said to roar in like a lion and leave like a lamb, a reference to the seasons changing from winter to spring, which is said to occur during this month.  However the past two years having turned this old adage on its head.  Hopes have risen for an early spring, with warm weather at the beginning of March but a resurgent winter appearing towards the end.  It has certainly disappointed many across Britain and Ireland, with heavy rain and snowfalls across the British Isles.  Meanwhile Amsterdam appeared to be spared the worst of it, with clear skies and relatively warm weather.  The only drawback was the immensely strong winds whcih blew across the city over the past weekend.

This is not to say that the wind has not been a serious nuisance.  It kept most people indoors, and cost me two hats which blew into the canals of the city.  And a pair of sunglasses, which I had foolishly put on one of them.  Mother Nature, it seems, is not amused with us.  My hopes for a reprieve from wintry weather appear to have been dashed by snow falling at the end of this week.  I had been looking forward to a sunny Easter weekend to be spent outdoors, but it was not to be.

However, in case those of us in Northern Europe think we have a raw deal, people in other parts of the world are beset by droughts and heatwaves.  One can always stay indoors during a cold spell, or put on warm clothing.  The intense baking heat which I experienced in South Africa and Australia is harder to escape.  The impact of drought is also extremely unpleasant, and is a harbinger of doom for food production in the future.

The year I spent in Australia gave me some insight into the very real impact this has on peoples lives.  Upon my arrival in Sydney I had a part time job helping a company install water tanks, to collect rainwater.  The restrictions on this vital, life giving liquid had made people realise how they had taken it for granted for so long.  Water rights have become a political hot potato in Australia, with the Murray Darling River system providing water for New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Much valuable farmland became unproductive by the drought, and subsequent floods affected farmland in Queensland.  The sheer size of Australia results in weather patterns affectiing different regions in different ways.  I travelled from the dry region of Adelaide in the south to the Northern Territory by train, an immense journey which takes three days and nights.  After watching the sun set over dry red desert of the central Australian continent, I was surprised to see it rise over the green lush landscape further north.

I had intentionally chosen to go during the “green season,” when the monsoon brings rain to the nothern part of Australia.  Huge wetlands form, attracting vast flocks of waterfowl.  These were hunted by Indiginous Australians using boomerangs, and they surely must have had a good feast as a result.  The modern city of Darwin reminded me of Singapore, with its streets lined with trees and the scent of fragrant vegetation filling the air.

From here my itinerary took me to Kakadu National park, a large and gloriously lush park which is surely a national treasure.  The rain had burst the banks of the rivers, and made them unsafe for swimming due to crocodiles.  Yet it had also filled large pools on the higher ground, which we dived into with pleasure to escape the heat.  The water was so pure that we could full our waterbottles from the waterfalls which cascaded into the pools.  The heat was so intense that when we awoke in our campsite, we would sit on our bunks drinking greedily from our waterbottles before standing up  I could not help but think that we had the appearance of derelicts on a park bench.

If the heat in mainland Australia is intense, I was certainly surprised during my visit to Tasmania.  I visited in February which is summertime in the Southern Hemisphere.  The temparature dropped to freezing during my nights in the mountains around Lake Sinclair.  This island is named after Abel Tasman, the first European to discover it, and became notorious as a British penal colony during the nineteenth century.  However its sad history and rainy climate have given it a  haunting beauty, and it is a lesser visited spot in Australia.  i would strongly recommend it as a travel destination.

I have also visited Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria, which profited from a gold mining boom in the mid nineteenth century.  Just north of here, near the gold rush town of Ballarat, was where the largest gold nugget in the world was ever found.  It weighed in at just under seventy kilograms.  The city iself shows the trappings of this boom in its glorious Victorian architecture.  The City Hall, State Parliament and Flinders Station are but some examples of this.  I was shocked to see the city under a pall of smoke during my last visit.  A spell of intensely hot, dry weather had been followed by bush fires, which had destroyed property and displaced many people.

These were exacerbated by the leaf litter which had collected in the eucalypt forests of the interior.  Eucalyptus trees shed leaves, and branches throughout the year, and these collect on the ground.  Indigenous Australians, living cheek by jowl with the natural world, adapted to these conditions.  They turned the fallen eucalypt branches, hollowed out by termites, into Australia’s indigenous muscial instrument; the didgeridoo.  They would also engage in a practice known as “firestick farming,” during which they would burn portions of the bush to catch animals.  This may seem wantonly destructive, however it would clear up the leaf litter and the eucalypts would recover.

The mounds of leaf litter which had collected in large quantities across Victoria became a virtual tinderbox, a disaster waiting to happen.  The hot and dry weather increased the fire risk, and when a small fire started, the leaf litter and the oil contained within eucalyptus trees saw a huge conflagration spread through farmland and forest alike.  The destruction and human disasters which followed are ample evidence of the wary respect we should hold for nature.  And also that while we moan about our wind, snow and rain, we should also count our blessings.

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3 Comments
  1. Great observation of the Australian climate. I started reading because I wanted to hear about Amsterdam and like all good stories I ended up home. Love your Amsterdam pix. I think I’ll be over there soon to create my own archives. regards Peet

  2. A great description of Australia, and the respect we have to have for our climate. I’ve only been here a year, but seen the national news detail floods, storms and bush fires we couldn’t imagine in Europe.

    I’m also enjoying your Amsterdam writings and photos. I only visited for a brief holiday while I lived in the UK, so it’s great to see the real life of the city.

    • The year I spent in Australia was a real eye opener, especially so for what it might hold for global weather patterns. It is a lovely country to live in though, I hope you enjoy every moment.

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