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A Wet Week Down Under

At the risk of stating the crushingly obvious, Australia gets more than its fair share of weather.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all sun, sea and surf, either.  The image of the typical Aussie bloke, riding the waves off Bondi, covered in zinc cream, sporting tight swimming trunks known, for fairly obvious reasons, as budgie smugglers, does ring true a lot of the time.

But the reality is, in winter, which we’re in the middle of right now, it’s cold and actually snows.

Snows quite a lot as a matter of fact; so much so that Oz is home to a number of ski resorts, one of which -  Mount Hotham - is a mere hop, skip and a face plant from my home in the bucolic village of Swifts Creek.

And that’s where I was last weekend, at the opening of this year’s season, given the gig of entertaining the ski bunnies, boardies, lift operators, ancillary staff and assorted others who turned up ready to party, their snow boards, salopettes, soft shells and slightly superior attitudes duly buffed, sharpened,  and open for business.

A confession.  Whereas once upon a time I would have looked askance at troubadours who used pre-recorded tapes to enhance their sound, these days I embrace it wholeheartedly.  I know it’s straying dangerously close to the dreaded purlieu of karaoke but it just makes things so much easier and frankly most of the punters couldn’t care less.

Lounge bar musicians like me, we call them midi files. Real musos?  They call it cheating.

It certainly didn’t seem to matter too much to the pissed-up après ski crowd - who you’ll know, if you’ve ever spent any time atop a snow-capped mountain, are not generally the brightest stars in the firmament - that some of the music I was making was not exactly live and kicking.

‘Hey mate, can you ask the drummer to amp it up a bit?’ was the request from one over refreshed fella, who presumably thought there was a little Homepride man in there, beating the tiny skins like his life depended on it.

So yeah, Australia does get snow – plenty of it this week which will keep the aficionados happy, ski bunnies being almost as boring and one subject obsessed as windbags – I mean people - who play golf.

Australia gets a lot of weather.  Serious weather.

Scalding 50 degree days when not only could you fry an egg on the pavement but you could also knock up a medium rare fillet with a red wine jus, we all know about, but far less agreeable are the bush fire conditions that are often the scary consequence of scalding high temperatures combined with a rasping dry wind.

Bush fires are absolutely terrifying and traumatic for anyone – and here I speak from personal experience - who’s been unlucky to have experienced them.  A bush fire is simply unstoppable and the only sensible advice is – get out of there.

In the fires of 2009, stories abounded of residents prepared to fight as the irresistible inferno approached their home.  It’s an admirable and understandable response but as the casualties mounted up, it became apparent that there is nothing – nothing – you can do if your place is in the line of fire.  All you can do is leave.

Slightly less scary, but only marginally so, are floods.  For a country that’s generally thought of as being essentially quite dry – and is in fact the driest in the world – flash flooding is a regular and depressingly familiar phenomenon.

In Northern New South Wales where I lived for a number of years, the batting average was four serious floods a year with rainfall of Biblical proportions turning a sunny morning into an as-far-as-the-eye-can-see lake come tea time. 

Even though Swifts Creek is in the mountains and therefore – you’d think – unlikely to flood, we were awoken last Tuesday morning to the hastening sound of the river approaching our house.  Since I live on a farm, this required a speedy Noah-like response, rounding up the animals on a two-by-two basis, an ultimately successful exercise which thankfully resulted in no losses but one heck of a clean-up job. 

In no more than a few hours, a gentle, meandering stream turned into a raging torrent flowing faster than Black Caviar (the racehorse, not the overrated pricy fish paste), strong enough to rip a solid wood picnic table clean off a steel base plate, never to be seen again.

So, one way and another, it’s been quite a week on our sleepy Alpine village, a reminder, if one was needed of how, as mere humans, we’re essentially powerless hostages to the unpredictable vagaries of old Mother Nature herself.
And sometimes, it’s good for us to be reminded of, not only our insignificance, but of our tendency toward egocentricity too.

Ensconced in our local watering hole, The Albion Hotel, I was telling a few of the locals how, despite only having resided in Australia for a short time, I’d personally experienced snow blizzards, a major bushfire and upwards of a dozen floods.

‘Really?’, said old Bocky who at 99 is the oldest bloke in town, an amazing character who still drives, fishes and sinks beers with little or no regard for such fripperies as licences, permits or eyesight.

‘Only in Australia 10 years and you seen all that Jono?’
‘Yeah’, I said.
A pause.  Then, dry as you like. ‘You’re a flipping jinx, mate’.

Except he didn’t say ‘flipping’.

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