Impecuniousness has demanded that I navigate this La Niña without the protection of an umbrella. As a result, I have developed an increasingly close acquaintance with the norms and nature of New South Wales’ rainfall — developing a farmer’s predilection for measuring millimeters and refreshing radars. Accordingly, I will recount some of my recent rainfall experiences.
Last Week (Rain as Comfort)
Last week, in the midst of a once-in-fifty-year rainfall event, I sat down and read fiction for the first time since the last time it rained. The downpour cleared away — at least briefly — the stagnancy of Sydney’s fetid early autumn, allowing for an early sampling of winter’s indulgences: tea, doonas, fiction.
Performative wintering is an art well-practiced by certain Sydneysiders, and puffer jackets and designer raincoats soon were promptly whipped out of closets with an air of self-satisfaction to make their season debuts under extravagant umbrellas.
To Sydneysiders with roofs that don’t leak, this sort of rain is mostly an ambivalence, a public transport inconvenience at worst. More a conversation starter than a cause for concern.
In this environment of Scandi-LARPing, of rain as a fashion opportunity, it is difficult both literally and figuratively, to gauge and understand the scale and effect of rain just beyond Sydney. My rain gauge only takes 150mm. Much of the North Coast took over 200mm on a single day.
A house floating down the Manning River on its owners’ wedding day seems from Surry Hills more like the makings of an apocryphal pub tale than a real personal and local tragedy. Only the news that the couple’s dog went down with the house has the effect of provoking much sympathy.
James Joyce wrote: “In the soft grey silence he could hear the bump of the balls: and from here and from there through the quiet air the sounds of the cricket bats: pick, pack, pock, puck: like drops of water in a fountain falling softly in the brimming bowl.”
Rain and cricket go hand in glove. For the amateur cricketer, a working proficiency in meteorology is a basic of the pastime. One quickly gains an understanding of precipitation percentages, vectors and variabilities of local wind patterns, and an intimacy with isobaric charts.
Every year at the SCG Test it rains. Each year a different rain: fine mist, socked in soaking, southerly buster. But the patricians in the Members don’t mind — it at least reinforces their claim to be a traditional (read: English) test ground. And regardless, they spend the time pissing up in the bar, drinking out of glass schooners, gazing from the balcony at the plebs in ponchos, plastic cups in hand, rain pick, pack, pocking on the old tin roof.
Heat settles in the Sydney basin on rancid summer days. Weatherboards warp and floorboards stick to bare feet. Non-air-conditioned Sydneysiders lie defeated in syrupy air on couches, in backyards, at beaches, bobbing up and down in the water. We chew up time in stagnant silence, waiting for the sound and action of the southerly buster as it blows up the coast.
A good buster is an event to remember.
Les Murray, Honi Soit alum and poet of the Manning River region, writes best about our rain:
Our farms are in the patched blue overlap
between Queensland rain and Victorian rain
(and of two-faced droughts like a dustbowl tap).
The southerly rain is skimmed and curled
off the Roaring Forties’ circuit of the world.
It is our chased Victorian silver
and makes wintry asphalt hurry on the spot
or pauses to a vague speed in the air,
whereas, lightning-brewed in a vast coral pot
the tropical weather disgorges its lot
in days of enveloping floodtime blast
towering and warm as a Papuan forest,
a rain you can sweat in, it steams in the sun
like a hard-ridden horse, while southern rain’s absorbed
like a cool, fake-colloquial, drawn out lesson.