Today, 22nd June 2019, is this year’s winter solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere. Our part of the Earth started moving North, back toward the Sun at 1:54am. In the UK, Europe, and the USA and Canada, it’s midsummer. The druids are arriving at Salisbury to watch the sun rise over the heel stone at Stonehenge and parties are gearing up everywhere. All these things are such a big deal in the North. The winter solstice is an even bigger deal, since it coincides with the blessed return of the sun. And Christmas, but that’s a later addition.
It’s not like that here in Australia. We celebrate the summer solstice because we have inherited the European traditions of Christmas but I’d bet that many Australians aren’t aware of the solstice, which is a few days before the 25th December. They just know it’s Summer holidays. Yay! The beach, presents, cricket!
The winter solstice is even less of an event. But then, here in Hervey Bay sunrise was at 6:33, and sunset will be 17:07, giving us around ten and a half hours of daylight. That’s only three hours and nine minutes less than midsummer, so it’s not such a big deal. In comparison, London in midsummer gets sixteen hours and thirty-eight minutes of daylight. In winter, sunrise is at just after 8am, and sunset just before 4pm, around eight hours of daylight. And it’s usually cold and miserable all day. During June in Hervey Bay the maximum temperatures are usually in the low twenties – not a bad summer’s day in England.
Whatever the temperatures, going back not even one hundred years people needed to be interested in the change of the seasons. They needed to know when to plant crops, when particular food sources appeared, the patterns of animal behaviour and so on. All of them were astronomers, keeping an eye on the progression of the stars. And Australia has its own ‘Stonehenge’. Scientists have been investigating Wurdi Youang, large basalt rocks arranged in an egg shape, which can be used to observe the Summer and Winter solstices. The site could be as much as ten thousand years old, pre-dating Stonehenge. Here’s the story.
I remember the first time I went to Europe, to London and Amsterdam. It was November and especially coming from the bright, warm weatherof an Australian late Spring, arriving in the last throes of autumn was taxing. For a start it was cold, or, to put it another way, fucking freezing. Four degrees max? You’ve gotta be kidding me. For another, the sunlight was insipid when it was there, and it wasn’t there for long. The shadows were already lengthening at around 3pm and the sun was gone well before 5pm. After that was a long-drawn-out twilight. All that played havoc with my body clock. Twilight lasts for about five minutes in Australia. The sun goes down and that’s it, folks. Darkness is waiting in the wings to take the sun’s place.
So, although everywhere in the world gets a (roughly) twenty-four-hour day, and experiences two solstices and two equinoxes per annum, the experience isn’t the same everywhere. For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, have a wonderful midsummer celebration. We in the South will shrug our shoulders and carry on.