The Goldilocks years

This one wasn’t too bad 2018 – sound and fury and 15mm of rain

Rainfall can be such a hit-and-miss business in Australia. I can’t remember the last time when it was a non-issue; that is, not too little, not too much – just right. Remember Goldilocks? Even going back to my childhood in Perth, we watched and waited for the winter rains to fill the hollows in the hills and set the little streams running to fill the dams. If the winter rains were late, the level of angst would rise. It’s a Mediterranean climate over there, so every year, summer is dry. There might be an occasional summer storm, usually associated with the remains of a cyclone up north, but that’s a rarity. As summer approached in Perth, I’d pack up my jeans, my winter woollies, and my umbrella, confident I wouldn’t need them until around March. Maybe. If the winter rains had failed, we’d be up for water restrictions, too.

Mind you, I remember one year, around the late seventies(?) when it rained and rained and bloody rained to the extent that we wished for a break. Every day of every week for pretty much all of July and August the skies were grey and the streets sodden. We weren’t used to it and it affected everyone’s moods. The winter blues wasn’t normally a big thing in Perth. We had our rain days but every once in a while, you’d get calm, clear, cold days full of sunshine to brighten the spirits. But not that year. It was probably one of the few years where the dams actually overflowed, a much-celebrated event.

When I left Perth I went to live in Greendale, a little rural spot in the Pentland Hills west of Melbourne. I had imagined it would be wetter than Perth, being further south and all that. I was wrong, At the time, average rainfall was around 700mm to Perth’s 733mm. The rainfall pattern wasn’t the same, either. Although most rain falls in the winter months, rain can fall any time of the year. The first year we lived in Greendale the rains were good. I don’t know if my moving over to Victoria had anything to do with it, but 1996 was the start of a long period of drought. Since we relied on tank water for all our needs, we started keep daily rainfall figures in 2003.

You’ll see back then the average was taken to be around 700mm but the closest we came in those years was 600mm in 2004. The monthly graph shows how random the rainfall was by month. Feb 2005, Oct 2004 and Dec 2006 were boom months. Those pale blue columns that form a wave? That’s the BOM averages. The actual figures are nothing like as predictable.

Over here in sub-tropical Queensland it’s a bit different. We’re supposed to get our rain in summer, or what we optimistically call the wet season. Our winters are warm and dry, and cool at night. It’s perfect for long walks along the beach, with little wavelets lapping at your feet. The tourists up here from Victoria, or from Europe, go swimming or lie on the sand sunbathing. It’s too cold for us locals to go into the water but it’s a lovely time of year.

Winter at the day. with tourists

But if the dry goes on too long, we watch the sky, or more often these days, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) radar maps. Being within cooee of the coast, our average rainfall here is rather higher than either Perth or Greendale, coming in it at 1,062mm. But once again, we found that the Goldilocks years were few and far between.

That’s how it is in Australia – if you’re not having a flood, you’re having a drought. It all depends on whether el Niño or la Niña is affecting the weather in the Pacific, and what’s happening with the Indian Ocean dipole index. As for this year – it’s not looking good for a decent wet season.

Here’s our rainfall graph for the last 10 years. Up and down like a prostitute’s drawers.

Here are the figures by month.

Once again, apart from saying it doesn’t rain as much in winter, what’s to say? In 2012 unseasonal rain was pretty common. In 2010 more than half a year’s worth fell in December.

It’s always interesting looking at accumulated rain each year.

I picked up the BOM average figures for our area from the website and I also calculated the actual 10-year average from our own figures, which gives a figure of 1100mm for the year.

Unless some significant rain happens between now and the end of the year, we’re looking at our lowest rainfall in all the time we’ve lived here. 2019 is the yellow line at the bottom.

But it’s all okay. The Indian Ocean index will reverse, la Niña will arrive, the rain will fall, and we’ll complain about the wet.

I’ll finish with the iconic poem by John O’Brien, SAID HANRAHAN, first published in 1919.

SAID HANRAHAN

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

“It’s lookin’ crook,” said Daniel Croke;
“Bedad, it’s cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad.”

“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.

“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain.

“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said,
“And all the tanks are dry.”
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

“There won’t be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There’s not a blade on Casey’s place
As I came down to Mass.”

“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak–
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If rain don’t come this week.”

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

“We want a inch of rain, we do,”
O’Neil observed at last;
But Croke “maintained” we wanted two
To put the danger past.

“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

In God’s good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o’Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop.”

And stop it did, in God’s good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o’er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o’er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey’s place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

“There’ll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

 

I mean no disrespect to the farmers doing it tough out there in a seemingly never-ending drought. I’m just making the point that it isn’t new.