September 20. September in Adelaide is the last month of the year in which we hope to receive a reasonable amount of rain. Our mean rainfall for the first month of spring is 2 inches or 50 ml. Bear in mind that our annual rainfall is 525ml. (21 inches). Some say South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent in the world. It sure feels like that at the moment.
This year, our winter rainfall was only 60 % of the average. You can see this in the hardness of the soil when you dig. Summer lies ahead with those challenging weeks of furiously high temperatures and no rain.
I returned from our recent trip up north acutely aware of the devastation that the drought has had on the countryside. So I started watching the 28-day forecast of possible rain that is produced by Elders Weather – hoping for rain for the stations we had returned from. They get their rain from monsoonal troughs arriving from the north. And in the last few days, one arrived.
Witchelina, Farina and the Marree area received close to 100ml of rain (4 inches). The Flinders Ranges recieved a little less. Flood warnings were broadcast with images of swollen creeks. A godsend. Our ABC news was full of the wonder of this record downpour, as farmers rejoiced.
So we waited in Adelaide, hoping for the meagre 20 mm (1 inch) that was forecast for last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The clouds were dark but no rain fell … a few showers passed south over Kangaroo Island. I started watering the garden again.
Today, Sunday, the skies were full of sound and fury and once more in anticipation I examined the local radar – a narrow band of orange, red and black approached us from the west. We got some rain! Only 5ml over half an hour, but so very welcome.
Later, I walked out in the dark to set our two feral cat traps (yes, we are trapping feral cats with help from our council) and the bush seemed to be singing.
August 14. More and more it feels as if South Australia is on the edge of the second wave of Covid-19. All states in Australia are trying to protect themselves from one another. The virus has well and truly escaped into the communities of our neighbouring state of Victoria. Each day, we anxiously watch an update from an increasingly harassed Premier Daniel Andrews as he announces the numbers of people newly infected and the numbers dead. The breakout started in late May and reached a daily maximum of well over 700 new infections. On 3 August, Andrews announced ‘a state of disaster’. A Stage 4 lockdown applies to greater Melbourne, Stage 3 throughout the state. There is a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am in Melbourne and people are limited to essential travel. Police monitor intersections day and night.
The streets are empty. Yet it is taking time for the numbers to reflect the severe shut down – the latest news is 372 new cases. And of course, the death toll will increase before it drops. Daily we watch the NUMBERS: Victoria has 7,877 active cases; 289 have died; 1.9 million tested. The population of Melbourne is 4.936 million and Victoria 6.359 million. NSW authorities are frantically trying to control isolated outbreaks in Sydney.
Our South Australian / Victorian border is shut and it is being carefully monitored. Fewer and fewer exemptions are being allowed – only essential and specialist workers; students in year 11 and 12 whose properties are bisected by the border, will be allowed to cross. Within South Australia, our state government is reversing previous relaxations. For example, licensed cafes, gyms and places of worship will have to have a ‘Covid Marshall’ in place to enforce social distancing and hygiene practices.
From the South Australian point of view, our borders to the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and West Australia (WA) are open but not the ACT (Canberra). BUT Tasmania requires us to quarantine for 14 days and WA will not let South Australians in. Effectively, we can travel to the NT (by road or air) and Queensland (by air only). I hope I have this right! It’s complicated and can change overnight.
Victorian aged care facilities have experienced distressing outbreaks (1 in 4 homes infected) and most of the state’s deaths relate to these facilities. As a result, South Australia authorities now require all staff in our residential homes to wear personal protective equipment when within 1.5 m of patients. And most important, their staff will not be allowed to work across multiple facilities. This appears to have been a factor in the outbreaks in Victoria.
Overnight a 20-year-old died in Melbourne. I listened on the radio to a specialist in the UK who recounted his concern about the side-effects of COVID-19. He said that we are underestimating the virus’s long-term effects. He called it the ‘long’ COVID. More and more reports are being documented. It is a mistake to consider COVID-19 a disease that only threatens those of us deemed ‘aged’.
In South Australia, we have had very few cases in the last weeks. Overnight, one case was recorded: an Australian citizen returning from India. He or she was in quarantine. Each day I wonder if we will still manage to keep to these low numbers. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, they have developed a serious cluster in Auckland. (Just when they were feeling rather pleased with their achievements with 100 virus free days.) They are now struggling to find the source and we hear that it is a ‘new’ strain. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden has put in place a Level 3 shut down. She has said they must ‘go in early and go in hard’ (once more) to stop the spread.
Whereas a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about the possibility of having a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand, now that is a remote possibility. Our Australian tourist sector remains severely impacted.
Some good news! Travel within South Australia is picking up. Our friends are making short trips across to the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas or down to the Southeast. We are also able to travel to the Northern Territory. From August 30, South Australians can take a trip on the famous Ghan railway up to Darwin.
We ourselves are preparing for a trip to the Flinders Ranges. A great deal of organisation has gone into this trip and a lot of excitement is evident. Beyond normal. There will be about 20 in this group from our local field geology club. The idea is to visit some remote stations in the Flinders Ranges. Before we go, we have to complete a health statement.
I anticipate cold, dry weather. One of the stations we are visiting, 625 kms north of us, is Witchelina. They have received 11 mils of rain recently – not even half an inch. A virtual flood! It is the most they have received in the last year. The station is 4,200 square kms in size (one fifth the size of Wales) and is managed by the Nature Foundation.
We will pass through a deserted town called Farina. Farina was established in 1878 during a period of greater rainfall, when a railway expansion took place. Some colonialists had a belief that “the rain followed the plough”. Instead, what followed was seven years of drought and all the farmers and residents gave up. It is now a ghost town and a tourist attraction for the few that travel this far into the Outback. And it’s a warning for all those who are over optimistic about South Australia’s rainfall.
Farina is being partly restored as a tourist attraction. There is an ANZAC memorial in the town to the 33 men, born in Farina, who volunteered in the First World War. (Most Aussie towns have an ANZAC memorial).
I fear that we will be seeing Farina in the kind of state it was when the first residents gave up hope of their continued survival. But … we are still excited, drought or no drought, virus or no virus.
Aug 1. Spring has not arrived. Of course. We are still in deep winter – whatever ‘winter’ is in South Australia, but there are tentative indications that it’s not far away. One of the natural events we watch for is the first flowering of the golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha . The golden wattle is Australia’s national floral emblem and is common around Adelaide. When the small tree flowers, it is covered in a profusion of bright golden bubbles. The valley next to us turns into a sea of gold.
Yesterday, I noticed the first wattle tree flowering.
We have not had any rain for a month which is not good news. This is the time of the year that we count every mil. There is a theory that the pattern of rainfall has moved south 200 kms in South Australia which means, over time, we will get less rain. Our next rain is predicted for 5th August. We are planning a trip north to the Flinders Ranges (500kms north of Adelaide) in three weeks’ time and the news is that the Flinders Ranges are experiencing a serious drought. It has barely rained for four years.
Friends of ours have just returned from a camel trek in the Northern Flinders. For two weeks they walked through remote country, sleeping in the open in ‘swags’ (a sort of cross between a small tent and a sleeping bag). All the food, water etc was carried by the camels. My friends said that you had to learn to be careful of not being kicked. Camels can kick forwards and backward! They said there was barely any sign of animal (or bird) life. Bones of kangaroos lay everywhere. Very depressing.
I noted that the 14-day weather forecast predicts a day or so of rain (60% chance of 15ml) in the Flinders Ranges. This would make all the difference.
Another hint of spring crossed our driveway in front of my car: an eastern beared dragon (Pogona barbata). The dragon is a kind of large lizard with an intimidating beard which it puffs out when threatened. This lizard was obviously taking advantage of the abnormally warm weather to have a quick feed. Not a good sign as sometimes the brown snakes will come out in mid-winter.
It is strange how much time we spend looking at the weather now: more so than before Covid-19. Perhaps, this is because we are spending time outside walking and enjoying the environment whatever the weather, with or without beared dragons.