from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: We forgot to be Afraid.

2019-2020 Australian ‘Black Summer’

26 March, 2021.

The disasters keep coming. We keep telling ourselves in Australia that we are the lucky country. Covid-19 has not devastated our country; the numbers of dead are low – 909 with under 30,000 confirmed cases. Our lives have been little affected when compared with others. And vaccinations are now underway.

Yet Australia remains a country of extremes. At the beginning of 2020 we suffered the worst bushfire season in living memory. That summer is now called the ‘Black Summer’. Over 18 million hectares were burnt, almost 10,000 homes lost, and 479 died (including smoke inhalation). The toll on our wildlife is hard to comprehend. Billions of creatures died. In terms of cost the fires are estimated to have cost Australia 103 billion AUD. This is our ‘costliest natural disaster to date’ (Wikipedia). No one can count the cost of the CO2 emissions.

No sooner had the fires abated than Covid-19 arrived.

And now we have another disaster: floods. This is the result of the La Niña (little girl) weather pattern. Until recently this was OK – cooler summers and more rainfall, nothing extraordinary. And then a week ago, a weather system came down the east coast, settled and intensified – from Sydney up to Queensland.

A severe weather warning was put out for the entire NSW coast. Dams could not contain the inflows and rivers overflowed onto floodplains that for over 100 years had been thought to be flood-free. (Some 134,000 people had settled on these flood plains over the decades.) The rain came with high winds and high tides along the coast. The Defence Force were called out to help evacuate thousands of people. Animals were swept into the swollen rivers. Some farmers lost their entire dairy herds to the flood. Facebook was used to post images of rescued horses and cattle as well as dead animals washed up on beaches. One iconic video showed an intact house floating down the Manning river near Taree: the owners were due to get married that day.

The quantity of rain is hard to comprehend. Rivers rose up to 16 metres.

Rainfall totals in excess of 400 mm were reported along the coastal areas and Central Tablelands in New South Wales, and a number of locations in Queensland’s central and south-east coast districts. Locations in the Hunter and Mid North Coast districts in New South Wales received over 600 mm of rainfall, including the highest weekly total of 991 mm at Bellwood in the Mid North Coast, which has exceeded the long-term autumn rainfall average less than one month into the season.’

http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/rainfall/

Our annual rainfall for Adelaide is an average of 520mm and Sydney is 920mm a year.

The Australian insurance council has declared a ‘catastrophe’ for NSW as over 11,00 claims have been filed. However, I heard that many people could not afford the expensive flood insurance.

And now for the mouse plague. The generous La Niña rains allowed grain farmers to have a bumper year. And with this came an explosion in mice numbers in inland NSW and Queensland and the plague is moving south. Female mice can breed every 6 weeks and can give birth to 50 pups a year. The images are confronting: mice streaming across the fields at night in their tens of thousands. People are trapping 500 mice a night. Hay reserves held in barns are being destroyed. Locals describe the swarming mice as being in ‘biblical proportions’.

ABC image

Images from our ABC are confronting. The ABC reports that hospital patients have been bitten by the rodents. Those of us who dislike the idea of ONE mouse in the house would freak out!

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-03-18/mice-plague-nsw-worsens-and–affecting-crops/13255486

Apparently, mouse control is an expensive business and winter crops are threatened.

Meanwhile, I have been reading a couple of books that have darkened my view of the world. The first is the Booker prize winner, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. (Why has McCarthy not been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature?)  I first read The Road soon after it was published in 2006 and I remember I spent a month affected by its story. His vision of the post-apocalyptical world is devastating to say the least. I re-read it this month to give a presentation to my reading group. And the re-read is worth doing as I was prepared for the horror and could appreciate the beauty of the relationship between the man and his son. And what poetry is in his language! But still, it is a depiction of the end of times and the loss of civilisation. How thin a veneer is our behaviour in this society?

2006 wake-up call

The other book is Plague by Wendy Orent (2004 Free Press). Orent covers the 1,500 years of plagues across our world and wrote of the dangers that lay in wait for us (prescient!). Her presentation of historical accounts of plagues is mind-blowing. This is history that was not taught to us. How slow it was for humans to realise that the fleas on rats were the vectors of the plague. Alexandre Yersin in 1894 and Jean-Paul Simon in 1898 made the breakthroughs. It was not until 1947 and streptomycin that a cure was available. For centuries people believed miasmas (bad or night air) caused the plague. All this is not long ago and we might have made medical advances but it seems that we quickly became complacent.

We forgot to be afraid.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Dusty and Dry and a Yellow-tailed Black cockatoo

January 8, 2021

Struggling eucalyptus tree-seedling

It’s been hot and dry and rain-less for weeks. Not ultra-hot – which is defined as a series of days over 40C but oscillating around 30 degrees C. The soil is hard and even if you dig a foot down, there is no moisture. We are watering daily: sprinklers and drippers in a series of timings around the house. When I go out, I fill six 2litre old milk bottles with water and take them in my car to water the smaller trees along our driveway.

Note the liklihood of rain: On Tuesday, 5% chance of less than 1 mm … so it goes.

We fill our bird baths twice a day for the bees that gather around the edges and for the birds that congregate early and late. No koalas have yet come down to drink in the daytime this summer.

La Niña is indeed bringing cooler weather and rain, but not to us in South Australia. It is raining almost everywhere else. The map of Australia is no longer filled with emergency red coloured areas of desperation. Drought remains only in isolated unlucky spots.

The presence of La Niña increases the chance of widespread flooding. Of the 18 La Niña events since 1900 (including multi-year events ) 12 have resulted in floodsfor some parts of Australia, with the east coast experiencing twice as many severe floods during La Niña years than El Niño years. Typically, some areas of northern Australia will experience flooding during La Niña because of the increase in tropical cyclone numbers. The relationship between La Niña strength and rainfall is closely linked.’

http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/updates/articles/a020.shtml

Sadly, this rainfall is not reaching us, but at least we have not had the fiercest of summers, nor a winter without rain. However, we are all very conscious of water availability and usage. Metered water is not cheap in Adelaide.

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo (male has the pink around the eye)

All evening, a single yellow-tailed black cockatoo has been flying around our house and the valley calling and wailing. It sounds desperate. These cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are monogamous and mate for life. For sure this cockatoo had lost its mate. We often see flocks of them in summer. They are most elegant flyers with a taste for the nuts inside the cones of radiata pines. In the past, fishermen used to shoot these magnificent birds to get the grubs from their gizzards – grubs that the birds had extracted from eucalypts. Our bird cried mournfully. I hope the mate has not met some misadventure.

A Painting of the Outback

Yesterday, I went to the cinema to see a film called ‘The Dry’ based on the eponymous book by Jane Harper. It is a murder mystery set during drought times in a small town in the desolate wheatlands of NW Victoria –  the Mallee Wimmera. For anyone who has no concept of how drought affects Australian farming communities, watch this film and you will get an idea of this country of extreme weather.

There is no problem with going to the cinema at the moment. We all checked in at the cinema entrance with our phones against the QR code reader, we sanitised our hands and we were allocated seats according to some social distancing formula.  No one was wearing a mask.

This all might change. This long weekend, greater Brisbane is in total lockdown. 2 million people. It’s all because one worker, a cleaner in a medi-hotel, contracted the new UK strain of the virus from a quarantined UK traveller. During the time before the cleaner become ill and was tested, she wandered around and they say up to 800 people might have been in contact. So, everyone is holding thumbs.

How can we seal our borders to this virulent mutated virus (501 and 117)? We are told sad stories of Australian families desperate to return home. Yet already we are in catchup with the virus escaping in NSW from an international traveller and the same happened in South Australia 2 months ago.

Today PM, Scott Morrison announced measures that they hope will reduce the odds of this happening. Masks on international and domestic flights are now mandatory (that does not seem to be much help for an 8-12 hr flight). Flight numbers will be reduced; testing pre- and post-flight are required. Pre-boarding rapid tests will be required for UK travellers to Australia. Surely this will make it harder for the virus to find its way in.
Once more, I am not hopeful!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: La Niña and the Rose Garden

The Veale Rose Garden, Adelaide, Australia

October 17. Two months ago, I wrote about the drought affecting us in South Australia. Since them we have received good spring rains: 130 mm. That is over the average: not a flood, not a glorious amount of rain but enough to make us delighted.

It’s all about La Niña, (the girl), weather event (as opposed to El Niño , the boy) centred in the ocean between Australia and the Americas. I don’t understand it, but it has something to do with the sea surface temperatures being below the norm and, in the way of the world, this affects Australia, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In Africa and Australia, it will be cooler and wetter; countries in Asia will receive heavy rains. The same goes for North America where snow falls will increase. South America, however, gets drought conditions along the coast of Chile and the Peru.

La Niña will last for about five months. She is welcome – bear in mind that our last summer was abnormally hot and dry and bushfires raged across our country for weeks.

So, in Adelaide this spring, our gardens are looking green and lush. The hillsides have not yet browned off. We all fear the advent of the ferociously hot spells in summer and delight in these mild mid 20 temperatures.

some of the 50 varieties of roses in the Veale Gardens

This week, for the first time in the 29 years I have lived in Adelaide, I visited the Veale Rose Gardens in the South Parkland of our city, to see the first bloom of roses. The gardens are named after a William Veale, Adelaide Town Clerk for 18 years. Our city centre is surrounded by a 500-meter-wide band of parkland: easy to get to and easy to park.

Indeed, the roses were magnificent. I am not knowledgeable at all about roses, but my companion showed me the intricacies of the blooms. It is a pity how few roses have any scent nowadays. All bending and smelling was to no avail! It appears that crafting exotic beauty is now more important.

This might be the City of Adelaide Rose – it was there somewhere and it was pink!

Some blooms were deep maroon, some pale lilac, some had darker pink stripes, some were old-fashioned climbing tea roses: rows and rows of roses – 50 varieties in all – and not a rose beetle in sight.

I cannot see roses blooming without remembering how my mother’s rose garden in Durban, South Africa, was attacked by black and yellow beetles the size of your thumb. They ate out the centre of the rosebuds. My mother employed my compliant daughter to extract them from the blooms, to gather the angry insects into a glass bottle. She was paid her for her industry.

With the benefit of Wikipedia, I have a identified those little nasties as the ‘garden fruit chafer’ in the family of scarabs. But in the Veale Gardens in Adelaide there was not a scarab beetle in sight. Every bloom was perfect. Enjoy the beauty of our Adelaide spring!