STORIES FROM THE BUSH

Lynn Takayama
Retired

The long, hot days of summer — how we used to look forward to them. This summer, though, has been a series of hot, hotter, too hot and much too hot days. Yesterday was the worst I’ve experienced, 43 degrees — so hot that it hurt your nostrils when you breathed. I really admire and wonder at people who live in places where these conditions are the norm. Weather and climate specialists tell us that these debilitating and oppressive days are going to become more frequent and worse — a sobering thought.

It’s very difficult to keep a garden going in these conditions. Water and shade are both crucial to keep tender vegetables alive during a series of 35–43 degree days. We have to preserve our precious tank water for household use, and the water we pump up from the river sustains the garden. This is normally enough to have a flourishing vegie patch but this season most of my vegies have been defeated by the conditions. I’ll try a different tack next summer and see how I go. I must admit that I have to overcome a wave of defeatism when I see my once-flourishing corn dried up and shrivelled, lost to the heat. Everything’s a learning experience, though, isn’t it? There is a way to grow vegetables in this heat, and I’ll keep modifying and adjusting my processes until I’ve cracked it.

The river stopped flowing a month or so ago and is now just a series of pools. Irrigators have been forbidden from irrigating which, for them, means a curtailing of potential income. The pool from which we pump our water is still holding up and the water table is not far below the surface.

As well as the severe heat, we’ve had day after day of strong, drying winds and very little rain. All these circumstances (heat, wind and a lack of rain) lead to dry paddocks and scarcity of stock feed. Farmers are worried. There were young cattle for sale for $1 per beast at recent local cattle sales. Farmers are forced to sell at whatever price they can get; otherwise it would be a case of shooting starving cattle in the paddocks.

For some respite from the constant heat we hatched a plan to drive in my air-conditioned vehicle to a coffee shop about an hour and a half away. We planned to have our coffee in the air-conditioned shop and drive the hour and a half back home. That would give us about four hours of air-conditioned coolness, a good rest from the 40 degree heat.

For some reason mice love to build nests in the air-conditioning vent of my vehicle. On several occasions the Cowboy has had to remedy that situation. The vehicle is housed under cover but kept shut up so as to restrict access to the inside of it by insects and other undesirables. As you can imagine, the inside of a vehicle can get alarmingly hot on a 43 degree day. On the day of our coffee shop heat-escaping excursion, when we got into the vehicle we were overwhelmed by the stench of decomposition. Nest-building rodents had apparently come to a sad end in the furnace of the closed vehicle and this was consequently cruel revenge on the vehicle users. The point of the trip for us was to get some relief from the heat but while ever the air conditioner was turned on our senses were assaulted by the stomach-turning smell of dead rodent. We chose not to abort our journey. We put up with the stench for the sake of a few hours of feeling cool. On the way back that aim too was thwarted because the air conditioner gave up the ghost. Very disappointing.

We try to live as simple a life as we can here. We have 20 solar panels but we don’t yet have battery storage for the excess energy that we produce. We don’t use air conditioners or heaters (though we have two fridges and two freezers!) and because during the day we use the energy that our solar panels generate our energy bills are moderately low. It is our intention to buy energy storage batteries so that we can go completely off the grid, but that’s a big budget item and will take a while to achieve. On these long, hot summer days our panels produce in the vicinity of 28 kWh per day. We use only about 7kWh per day so we are way ahead on the energy front.

On these long, hot summer days it’s very difficult to recall what winter feels like. I recall that although the nights and mornings are very cold, the days generally warm up to around 20 degrees. This is something that I am looking forward to again.