Australian summer litany: Stormy natural disasters , but sunny at the cricket
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!
– My Country by Dorothea Mackellar – 1885-1968, written in 1904
The end of December 2011 brought flooding rain to northern Australia for the second year running – not as far south or extensive so far as last year, but very wet in the Top End (the top half of the Northern Territory).
Despite record crops of cereals and fruit and vegetables along Australia’s eastern seaboard following the good winter and spring rains, sudden storms or cyclonic downpours were making life a bit more difficult and less predictable for those living on the land, and even for the city folk in the larger cities located in the south-east of the country.
Flooding throughout the Northern Territory destroyed outback roads and at least one main rail bridge, and cut the region off from the rest of the country.
“We’re hoping the waters recede as quickly as they came up,” the Northern Territory’s chief minister, Paul Henderson, told ABC Radio.
A freight train, carrying copper concentrate, was derailed at Edith River, causing serious concerns about the potential chemical spill. Rail tracks on the main route between Darwin to Adelaide were washed away in several places. Passengers on The Ghan tourist train were stranded at Katherine between Alice Springs and Darwin.
Crocodile fears rise with floodwaters
A spokesperson for the local shire of the Daly River region in the Northern Territory warned that crocodiles posed a big problem from the flooding of that river system. Residents were preparing for flooding as the water from heavy rain in the Katherine region made its way into the river system.
“At this stage the crocs are the biggest problem that will arise out of this,” predicted the shire’s Andrew McTaggert to ABC Radio.
“The last floods we had this year, I think they caught three or four crocs just in and around the community here where the kids go and have a swim. So that’s the biggest thing. They take all the dogs and sooner or later they’ll take a child.”
Ready and Resilient for Adversity
When disasters loom, Australians like to feel they are a resilient mob. Some can see the opportunities that emerge through the adversity of a flood. While the Daly River Mango Farm may lose some mangoes, one of its managers told ABC Radio, “We’ve got accommodation and a licensed bistro so all of that [has been] packed up and we lift that to a height of 14.5 to 15 metres”. (The flood is anticipated to peak just below that level).
Meanwhile, the Northern Territory emergency services were preparing more flood boats and sand bags.
Wild Fires further south
Despite the bad news of the floods across the Northern Territory in the direction of Darwin, bush scrub fires continued to spread across parts of central Australia nearer the northern borders of South Australia. With very low population densities and few threatened settlements, there seemed little incentive for active controls over these wild-raging fires as nature continued on its wild course.
Queensland Early Reprieve
Despite bearing the brunt of the disastrous floods that swamped capital city Brisbane and much of central Queensland in the December 2010 – January 2011 summer record floods, Emergency Management Queensland (EMQ) expressed the belief that people in northern Queensland were now much better-prepared than others before them.
“Most of those communities in the (west of) the Cape (York) are very, very resilient, and quite used to the weather and are already cut off in the wet season now anyway, so they can’t really drive (cars) out of the community” a spokesperson told ABC Radio listeners.
Wild dogs reach plague proportions
Well, if the Northern Territorians seemed justifiably worried about their dogs being taken by unwanted crocodiles floating near the main street, please spare a thought to the unwanted dog problem at the other end of the Australian continent – across the Wheat Belt areas of southern parts of Western Australia, north-west of Esperance.
The WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association proclaimed wild dog numbers in parts of the State were reaching plague proportions.
The West Australian State Government, at the same time, announced a grant of $5 million towards efforts to build wild animal fences in the Wheatbelt and south east coastal regions. This would include the funding for a pilot construction project for a 500-kilometre barrier fence to be built around the Esperance agricultural area.
Ian Randles from WA’s Pastoralists and Graziers Association said farmers were extremely concerned about the damage wild dogs could do in agricultural zones.
“If we don’t control those wild dogs they are going to come into the agricultural areas,” he told ABC Radio listeners.
He warned of sheep stock losses for farmers with mixed farms that grew wheat and sheep. Apart from the passive control of new fences to keep the dogs out, he urged the WA government to undertake ‘active controls’ by providing funds to train active doggers to do baiting.
But it was hailing golf-balls in northern Melbourne Christmas Storm before the cricket
A white Christmas ought to be an impossibility in Melbourne but it happened – from hailstones the size of golf-balls. Surfers were bathing in sunshine on the southern beaches around Port Phillip Bay, but a freakish violent storm passed them offshore and hit the northern suburbs of Melbourne at the top of the Bay. The hail and wind created chaos in some northern suburbs and destroyed roofs and new houses and many cars had to be written off as irreparable. But soon afterwards, the sun came out, and so, the cricket was able to be played. A few days later, Australia had defeated India by 122 runs in a cricket match that is now recognised as the “traditional Boxing Day Test Match” at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Between one or more of the natural disasters occurring somewhere in this big brown land, Australians will play and strive to win each year.
It’s just one of the many unpredictable traditions of the Australian summer.
Yet all’s well that ends well! And let’s hope for the best in 2012!