The wet season is upon us, and I left the washing on the line. Perth winter does not sprinkle, rather it hammers and floods and fights tooth and nail to keep you off the road.
I left a gathering at 5.34pm. The sun was setting over the water, a pretty orange that silently warned us of darker hours. I was warm and dry. Then clouds rolled out of nowhere as if the sky was on fast-forward, and the first storm of the wet season was here. I braced myself, hunching over the motorcycle’s fuel tank as I rode into a wall of rain. Rain that stung through leather. Someone should sell windshield wipers for helmets. Sunlight dropped behind the horizon like a panicked Miss Piggy, thunder boomed, and lightening zapped everything white. I arrived home at 5.52pm. Drenched and relieved.
It is the rain, not the cold that Western Australians dread in winter. The rain causes flash floods and property damage. It wipes out livestock and makes it impossible to dry your washing. It causes the river to swell and block roads. The Swan River is one of Western Australia’s most iconic settings, and Perth (originally named The Swan River Colony) is designed around it. In summer, people cycle and take picnics along the waterfront, strolling around the many streams and smaller rivers that feed into it. In winter, the streams are rivers, the rivers are floods, and Swan River hoards all that gets swept into it. However, Australia is a land of extremes, and extremes counter extremes.
Most people replace their lawn with fake grass during summer to save water and the memory of life. Friends nicknamed our front yard ‘The Sandpit’. The high mineral content of Australian soil means it is mostly sand, and university budgets meant ours remained ‘au naturel.’ We used it for parking, although as the sand deepened our cars slowly slipped towards the verge. However, a few decent rainstorms transformed it from sand to mud to lush green blades in just two weeks. The rain may be extreme, but it brings life. Parks that were a dusty grey-green are vibrant and bursting with flora. Trees I never noticed before are drinking their fill and storing excess for summer. Puddle ducks are emerging from clay-filled creek beds and exploring the suburbs.
We live in a world of instant gratification, where hot is too hot and cold is too cold. The seasons of Western Australia teach us about the importance of compromise. Livestock might die in floods, but they also die in droughts. Without the powerful wet season, we would not receive the water levels to last us through the year, and without the lengthy dry season we could not recover from the rains. Whether it looks dry or wet on the surface, there is always life underneath, and nothing goes to waste.
Early settlers described this country as harsh but magical. The rains and sandpits might not always be kind to us, but they provide opportunities for transformation. We do not all choose to live here because it is easy, but because it is possible. These extremes are what allows Perth life to continue. The old-timers were right: that is pretty magical.