That Australia is a land of extremes at either end of the meteorological scale is not a surprise to anyone. As the famous poem goes, it is “a land of droughts and flooding rains”. It also never ceases to amaze me, just how quickly it can swing from one to another via a third.
We spent the first 18 months of owning our property watching the land crack open (literally) in thirst, watching long established trees die off, watching the spring slow and dams dry up. Every now and then, we would get a few mils of rain and a tinge of green would appear, only to fade away and the cracks reappear.
Over winter, we looked at our back forest in despair. It desperately needed a burn off – the dry conditions had turned the undergrowth into that delicately dry kindling that is perfect for a camp fire – and a perfect disaster waiting to happen. Winter continued to be stubbornly dry and warm, the 2019 fire season running late, and the 2020 season running early. Not living on the property, we would have had to burn and have fully extinguished in a day, and truth be told, there wasn’t a weekend where we felt safe enough to even consider it. We came into spring, going for our weekly walks, and praying we could get through the summer, hoping for a wet autumn, planning for an easter burn.
Then, one cloyingly humid December evening, as we lay groaning under the fan trying to rally the energy to try and convince the other to cook dinner, the three phones on the charging station lit up in unison. And kept going. A dry storm had swept around to the west, and started a fire in the state forest behind our place. The notifications kept coming. At one point there was no less than six little incident diamonds in a little semi-circle of doom. From our porch in town, we could see the smoke on either side of our place, but we weren’t overly worried. At that point, I was more concerned about a friend to the west of the fires, based on the wind. We chatted briefly about making preparations, I left my phone on during the night in case she needed me, and headed to bed, hoping the morning brought better news.
It did, and it didn’t. Thursday saw the first fire front pass across our back boundary, and the second front came through on the Monday and took out almost the entirety of our beloved forest. It was everything we’d dreaded – the forest ablaze, the road to town cut… but we got lucky. Our cabin, sheds, and gardens were saved, thanks to the amazing work of the NSW RFS and SA CFA. We were heartbroken, but thankful, as we did that first, awful lap through the forest, many of our landmarks unrecognisable.
Then came Christmas, houseguests, a bout of illness for both of us, and New Year kicked off and we were ready to get stuck into finishing our cabin. Then everything changed once more. Mid January, the rain started. And kept coming, and coming. By Australia Day, the town river was flowing again after 18 months, and by mid-February, we had received as much rain in those four weeks, as we had for the whole of 2019. In one storm alone, we got 100mm in just over an hour, setting our creeks running, and filling our dams completely, from empty, overnight. Admittedly, those dams were full of black water where all the soot had washed down off the rocks, but they were full nonetheless. From nearly crying doing our first walk around after the fire, to not being able to contain our delighted, disbelieving giggles doing our first walk around two months later after that storm. It felt almost surreal, the rapid swing from one extreme to the other.
March has slowed down a bit in the rain department, but we are still clinging to the idea that this is indeed the beginning of the end. Remember that photo at the beginning of the post, with our labrador heading off to explore a different patch of dirt? This weekend, we had to mow that exact spot to have our walking & riding track accessible. If you had told me four months ago we wouldn’t be able to see the road for the grass, I think I would have laughed in your face.
From drought, to fire, to flood, all within two months. Our watering time has been rediverted to weeding time. The pastures are bouncing back, and we are daring to consider bringing in some stock for the first time. Green as far as the eye can see, and even some hints of life within in the fire zone. Mother Nature at her worst, and her best. Here’s to a year filled with more of the best and a whole lot less of the worst.