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<   No. 3333   2014-05-25   >

Comic #3333

1 {photo of people swimming in an ocean pool}
1 Caption: The Southern year

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Hello 2009
New Year's fireworks.
I'm guessing most people reading this have never been in the Southern Hemisphere. So I thought I'd go through a brief tour of the changes in season and other events that happen throughout the year, based on what I experience each year.

The year in Australia begins in the heart of summer. New Year's Day is a public holiday and is generally hot. I've been to parties where after the midnight countdown we all jumped in the backyard swimming pool to cool down. School is out for the next four weeks, as children enjoy their summer holidays, the longest break of the year. So, many families take time off together and travel either short or long distances for a vacation. The pace of life in the city slows down in January as it bakes under the summer sun.

January is often the worst time for bushfires. Our cities and towns are surrounded by eucalyptus forests, which burn well. Once alight they can burn for many days. If the wind is in the right direction, the skies in the city can become hazy and smoky, prompting warnings to stay indoors as much as possible. In Sydney, where I live, January is also the time of the Sydney Festival, a month-long arts festival which encompasses a wide and diverse variety of exhibitions and performances. On the sporting fields of the nation there is cricket, with one-day international matches commanding huge crowds and TV audiences.

The month ends after Australia Day, the national public holiday, on the 26th. It is a celebration of nationhood, although it occurs on the anniversary of the European colonisation of Australia in 1788, not the anniversary of the day Australia became an independent nation (which was 1 January, 1901). Australia Day is not universally embraced - a significant fraction of Australians see it as divisive between the Aboriginal people and the more recent settlers. So the day has also become a rallying point for campaigns to change the national holiday, as well as to change the Australian flag.

Eternal Flame
Anzac Memorial, Brisbane.
Summer continues into February, when children go back to school and the routine working weeks of the year get underway. The warm evenings are a good time to enjoy al fresco dining, to late swims at the beach.

March sees the weather turn to the first hints of autumn, and the long days shrink back to parity with the nights. Football season begins. "Football" in Australia usually means either rugby league, or Australian rules football, depending on where you live and which one you follow more keenly. We have two separate professional leagues in these two different football codes, which run concurrently. Historically, the two leagues were separated geographically. Now they both run nationally, but still the typical fan is a fan of one or the other and usually not both.

Easter comes in late March or early April, and fills the role of an autumn festival holiday. Good Friday and Easter Monday are both public holidays, giving us a guaranteed four-day weekend. The long weekend and the run up to it are used for the Sydney Royal Easter Show, an agricultural show which brings the bounty and harvest of the country to the city. The Show has long since expanded into an extravaganza of food, rides, and bags full of trinkets for children, making it extremely popular.

Late April brings the most solemn day of remembrance. On 25 April, 1915, Australian and New Zealand troops stormed the beaches of Gallipoli in Turkey, only to be slaughtered en masse by Turkish machine guns. The day is commemorated with pre-dawn services across Australia and New Zealand as Anzac Day, a public holiday in both countries. Veterans march and everyone pauses to remember the fallen and the horror of war.

The days are shorter in May and the few deciduous trees that have been imported from overseas start to change colour and lose their leaves. Australia shares the date of Mother's Day with much of the rest of the world (though this is not the case for Father's Day). In June, we have the movable Monday public holiday celebrating the Queen's Birthday. This used to be the traditional day for fireworks, but over the last few decades fireworks displays have shifted to New Year's Eve celebrations, leaving the Queen's Birthday as a "nothing" sort of public holiday.

Snowy Mountain Horizon
The Snowy Mountains (in summer). Taken from the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, tallest mountain in Australia.
July is the depth of winter. The sun rises about 7 o'clock in the morning and sets about 5 o'clock in the evening in Sydney on the shortest days of the year. (The solstice is in June, I know.) School children enjoy a mid-year break of two weeks from their lessons. Some people like to use the cold weather to hold a "Christmas in July" celebration, with all the traditional trappings of the northern hemisphere's winter version of the holiday. Well, except the snow - even in the heart of winter it doesn't snow in any of Australia's major cities, except an occasional dusting in Hobart.

August brings windy weather to Sydney. The ski season is in full swing, and hordes of skiers make the long haul from Sydney and Melbourne to the ski fields of the Snowy Mountains on Friday nights, returning home on Sunday night after a weekend on the slopes. It's about a six or seven hour drive from Sydney to the snow. The ski season officially begins in June, but often there is no snow on the ground by then and the early season skiers just hang out in the bars.

September sees hints of spring building up, although early blooming plants like magnolias can be seen flowering in August. Cherry blossoms appear. Father's Day is celebrated in September. It's also the time of football finals, with the top teams vying for places in the Grand Finals of both the rugby league and Australian football league. The big games are played on successive weekends, causing a double dose of football final hysteria.

Football is replaced by the beginning of the cricket season in October as the weather warms up. The Labour Day long weekend marks the beginning of swimming season as well, with the beaches patrolled and unheated public swimming pools opening. Even more locally than Sydney, near me is an annual local suburban fair - a day when streets are closed and filled with market stalls, diversions for children, a petting zoo, several stages with live bands, and lots of food and drink. Several suburbs hold such fairs over different weekends around this time of year as people get into the spirit of spring. Depending on point of view, people are starting to look forward to Christmas, or being annoyed by the early arrival of Christmas imagery.

294/365: Jacaranda
Jacaranda tree in flower.
November is exam time for students, both at universities and schools. The high school leaving exams are the biggest in terms of media coverage. I don't know if other countries make such a big deal of high school leaving exams, but they are usually major news items when they are happening. Most spring flowers have already appeared before now, but now the late blooming jacaranda trees (originally from South America) blanket cities and towns across the country with their beautiful purple blossoms. The weather is warm enough to pack the beaches every weekend, and the smells of backyard barbecues drift across the suburban landscape.

The final month of the year brings the end of school and the start of summer jobs for those old enough. The biggest matches of the cricket season are played in December, against teams visiting from overseas countries. The buzz of cicadas fills the air and swarms of bats can be seen hovering over brightly lit landmarks at night, feasting on flying insects.

The ramp up to Christmas gains pace, with decorations in snowy themes, despite the hot weather. Although religious people still attend the relevant masses, Christmas has effectively become a de facto secular holiday, and many people treat it as such without a second thought. Christmas Day and the day after, Boxing Day, are public holidays.

Around the summer solstice, the days are long and lazy, though not as long as at high latitudes like Europe. On the longest days in Sydney, the sun rises about 6 am and sets about 8 pm (adjusted from 05:00 to 19:00 by daylight saving). The sunset is quick too, thanks to the high angle of the sun in the sky - it is fully dark by 8:30 pm. None of the long, languid twilights of the high latitudes. Further north, in Brisbane for example, the long days of summer are even shorter - sunset occurs in Brisbane around 6:45 pm near the summer solstice (they don't have daylight saving there - it would be 7:45 pm if they did).

And so the year turns and New Year's Eve is celebrated on a balmy night, with revellers out all night in light clothing. I find it difficult to imagine it any other way!


The title photo, by the way, was taken in Sydney in June, a week after the winter solstice. We've been breaking an awful lot of high temperature records in recent years.

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