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16. Summer in Melbourne

16. Summer in Melbourne

By Alena Lien, 

17 January 2021

Transcript:

Hey! How're you going. This is Alena and welcome to the Along Came English podcast.


For this episode, I thought I would talk about what summer is like in Melbourne. Bushfires are associated with summers here but I'll talk about them in another episode. I'm just going to focus on the season, what the weather feels like here in Melbourne, and typical summer activities.


But before we start... a shout-out to our patron on Patreon. Hi Pierre!


And transcripts are available on the website - alongcameenglish.com. Or you can read along if you're watching the video on YouTube.


Okay.



Summer dates and solstice


Summers here actually start on the first of December, and last until the end of February.


Apparently people find this quite strange that the summer solstice doesn't mark the start of the season.


Now "summer solstice" is an astronomical event that happens twice a year - once in the Northern hemisphere around the first... sorry, 21st of June and once in the Southern hemisphere around the 21st of December. For each hemisphere, the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky and the day has the longest period of daylight.


Conversely, "winter solstice" is when the Sun reaches its lowest elevation in the sky and is the day with the shortest period of daylight.


But for Australia, I'm not sure who decided this exactly, but settlers - the ones who colonised Australia back in the 18th century - made the decision to follow the meteorological seasons based on annual temperature cycles, as opposed to the position of the Sun and Earth.


Apparently this makes more sense because the hottest time of the year in Australia is around the middle of January, and so summer should fall around the months of December to February - which it already does here.


Now I'm not an expert on this matter. When I was looking this up, there were different opinions about this so it seems there were a number of factors that led to this decision.



Summer weather


Now, to be honest, the exact dates of when a season starts is not really a big deal to me. The weather here can be so erratic that it's easier to just take it one day at a time, and just dress according to the day's weather forecast. "Erratic" means unpredictable.


We have a common saying here in Melbourne, "4 seasons in 1 day," which just highlights how unpredictable the weather can be. In one day, it could be a hot sunny day with a top of 36 degrees, and then there'll be a cool change with gales in the afternoon, followed by a thunderstorm and a drop in temperature to 16 degrees.


"Cool change" is a term we use here to refer to a cold front or a mass of cold air after a day of high summertime temperatures, resulting in a drop in temperature and sometimes thunderstorms.


I checked out the weather averages for Melbourne during the summer months, and the temperatures average between 24 to 27°C. I mean, 24° with clear skies sounds lovely and we occasionally get those days but I'd say it's a fantasy if you think that's what Melbourne summers are like.


Since the start of summer last December, the temperatures have been fluctuating. It'll be 36° one day, 24 the next, back up to 30° the next day, and then a storm the day after. This is in addition to 4 seasons in 1 day.


And it's also common to have abnormally hot days in Melbourne when it gets to 40°C, but it's rare that it stays that hot for more than a day.


A prolonged period of abnormally hot weather is called a "heatwave." The last heatwave (in Melbourne), according to Wikipedia, was in 2013 which lasted 10 days. And the last one before that was in 2009 where there were 3 consecutive days of 43C and this triggered the Black Saturday bushfires.


Melbourne summers are also supposed to be dry but it actually rains fairly regularly. This isn't a bad thing though because it means that there's a cool change and provides relief from the heat.


My issue with that is that it can get quite humid, and I don't like humidity. I know I grew up in South East Asia, but I don't like humidity. So back in early 2019, it was a really humid summer, which was so unusual from the previous dry Melbourne summers I was used to. And I just remember sweating while I was trying to clean the bathroom and do the house chores. Oh, it was nasty.



40°C days


So what does a hot day feel like in Melbourne? So I'm not talking about a nice warm day like 26C, I'm talking about 40°C days.


Here, if you're outside under the sun, it actually feels like the sun is burning you. As soon as you step into the light, the burning sensation is instantaneous.


I don't think I'm exaggerating here. In other countries, I feel warm under the sun and start to feel hot when I've been under the sun for a while.


Here, I feel like the sun is brighter. It's almost blinding. I have a pair of sunglasses that I would often use for driving when I used to own a car, and sometimes it just feels like it's useless on these days.


It's like the sun here has more rage here or something, like it's out for revenge.


And then the weather is dry. So when it's really hot and the skies are clear, it can almost feel a bit difficult to breathe because you're breathing hot dry air. And you can feel it on your skin even when you're in the shade.


And the wind doesn't even bring relief. It's just hot air blowing at you.


40°C days are terrible even when you're at home because sometimes your cooling system may not be strong enough to keep you cool or it just completely shuts down. I used to work at this company where the cooling system would shut down when it became really hot. And there was no way around it. It would work on every other day except these exceptionally hot days.


And the car. When you start the car, the air-con will blow hot air at you for like 10 minutes before it finally cools down. Sometimes if you're unfortunate enough not to find shaded parking and don't have sun shades for your car, everything becomes hot to the touch. The steering wheel's hot. The handbrake's hot. And you're wearing summer clothes and the seat's hot. Yea, it's a good idea to get some sun shades for the car.


One summer, many years ago, I ran out of gas for my car's air conditioner. And I was really broke at the time as a student, so I couldn't afford to get it re-gassed. I don't know how I managed to do it, but I drove around in the heat without air-con. Good times.


The heat and dry weather means that there is a potential for bushfires. The "CFA" or "Country Fire Authority" is a volunteer fire service that's responsible for fire suppression here in Australia. They have something called a "Fire Danger Rating" that tells you how dangerous a fire would be if one started. So on days where fires are likely to spread rapidly and be difficult to control, they will declare a Total Ban... sorry, a "Total Fire Ban" (TFB), so things that could start a bushfire are restricted or banned, like barbeques, campfires, incinerators, pretty much anything that could cause a spark and cause a fire.


Now I'm not going to talk about the bushfires on this episode, as I mentioned earlier, for the sake of time, but I intend to cover the topic and previous events in a future episode.



Heat-related illnesses


Aside from bushfires, there is a risk of heat-related illnesses. Babies, the elderly and those with existing medical conditions are at risk during heatwaves.


Heat-related illnesses can happen when the body's been exposed to extreme heat and can no longer cool itself or function properly. So I'm going to explain some of the heat-related illnesses.


"Heat rash" is a skin condition due to blocked sweat ducts and trapped sweat under the skin and appear as blisters or red lumps. Apparently this is really common in young children.


"Dehydration" is when you lose more fluid than you take in. Obviously this is a consequence of sweating and not drinking enough water. This can lead to headaches.


"Heat cramps" are muscle pains and spasms due to dehydration from excessive sweating.


This is the first time I've actually heard of heat cramps. Apparently this is more associated with people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. Maybe if you work outdoors, but I can't imagine people going out to exercise during a heatwave.


"Heat exhaustion" can include symptoms of dehydration, heat cramps, as well as tiredness, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting. Apparently this is not that serious yet, but this can lead to heat stroke.


"Heat stroke" is the most serious and can be life-threatening. This is when the core body temperature is 40 degrees or higher. Symptoms include symptoms of heat exhaustion, as well as confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, loss of muscle control, trouble breathing.


I tried to find statistics about heat-related injuries and deaths but the numbers are kind of unclear. Reports varied widely in the number of fatalities. Some reports include deaths due to bushfires. Some consolidated numbers across states and regions.


Anyway, from what I found, more than 200 died as a result of the 2009 heatwave in Victoria, but this was from a study of funeral notices. "Funeral notices" are public announcements, placed by the family, of the death and funeral details of their loved one.


More than 200 also died in Victoria as a result of the 2013 heatwave.


Apparently January is the deadliest month of the year which is in the middle of summer. But yea, clear stats were not that easy to find. Maybe I didn't look hard enough.


Anyway, I would say it's fairly common knowledge to stay hydrated, stay indoors, and keep cool. Whether people actually do that is a different story. Even during heatwaves, many Australians will still go out, go to the beach, have outdoor parties. Yea.


Animals can also get heat stroke. Someone told me their pet had heat stroke when they took it out for a walk and it had to be put into an ice bath. And ever since then, they stopped taking the dog for walks so now it's overweight. Sorry, chubby pets are funny to me.







Sunscreen


Thankfully I've never had... really experienced any kind of serious heat-related symptoms. Personally, I have a slight aversion to the sun. "Aversion" means a feeling of strong dislike. And the idea of going to the beach to get a tan, or spend time under the sun does not really appeal to me.


Not that I don't go out at all, but when I know I'll be out under the sun, I'll make sure to put on sunscreen.


"Sunscreen" and "sunblock" are substances you put on your skin to protect it from the sun or prevent sun damage. They're actually different products even though we often use it to mean the same thing. "Sunscreen" contains chemicals that absorbs UV rays before your skin can, and "sunblock" blocks UV rays by forming a shield.


"UV or ultraviolet radiation" is a type of energy produced by the sun or other artificial sources. Although exposure to UV radiation is beneficial for the production of Vitamin D, improvement in mood, and increased energy, unfortunately overexposure can lead to sunburn, premature ageing, eye damage and skin cancer.


On the other hand, "suntan lotion" is a substance to accelerate tanning with little to no sun protection factor.


I use to confuse sunscreen and suntan lotion when I was a kid. We had a bottle of suntan lotion in the house I grew up in. I'm not sure who bought it or used it, I think somebody bought it and just forgot about it.


Growing up in South East Asia, sunscreen was not something I grew up with. I'm not sure if this is an indication of the time that I grew up in, but I'd say that I only really became aware of the importance of sunscreen after moving here. My parents were not careful about my exposure to the sun.


And I think the sun is not as harsh in Brunei as it is in Australia. I rarely got sunburned in Brunei.


"Sunburn" is when your skin is sore and red due to overexposure to the sun. "Sunburned" with "ed" or "sunburnt" with a "t" are the adjectives. In more severe cases, this can lead to blistering and peeling of the skin.


I definitely got dark from being under the sun. And I also had those really weird tan lines, around the neck, around the arms, and around the ankles. But getting a sunburn was rare.


And in the first several years of being in Australia, I had some really bad sunburns. There was this one time, this was after spending the whole day outdoors, my shoulders were so red and painful, and they were hot to the touch, I had to put ice on my skin to soothe it, I was in agony that night. And I think the day after the pain settled down, and then over the next few days the skin started to peel. Yea, it wasn't fun.


I can't remember if this was the same occasion or a separate sunburn, but my face was sunburned and it was starting to peel a little bit. And I went to a skincare shop to ask if they had something I could use for my face. And it was kind of funny and awkward at the same time because the sales assistant thought I had dry skin and I had to keep explaining to her it was just a sunburn.


Over the years, I've been more cautious about sun exposure. I use sunscreen whenever I go out, even during winter. And I don't remember the last time I got a sunburn, so that's a good thing.


Anyway, there is a song called "Everybody's free (to wear sunscreen)," by Baz Luhrmann. So if you don't know, he's actually a very famous Australian movie director, and surprisingly he actually had a music album back in the 90s.


So "Everybody's free (to wear sunscreen) is actually a pretty old song, it came out in 1999. Well, if you can call it a song, it features someone speaking over mellow music as the backing track. And the song is not just about sunscreen - it gives various advice on how to live a happier life and avoid common frustrations.


Somehow it was an international hit at the time, but it's not really remembered as a classic.



Staying cool indoors


When I first moved to Melbourne almost 20 years ago, it wasn't that common for houses to have any kind of cooling system. It was more common to have some kind of heating.


Nowadays, most places would at least have an air-conditioner in the living room but not in any of the bedrooms. Having an air-con in each bedroom would be considered a luxury here, even though this is considered normal in South East Asia.


So, an "air-conditioner" is a unit, usually installed in a room or space that usually uses refrigeration to cool air and sometimes have heating capability. They're also more costly to run, maybe that's why it's a luxury to have one in each bedroom.


So people here usually have fans to deal with the hot days. Everyone owns a fan here. I have one, all my housemate has one in their rooms. If I'm not mistaken, it's like one of the highest-selling item every summer. But when it gets really hot, all it does is just blow hot air at you.


I used to stay in this old apartment when I was studying in university - this was over ten years ago. It only had one of those electric strip heaters mounted onto the wall of the living room. There was no central cooling or heating in the place. And it was this brick building that retained heat so it refused to get cool at night even after the sun had set and it was actually cool outside.


I can't remember if I had a fan. I probably did. And I don't know how I survived living there either. I think I stayed there for at least 3 years. It was too hot in the summer, and it was too cold in winter.


There is another cooling system called an "evaporative cooler" that's fairly popular here. This is a device that cools air through the evaporation of water. Apparently it only works in regions where the humidity is low, like Melbourne. It also uses less energy and is not as costly to run. It's like central heating, but for cooling - so they install vents throughout the house in the ceiling.


One of the houses I used to live in had an evaporative cooler. And I really liked it because you could turn it on in the morning before it got really hot and keep the house relatively cool throughout the day without getting too costly.


Where I currently live, we don't have evaporative cooling, but thankfully it has an air-conditioner in the living room. I've been taking advantage of it in some of the hot days we've had so far. But yea, because I know it can get costly, I'm quite conscious about not having it on for too long.



The Aussie barbie


Okay. Let's talk about some outdoor activities.


People will start to organise "barbeques" in summer.


So "barbeque," or "barbie" for short, is used to refer to the cooking style where food is cooked outdoors on a rack over open fire or on a special appliance. It's also used to refer to an outdoor meal or gathering with this cooking style. And it also refers to the metal frame or appliance where the food is cooked, although sometimes this is referred to as a "barbeque grill."


In Australia, "barbeque" is often spelled with a "q," instead of "c" - although both is acceptable. It's also often abbreviated to "BBQ" in writing.


So even though "barbie" or "barbeque" has 3 definitions here, context will let you know which definition the speaker is referring to.


So for example:

  • "I love Korean BBQ."

  • "We've having a barbie at our place on Saturday, wanna come?"

  • "I'm looking to get a small charcoal barbeque, any recommendations?"

A basic, simple Aussie barbie would usually have something called a "sausage sizzle," which is a sausage on a slice of white bread. Condiments will usually be ketchup and barbeque sauce. It sounds really simple, but it actually tastes pretty good. Quite often the bread is buttered as well, but it depends on the organisers really. There's also usually beer for drinks, or some kind of soda like Coke or Sprite.


For me, I usually hear "sausage sizzle" used to refer to barbeque events where they serve this, like maybe a fundraiser or an event to thank volunteers or the elections.


Now, an Aussie barbeque can get a bit more fancy, with steaks, lamb chops, chicken wings, kebabs, seafood like prawns or fish, corn on the cob, and salads for some vegetables.


A "kebab" is a dish of small pieces of meat, fish or vegetables roasted or grilled on a skewer. A "skewer" is a long, thin piece of wood or metal that is often used to put through pieces of food.


So a "kebab" is like a stick of food. And yea, the local supermarkets will often sell ready-made kebabs that you can put straight onto the barbeque.


I do however have to make one thing clear - in Australia, we do not say "shrimp on the barbie." "Shrimp" is American English, but "prawn" is Australian English. And this was a phrase that originated in a TV ad back in 1984, which was targeted at American audiences. Unfortunately it's become such a popular phrase that most Australians can't avoid it when they travel overseas.


I'd say the Aussie barbie is a big cultural summer activity here. Most houses have a barbeque grill and sometimes you'll see a small one on balconies of apartments. This sharehouse I'm in actually has a fairly large one in our tiny backyard. I've never used it myself but my housemates use it quite regularly.


There are barbeque grills in public parks. The local councils maintain them, but of course you have to make sure to clean the grill and keep the area clean when you leave.


And quite often it's the men that do the barbecuing. I mean, not all the time of course, but most often they do. And for some men, it's also the only time they do the cooking. And in some of the barbeques I've been to, it's the women who do the shopping, that organises the spread and preparation, but then the men takes over the barbecuing. I'm not sure why that's a thing, it's a weird gender stereotype.


Anyway.



Beach


Summertime also means that people will flock to the beaches.


Like I mentioned, beaches don't really appeal to me. In all my years being in Melbourne, I think I've only been to the beach a handful of times. I don't mind taking walks along the beach or hanging out at the promenade, but I don't like hanging out on the beach where the sand is.


"Promenade" is a paved walkway, usually built next to the sea or a large body of water. Quite often, they'll also be shops and cafes along the promenade as well.

So personally, I don't really like geting burnt by the sun. Sand gets everywhere. And even if I'm not swimming, I feel like the sea air sticks to my hair. It's not my idea of a fun place to hang out and relax.


And just so you know, the beaches in Melbourne are sand beaches. When I went backpacking in Europe, I went to pebble beaches for the first time, which was nice because they don't stick to you like sand does, but very awkward to walk on

Anyway, I thought I'd mentioned a few popular beaches in Melbourne.


There's Brighton Beach. If you've seen tourist pictures of Melbourne, it's the beach with the colourful bathing boxes. "Bathing boxes" are also known as "beach huts," these are colourful wooden boxes that are used for changing clothes, shelter from the sun and wind, and for safe storage of personal belongings. I've never used them before, but they are part of famous scenery in Brighton Beach.


It's not too far from the city, and it's very clean, popular for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing, and for taking photos as well.


St Kilda beach is not that much closer to the city. There're actually no waves here, so it's not a surfing spot, but there are other water sports like kite-surfing, and paddle-boarding. It's also close to the hip cafes and restaurants in the area.


St Kilda in general is a very popular tourist spot and that's where Luna Park is as well, which is an amusement park. But honestly speaking, I don't go to St Kilda that often, and I've actually never been to Luna Park myself. I guess I have other preferences of where I prefer to hang out.


Anyway, I think I'll finish this episode here. Subscribe and like if you found this interesting.


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Thank you so much for listening. Stay safe. Have a good day and I'll catch you later. Bye.