Despite missing the timeline for Week 2, I thought I’d update my blog to include my thoughts on “Winter” in Queensland. This isn’t all that simple, as other Australian bloggers have mentioned, because when you grow up in a sub-tropical climate, winter is a relative thing. In the tropics where I now live, a temperature of 20C is inclined to see a flurry of Ugg boots, warm coats, long sleeves, jumpers etc. What else can you expect when the daily temperature routinely hovers between 28C and 35C all year round?
So what do I remember about winter as a child growing up in Brisbane? Firstly it needs to be mentioned that houses in Brisbane are built for the heat and not the cold, so sometimes you can really feel the cold in an uninsulated, unheated house. In fact one of my stand-out memories of being cold is sleeping on mattresses in my grandmother’s house after she died and the wind coming up through the floorboards….colder than New Zealand and certainly colder than anywhere I’ve slept overseas in mid-winter.
Although Brisbane wasn’t really cold, by almost all standards, I would usually get a warm coat on a regular basis when I was growing up. Usually my mother made this overcoat (she was a proficient dressmaker) & it would be made from woollen fabric and quite warm. I don’t recall having masses of winter cardigans or jumpers –probably enough to match the climate. When I was at high school we had a winter uniform as well as a summer one and that involved a blazer and a jumper and sometimes both were needed at once such were the freezing conditions! Overseas winters require much more complex decisions than “how few clothes can I wear” and “where are my sandals”. This simple life makes it difficult to naturally grasp layering and the need to wear claustrophobic stockings and scarves just to keep warm –possible, practical, but not always enjoyable.
Brisbane’s winters are typically sunny blue skies so lovely and fresh. Nor do we have deciduous trees or autumn colours. In August the winds would blow from the West across the empty continent and it was always the coldest month as I remember it. As the winds would howl through the city canyons it could get quite chilly and brisk.
August is the end of winter in the sub-tropics and usually Brisbane’s coldest month, also the time of the annual Ekka (or Exhibition), a celebration of all things “bush” with displays of cooking, artwork, fashion and craft as well as the sideshows, woodchop competitions, trots, Police motor cycle displays and fireworks (barracking for one’s preference of blue, green or red to go highest). The influx of people from cattle stations and other properties, bringing with them their cattle and stock to be judged, meant the city was suddenly inhabited by their trademark Akubras, RM Williams’ boots and generally laconic style. We lived quite close to the Exhibition grounds so I would see the progressive construction of the ferris wheel and all the rides in sideshow alley en route to and from high school each day.
Another treat always associated with the Ekka and Winter, was the delicious ice creams which were made from a layer of vanilla ice cream, a layer of real strawberry ice cream, fresh strawberries, and fresh cream. In those days strawberries were only obtainable in August, or perhaps I’m wrong and I really only noticed their presence in association with the Ekka. I’ve said in other contexts that the Ekka was a cultural experience and people have derided the concept….certainly it’s not culture in the sense of grand art, opera or classical music, but in the sense of being part of a city’s lifeblood I firmly believe it is part of our culture.
Snow was something we saw only on Christmas cards or in books and when my husband and I first saw it we whispered our question to each other: “is that snow?” Who in Europe would believe people could be so ignorant of such a basic phenomenon! Mind you, my father always swore that one very cold winter’s night there were snowflakes falling in the railway yard where he worked the night shift. Despite decades living in sub-tropical and tropical climates, and perhaps because of the novelty, winter and autumn remain my favourite seasons. I think that sentiment might stand the test of heavy snow, but perhaps not the everlasting grey skies and drizzle so much in contrast with winter as I’ve experienced it in Australia.