by Kim Kelly

Ooooeee, it’s hot in the Central West today. Whinger that I am, though, something in my DNA loves a heatwave. I feel robbed if I don’t get at least one serve of Hades’ breath per summer.

As I strip off to singlet and sarong, I wonder how my Irish and German ancestors felt stepping off the ship in the 1800s in all their heavy gear and many skirts. Imagine that first scorcher and how they must have despaired: ‘What have we done coming to this small corner of Hell?’

This is what Charles Darwin thought when he stopped off here in New South Wales during his voyage on The Beagle in 1836, arriving in midsummer, and in the midst of a drought:

We experienced this day the sirocco-like wind of Australia, which comes from the parched deserts of the interior. Clouds of dust were travelling in every direction; and the wind felt as if it had passed over a fire. I afterwards heard that the thermometer out of doors had stood at 119 degs., and in a closed room at 96 degs. In the afternoon we came in view of the downs of Bathurst. These undulating but nearly smooth plains are very remarkable in this country, from being absolutely destitute of trees. They support only a thin brown pasture…

You can almost feel his longing for a quenching ale as he traipses along on horseback. Darwin’s is one of my favourite early descriptions of this country and well worth a read, especially for the weariness that seems to come through his writing as he travels further west. He finds much of interest, but very little beauty, which always seems strange to me. Somehow my understanding of beauty has been shaped by being, so many generations on, born of Australia and nowhere else, too.

I don’t know how place works its way into your soul, but it does. Rolling fields of golden, parched grass and trees sparsely dotting the land to the horizon make some kind of awesome beauty for me. Or one of its many faces here. The photograph above is a snap I took of thirsty pasture at Wellington, between Orange and Dubbo. And oooeee, did I tell you it’s hot today?