”Every moment now made one sweat profusely, and once wet one’s clothes stayed wet for a long time.’’ Nevil Shute, In the Wet


There is a reason they call Australia ”Down Under”.

Down under the equator everything is different, even school.

You may think the start of the school year trivial. It isn’t. It’s a benchmark. It gets locked in your brain. Like summer holidays playing by the lake in June or July. Like a white Christmas. Like waiting for March so you can tap the maple trees for their spring sap.

Imagine you have lost all these. Or maybe you already have?

When I lived in France and England, the seasons and the school year were similar in that they were dictated by the whims of the northern hemisphere, where most of the world’s population lives.The southern hemisphere is like a country in itself. School starts at the end of January and ends at the start of December.Even after 12 years here, it’s still all topsy-turvy to me. The constellations are different. I cannot see the North Star. Even the moon is upside down.

It hails in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the summer months of November or December. On the same `winter’ June or July day it can snow in Canberra, the country’s capital, and be 30 degrees celsius in Darwin, right at the top of Australia. Turn on the air conditioning for Hallowe’en and Remembrance Day and turn it off again for St Patrick’s Day.

I catch myself writing November in my journal when it’s July, simply because the heavy grays of the sky and the cool smell of rain-moistened earth remind me of an autumn day somewhere Up Over.

These aberrations are disturbing.

Winter is summer and summer is winter. Except, where I live in the subtropics, there isn’t really a winter or summer. So, aside from the mango and avocado trees along the footpath and the lime tree in our backyard, what is it like in this particular area?

Well in Brisbane, I walk around in a summertime haze of sweat. I have a ganglion on my finger that swells and contracts like the ankles of an octogenarian. Today the weather is cooler and dryer: it’s 31 degrees celsius with 45 percent relative humidity. At 100 percent relative humidity, the sweat doesn’t evaporate off my body anymore and it doesn’t necessarily have to be raining. Can’t we follow Peru and make billboards that turn humid air into drinking water?


Queenslanders talk about summer, winter, spring and fall, but it makes more sense to stick with the tropical wet-dry divisions of the year; The Wet and The Dry that Nevil Shute refers to in In the Wet and my favourite, A Town Like Alice. I first read A Town Like Alice when I was 12. I reread it many times as a teenager and in my 20s. How odd that it takes place mainly in Queensland and now I am here too.
I can’t help asking myself: will my children pine for a sweaty Christmas by the pool when we return to the northern hemisphere? Will they be thrown off by a September start to the school year? Will they ever develop a connection to the maples trees, the autumn leaves, the smell of snow clouds in the dark of early morning? Hold their tongues out to catch the first falling flakes? Play outside until 9pm or 10pm in the filtered sunset of a summer’s evening? Seek out the rainbow waves and dances of the Northern Lights?Or are we bound, me and my girls, always to be separated by a hemisphere of experience?