A classic advertisement from Australian television depicts a lonely farmhouse on drought-ridden flats. The craggy old farmer sits on the downstairs veranda looking out into the shimmering heat, and suddenly he hears raindrops falling on the corrugated iron roof, famously exclaiming, “Marg, the rains are ere!”. The camera rises to reveal the ‘rain’ to be merely the kids eating juicy corn out of the upstairs window. This obscure way to advertise a brand of corn pierced the Australian consciousness, perhaps because it tapped into our fear of the constant threat of drought and the relief of rain.
After a long hot summer of fire emergencies and heatwaves, looking out over our scorched thirsty property, I felt like that old timer when for the first time in many months, the first substantial rain began to fall.
For days the rain had been predicted and the forecasters had become increasingly optimistic that the precipitation would be substantial. Locals were relieved based solely on the mention of rain. The drought had become so severe and dire that a mere promise of rain was enough to lift the dusty gloom.
Fires had been burning on the outskirts of the Wollombi Valley for several months, threatening different properties at different times. The stress had become a way of life and fear was now normal. Gradually, and due to the efficiency and skill of the RFS and several periodic calm days, containments lines had been enforced and backburning was undertaken. But even though the immediate danger had passed the fires continued to burn and the valley continued to be suffocated by noxious smoke. Over those weeks it was as if the inhalation of the smoke lulled the locals into a zombie-like state of hopelessness. Residents wandered around the main street not knowing why they were there. All we spoke of was fire and drought as if we had never known of anything else. Tourists had stopped coming, businesses closed, and locals felt abandoned.
And then the rain came. It started on the Thursday and although, incredibly welcome, there was a nervousness that it may not last. No one dare make any comments about what may be expected as if it might curse it from coming. But it did come. The showers increased to rain on the Friday and by the weekend it was a solid downpour.
The Wollombi Brook began to run, water tanks were filling, and the air become clear again. We awoke from our lost weeks of quiet despondency. From the dust, grass emerged, and green became the dominant colour of nature again. The landscape transformed from Martian to rich earth. Wallabies grazed in paddocks and wombats roamed at night.
And at last the fires were extinguished. The new normal was replaced by the old normal.
Since then mowers and chainsaws are regularly heard buzzing from the valley floors. Water trucks have stopped plying the winding roads into the valley. Moods have lifted. And the tourists have returned.
The Wollombi Valley has been restored, as we always hoped it would be. Nature has been reinvigorated, and our lives are back to their fullest. We live in fear of further drought but, for the time being, we rejoice in the rain.
Marge would be pleased!
David & Murray