My son complains that his eyeballs are drying out. Yes, mine are too, I tell him as we head from the cool of the cinema into the searing heat of Melbourne's most recent 40-plus degree day.
The blast of hot air is truly awful. As we quickly make our way into our even-hotter car, I am grateful that the air conditioner will not take long to kick in, and I bore my children with the same old story that I've told them a million times. "When I was your age, we didn't even have an air conditioner in the car!" Remarkably, in this 40-degree-plus heat, we are rarely uncomfortable. We can sit in the relative cool of our air conditioned car, and our air conditioned house, in our air conditioned life.
Having just seen the new 'Star Wars' movie, I tell my boys that my home town in the Mallee was like Jakku (or Tatooine even) -- sandy, desolate and hot. My earliest memories are shrouded in red dust and that unbearable heat. I tell them that, in the summer, 40-degree days were a regular occurrence, and that there was often a run of them, with no reprieve.
Everyone had evaporative air conditioners in their houses and they were completely ineffectual when it was that hot. There was no beach, no late evening sea breeze. There was a river, but there was a very good chance you might drown if you swam in it, so I would usually give that option a miss. I would sometimes fry an egg on the concrete outside my house, just because I could. That was something we would do for entertainment. There was no PlayStation back then.
There was no 50+ sunscreen either. I was fair and would burn, bubble then peel. Countless times I burnt to the point of peeling. It almost became a pastime -- rubbing my arms and shoulders and watching the skin float to the ground like confetti. I know I am a likely candidate for skin cancer now. My own children would never even leave the house without sunscreen and on the rare occasion they did get sunburnt, I felt supreme guilt -- as though I had personally failed them.
I regale them with stories of sitting on the vinyl seat of our old Holden, so hot that you would leave a layer of skin behind every time you got out. Sitting in the hot car, sweat dripping down from your scalp and into your eyes, stinging with all its saltiness. Then your eyeballs drying out.
The experience of cooling down at the local pool, for about 5 minutes until you dried completely, then were hot again, repeating the process until our parents picked us up at dusk. No, they didn't stay and supervise us at the pool. In those days, children were free-range. The sleepless nights. Skin still smarting from the sunburn. The evenings, too hot to eat, too hot to do anything.
Dust storm in Melbourne? It was nothing compared to the dreaded dust storm in the Mallee. My aversion to dust surely stems from this. A frightening red glow descended over everything, doors and windows rattled. No matter if they were kept closed, the dust would find its way into every surface and crevice. You'd feel gritty, even after a shower.
If the heat continued until the school term started again, we would sit in our hot, non-air conditioned classrooms, only being allowed to go home if the mercury hit 40. Lunch was a lukewarm ham sandwich, the frozen drink having long melted and abandoned its purpose. How we didn't have constant food-poisoning, I'll never know.
And so, I don't complain when it's this hot. I pray that there will be no bushfires. I bide my time until it passes. I think about how fortunate we are. I'll still sleep under the doona, even when it's warm at night. I'm the first one to turn off the air-conditioner, usually to protests from everyone else. I don't have much to brag about, but I do have a tolerance for heat. And I'll take that.