Wednesday 12 May 2010

Rain, rain

At last it's raining. It's been dry for so long that there are cracks in the lawn and even the weeds have stopped growing. But now it's raining, and I have hope that earth will fluff up around the piles that the house sits on and hold them tight and straight again, so that the cracks in the ceiling will close up and our doorways will revert to right-angles and the doors will open and shut as doors are meant to, ie without a muscle-wrenching wrestling and struggling and a sudden frightening shudder that surely one day will make all the glass shatter.

From 1895 to 1902 Australia suffered from a ruinously severe drought across much of the country. The people were so desperate that in Queensland they listened seriously to Clement Wragge, who had made a name for himself as a meteorologist. He reckoned that Albert Stiger's Vortex cannons, invented in Austria to disperse - successfully - hail clouds that threatened orchards and vineyards, would work as well when fired into the atmosphere to make clouds drop their moisture as rain onto the parched earth.

In September 1902 the Charleville Municipal Council funded the purchase of 13 four-metre high cannons which were deployed around the area with a spectacular lack of success, some of them actually disintegrating when fired but fortunately injuring no-one. It wasn't Wragge's finest hour, and despite having earned some kudos for establishing weather stations across Australia, making the first long-range weather forecasts, and inventing the naming of cyclones (after politicians, on the grounds that they were also natural disasters), he's mostly remembered as a larrikin.

Which isn't to say he's been dishonoured: the Aussies have a soft spot for larrikins - people who defy convention and authority, take risks, push boundaries. How else do you explain the Ned Kelly phenomenon?

The drought, by the way, broke all by itself a couple of months later.

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