Mournful crows, burning legs on metal slides, and other memories of summer

As those of us in Australia head into the hottest part of the year, it seems an ideal time to hear stories about the extreme heat in places such as Woomera, located in desert country in the north of South Australia.

These memories were recorded as part of oral history interviews for the Life in Woomera Oral History Project at the State Library of South Australia.

Gibber plain. Photo by Mark Marathon. CC BY-SA 4.0

Woomera experiences a dry heat, but the summer has extra special qualities because of the landscape and clear air.  Tony Price lived and worked in Woomera in the 1960s.  Here he recalls the countryside in summer:

Round Woomera itself, it was what they call gibber plains. They’re covered in these stones of varying size, with a metallic iron ore finish to them and they’re black so in the summer they sort of, almost radiate, well they do radiate in the heat and they shimmer.”

 

Imagine then, that you are out in this landscape.  It is silent, except for the crows…

Photo of black crow flying.

Australian crow

I remember the crows in the summer. When it got really hot – and sometimes the sun got a bit too hot and you’d be starting to struggle a bit – and these crows in the summer they had a special – – – their call seemed to get even croakier, even sharper and even nastier than it was in the winter.  It was a mournful crow and if it was hot and windy it really started to get you down, and I can imagine people being out in the bush being driven mad by it.  It just got through to you, it really did.”

Childhood experiences of summer

For children, the heat presented special hazards.  Sue Gibbs lived in Woomera as a child and remembers the effect of the heat on the roads and slippery dips…

 

Children playing on a metal slippery dip.

Children enjoying a metal slippery dip on a cool day in Kensington, Adelaide, 1941. Photo courtesy of the State Library of South Australia B7798/461.

The swimming pool was really big for us. We’d go there straight after school or on weekends, whenever we could get to the swimming pool and on really hot days, the tar on the road would melt so that means when you walked home you’d either have a build-up of melted tar on the bottom of your thongs or shoes, and on – – -.  For a little while it became a thing to go barefoot – I presume it was part of the hippie era.  It never lasted that long because in summer the footpaths and roads were way too hot to walk on.  I  remember even being at the swimming pool and getting out of the pool and having to put your towel on the concrete in order to walk across the concrete because it was just so hot and then walking home with melted tar.  I never thought that – – -.   I never entered into that cool look of going barefoot because it just was too painful [laughs].  It was hot enough to give you blisters, you know. You’d get blisters.

The swing parks’d be the same thing. There was always a slide in every one of the swing parks.  There was a slide with searing hot metal that if you actually sat on it I’m sure you would cook to it… Slippery dips were not used regularly because they were either freezing cold in winter or enough to cook your skin off in summer, sitting out there in the sun.”

 

What memories do you recall with the onset of hot weather? Does summer remind you of particular places?  Please write your memories in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this, there are many more fascinating stories you can read and hear about life in Woomera here.

Quotes from oral history interviews with Sue Gibbs and Tony Price for the Life in Woomera Oral History Project, courtesy of the State Library of South Australia (OH 1123/5 and 6).

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