The months of the Gregorian calendar, their names and cultural associations, are historically connected with life in the Northern Hemisphere. But in Australia, May brings autumn or fall. My friend, the writer Sarah Klenbort, give us a view from Down Under.
May in Sydney is when the tourists go home and leave the beaches empty for us locals to swim and surf and search for anemones in the sandstone rock pools at low tide. May is cold nights and clear warm days (though the start of this month was unseasonably warm, nearly 30 degrees C).
May is when you dig out a jumper you haven’t seen for six months. May is mandarins and pumpkin scones, because it’s finally cool enough to turn the oven on.
Fall means short days, early sunsets. When my husband first moved here from Wales he was shocked at how brief twilight is, this close to the equator: ‘The sun goes down, and bang! Lights out!’
It’s the light that changes most; I find it hard to describe the quality of that antipodean sun that turns the pears on my windowsill a golden green.
May is when Sydney-siders start thinking about ‘going to the snow’, as they say—a seven hour drive southwest to the Snowy Mountains. Sydney hasn’t seen snow since a freak weather event in 1836 brought an inch of the white stuff to our beaches.
I come from Atlanta, Georgia, where the seasons are more distinct—100 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and snow in winter. And when I first arrived in Australia, the seasons seemed to blend together—not four but two: hot and not as hot, with gums and palm trees all year round.
The varied and various First Peoples of this country see much more. In Kakadu in the Northern Territory, where it’s 32 degrees nearly every day of the year, the whites have two seasons: wet and dry. But the traditional owners of this land have six. May is part of the Yegge, which is ‘cooler, but still humid’ and signalled by flowering yellowbutt. Yegge follows Benggerreng, or ‘knock ’em down storm season’ marked by ‘violent windy storms that flatten the speargrass’.
I first came here as a brazen young woman in a bikini; these days I’m a middle-aged mum. It’s only now—as we begin to lose our seasons—that I have a more profound appreciation for the subtle differences: the way the sun at dawn turns the sandstone gold, the mournful cries of two dozen black cockatoos as they fly overhead in Sydney each May.
Sarah Klenbort lives in Sydney with her husband and two daughters. She teaches Literature at Western Sydney University and Creative Writing at Sydney Community College. Her fiction has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Overland, Southerly, Island Magazine and various U.S. and U.K. literary journals. She’s published articles in The Guardian and Eureka Street. In 2016, Sarah and her Welsh husband left their jobs, took the kids out of school and travelled around Australia with a camper trailer, visiting deaf schools and deaf communities along the way. You can read about these adventures on her blog: handsacrossaustralia.com
Do go and see Sarah’s blog. It’s an amazing read, particularly if, like me, you’re an armchair traveller. You can share some wonderful places and experiences from a ‘lap’ of Australia in a year of travel.
Anyone around the world wish to share their experiences of where they are in May? Cultural, meteorological, historical. It’s all of interest to me: Maria Donovan
If you enjoyed Sarah’s post as much as I did, let us know! I’d like to ask her do another guest post in the future.