Works in the Herald 1934
PROPHETS WITH HONOR!

It is quite likely that other observant people besides myself happened to notice that we have had rather much rain during recent weeks.

Also, many others besides myself will probably be prepared to admit that they have been genuinely surprised by the wholly unexpected deluge that has overwhelmed many parts of this State; and they will be ready to admit further that, say, a month ago (during that glorious succession of blue and gold days that blessed the latter end of September), no man among them would have dared to prophesy such a sudden return to the conditions of bleakest winter as that which has surprised the vast majority of the State's human population.

From such company I am prepared to exempt -

One, my good friend, Pete Paraday, the old-age pensioner and veteran bushman, whose attacks of "the rheumatiz" have for years proved infallible in forecasting meteorological conditions. Two, the weather authorities, from whose vocabulary professional etiquette seems to preclude even the mildest expressions of astonishment after the event, and who meet every apparent weather phenomenon with the set and safe phrase, "Nothing unusual"; and, three, a group of those singularly wise beings whom we self-satisfied human refer to loftily as "the lower animals."

In such group I include, on this occasion, a vicious black ant known locally as a "jumper," the termite or white-ant, the welcome swallow, and those mysterious people of the underworld known to bushmen variously as "crabs" or "yabbies."

I am shamefully ignorant of the scientific name of these creatures. They are diminutive crustaceans who excavate inexplicable caverns a foot or two underground in the forest country, thus setting traps for the unwary. For up through the roof of these caverns they bore numerous ventilating holes about the diameter of one's finger, so weakening the structure that I have known a cow to break through the crust and disappear from sight completely.

In some miraculous manner they contrive to keep these subterranean tanks of theirs adequately supplied with water even I the driest seasons.

Some day I may betray my ignorance of these strange creatures by telling all I know of them. But, for the time being, I dismiss these and the "jumper" ants, in their role of weather prophets, by stating merely that, while the mild, warm weather still persisted, and sky nor air nor earth nor scientist gave the slightest indication of coming violence, both these wise tribes began, on one bland spring day, feverishly to build about their holes solid ramparts and embankments as if they had received sudden and infallible warning that a flood was imminent.

On the same day I noticed that the termites had acquired unaccustomed wings and, as is their practice when summer storms approach, were seeking adventure or death in the enemy-haunted outer air.

I pointed out these things to old Pete Paraday, bent lower than usual that day by his enemy, "the rheumatiz." Pete grunted and regarded me with a cold and pitying eye: "the rheumatiz" plays nasty tricks with his temper.

"An' why wouldn't they prepare?" he asked. "You need a slab of my rheumatiz to know what any fool knows. We're goin' to get it proper, that's wot."

Patient enquiry revealed that what we were going to "get proper" was an inundation, a flood almost without precedent.

I looked at the sun-kissed sky. I felt the balmy breeze and smiled complacently at Pete's gloomy prophecy. But, on the following evening, when I went down to the pond to watch my friends the swallows bathe, I was suddenly shocked out of my complacency, for not a single bather appeared!

I waited for half an hour, but not one swallow came to skim the pool's surface and soar away, trailing a crystal train that sparkled in the sun.

Now, in mid-September we had been much heartened by the return of the swallows. Some dozen pair had come, as usual, and nest-building was well advanced in the chicken house, the garage, and beneath the shade of my bedroom window; and every evening they gathered to bathe joyously in the pond.

We regarded their advent as a happy and certain augury of summer's return. But, though I watched at the nests till dusk, not one builder returned. It was as if some sudden bugle had blared forth a shrill warning and the swallows, deserting their half-finished masonry, had hastily mustered and fled from a threat no man could see.

Skies were still clear; upon the official weather map isobars were behaving normally, "high" and "lows" were flowing in more or less orderly procession across the continent, while cyclone and anti-cyclone promised no untoward excursion or alarum.

But the swallows had gone, ignoring the banquet the blundering termites offered, and the ants and "yabbies" continued to throw up defences.

Four or five days later we were crouching over a mid-day fire, listening to the thundering of a deluge on the roof, and watching, through streaming panes, the tall trees toss and writhe in the clutch of savage winter blasts.

Now, what I want to know is, why But I give it up and leave it to the scientists.

Today the sun has shone with furtive promise, peeps of blue sky are visible; but an ominous wind is still muttering on further forest heights. Careful search has discovered only a single, solitary swallow wheeling against the rain-washed gums.

But one swallow, we are told, does not make a summer. So I shall retain my winter underwear.

"Den"
Herald, 1 November 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2004-06