Australia is the driest continent on earth. To
generalize, summers here will feel hotter here than they do
in Europe or North America. With the thin ozone layer
over the continent, dim rays you wouldn't think about twice
at home feel so much more intense here. Bush fires
aren't uncommon in the summers. Just two months before I got
to the Grampians National Park in Victoria, a bushfire
ravaged 50-60% of the park. Winters can get cold, but
compared to a snowy New England winter, it'll feel like
you're in Miami. And you won't see snow on much of
Australia's mountains either, because Australia's not a very
mountainous country and its peaks aren't high. Mount
Kosciuszko in New South Wales' Snowy Mountains has a height
of just 2,228 meters (7,310 ft). The top 100 mountain
peaks in the American state of Colorado all surpass this,
with number 100, Rio Grande Pyramid, measuring up at 4,213
meters (13,821 ft). The skiing industry is
overhyped in Oz. Australians wanting an inexpensive
quality skiing holiday fly to Japan.
Australia's Climate Regions
Australia is a
huge country (but small continent). It doesn't have one
temperature like Singapore. The
weather tends to vary more from north to south than it does west to east
The northern part of the country (northern Western Australia, the
Northern Territory, and extreme northern Queensland) are all relatively
close to Indonesia and share its tropical weather. There are
really only two seasons here, the Wet (November to April) and the Dry
(May to October). The Wet season has temperatures between 30-50°
F). In the Dry, temperatures are a more reasonable 20° C (68°
F). There is a build up period between the Wet and the Dry,
as the season transitions from one to the other. Humidity is high.
Winter temperatures are actually pleasant. It doesn't get colder
F). The ideal time to visit the tropical regions, like Darwin,
Kakadu, Karijini National Park, etc is September-October.
OUTBACK: The Outback, the sparsely
populated area in the central part of the country is best thought of as a
with very hot days and very cool nights. Considering that the
winters in Australia aren't anything close to a day in Antarctica, the
best time to be in the Outback -- places like Cooper Pedy, Alice
Springs, or areas more remote -- is winter, when temperatures are about
20° C (68° F), like a cool summer's day in other parts of the
world. A real summer's day in one of these places can average the same
as your body temperature -- 37°
C (98.6° F) Thermal underwear and a heavily insulated sleeping bar
are mandatory if you are camping in the Outback during the Australian
TEMPERATE REGIONS: This applies to most
of the rest of the areas of the country where the majority of tourists
are likely to devote their time. We're talking about
Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth, and the areas in between.
Summer temperatures average 30° C (86° F) and winter temperatures 15° C
(59° F). These are temperatures any normal person could
easily live with. Tasmania in the summer can get quite cold, with
nighttime temperatures below 10° C (50° F) and sometimes below freezing
the national parks. Before I'd bothered to purchase a wider
range temperature sleeping bag, I emerged a few evenings with icicles
sprouting of my nostrils. Tasmania may be better thought of as
having a climate more similar to New Zealand than the rest of mainland
Australia's Water Issues
Australia is constantly compared to the United States.
The two nations are roughly the same size, speak the same language,
and have a similar culture. One area in which they not
similar is water. As a nation, the United States does
not have a water problem, although in isolated or overdeveloped
regions, water could be a problem.
Australia may be roughly the same size as the continental United
States, but it could never accommodate the population of the United
States because of inadequate water supplies. New Zealand, the
same size as the United Kingdom, could actually accommodate a larger
population if it imported food. It just doesn't rain that much in Australia.
Average annual rainfall over the entire continent is just 455 ml
(17.9) inches. Broken down by area:
||Avg Annual Rainfall (mm)
Adelaide (South Australia)
Canberra (Australian Capital
Perth (Western Australia)
Sydney (New South Wales)
|Darwin (Northern Territory)
These are surprising statistics. Even the temperate areas like
Hobart and Melbourne don't get much rainfall. Compare the
Australian figures to a variety of rainfall figures in the United
States, taken from every region:
||Avg Annual Rainfall (mm)
Missouri (West North Central)
(West South Central)
(East North Central)
|Birmingham, Alabama (East
Carolina (South Atlantic)
|Bismarck, North Dakota
(West North Central)
Notice that except for a few areas, nearly all the American regions show
precipitation figures that rank with the best Australia can offer. Only 12% of this infrequent Australian rainfall runs off into
streams and rivers or soaks into the soil. The end
result is that Australia only has 1% of the water carried by the
world's river systems although it has 5% of the world's land area,
the worst percentage, by far, of any of the inhabited continents.
Of this limited water supply, 70% gets used for agricultural purposes. The agricultural term 'arable land' refers
to land that is fit for growing crops. Non-arable land may be classified as such because there's no water supply nearby, the land is too rocky, too mountainous, too salty, too polluted, too
this or too that. According to the
CIA World Factbook
figures of 2006, Australia ranked #140 of the world's nations and territories in percentage of arable land, with just 6.15%. Compare that with
other large nations like India (#7, 48.83%), Russia (#130, 7.17%), China (#77, 14.86%), Brazil (#133, 6.93%), and the United States (#61, 18.01%). Only Canada ranks
worse than Australia (#151, 4.57%).
Australia is dry. That can't be stressed enough.
Droughts are common here, but this is nothing new.
While Australia's soils are not of the highest caliber and the nation is not richly endowed with water, lack of development and a poor agricultural policy are much to blame
for the Australian water problem.
Australia has a low percentage of arable land, and yet it utilizes that land very poorly. Australia still thinks of itself as a European nation which just happens to be in the Asia-Pacific region.
There'd be no problem with that distinction if Australia had an arable land percentage on par with France (#17, 33.46%) or the United Kingdom (#43, 23.23%). A lot of land is wasted on growing produce that Australians
would be better off importing from nations with better soils. Australian grass-fed beef is heralded as juicy and tasty. Nonetheless, raising cattle uses a lot of grasslands and water. Australia's ecosystem would've
benefited had Australia concentrated on cultivating meats indigenous to Australia, like kangaroo, emu, and crocodile, which are all healthier meats anyway.
Australia has poorly managed its river systems. The Murray-Darling river is Australia's largest river system and produces 40% of all Australia's agriculture.
Much of the infrastructure is 80-100 years old. In 1995,the Murray-Darling Commission set a water usage cap lower than existent usage. It made no sense. The river system has been over-exploited and polluted. Dredging
vessels must work 24/7 to prevent the river mouth from silting up.
In many respects, Australia seems oblivious to economic reality. Telling people to conserve on water isn't going to address the real problem. When I was in Australia,
I was told about the water shortages, yet when I went to go wash my car on several occasions and in several states, I observed that though the car wash was more expensive than a similar one in the United States, it was only
marginally so. The only real way to curb water usage is to charge a price that matches the supply and demand. If water is in severe shortage throughout Australia, a liter of water for use in a car wash should be many times the cost
of a similar liter of water in Canada or the United States. It's not.
The Australian politicians seem to only do what is politically expedient for them at the time.
It reminds me of the gas-oil policy in the United States. In 1973,
there was worldwide oil embargo. Prices for gasoline shot up, and there were queues for gasoline. That could have been a warning to change policy right then and develop alternate sources of energy. Australians have known about
their drought problem for decades. Immigration policy should have been drafted hand-in-hand with a water policy: how can we be more efficient with our water supplies and develop new ones as our population grows? It doesn't look
like enough politicians over the years have really given that problem any thought. In August 2001, Perth water storage levels were at their lowest level since 1962, and Perth's seven main dams were only filled to 26.3% of capacity.
Yet in 1962, Perth had a population of about 440,000 and in 2001, that number had grown to 1,325,392.