MECO360: Grain full: Grain ripens

Jo Law | 1 December 2016

As we enter the final month of the year on the Gregorian calendar, we are officially entering the season of summer. Australia adopts the official metrological reckoning that divides the year into four seasons, which designates the first day of December as the beginning of the hottest 3 months of the year. Flame trees glow a brilliant crimson red against the backdrop of the escarpment shrouded with condensation. Sulphur-crested cockatoos, parrots and rosellas feast on the reddening flowers of the Australian Christmas bush. Their activities set into motion snow flurries of red-stars as the flowers drift down to the ground. The Bureau of Meteorology forecast a warmer and drier than usual summer for the East coast of Australia with temperatures reaching the mid to high 30s at the beginning of the month. Meanwhile, northern hemisphere temperate regions are preparing for their coldest 3 months.

On the twenty third day of the preceding month, Japan celebrated its Labor Thanksgiving day, a modern derivative of the older grain harvest festival, Niiname-sai. The United States observed Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of the same month. In Australia, the wheat harvest is well underway on the East Coast with a record-breaking forecast, in particular with canola finishing with a good season. At the University of Wollongong, teaching concluded for the academic year with final marks released, last meetings of the year conducted, the Graduate Exhibition opened and closed. It seems to me that in our calendar we have few opportunities to give thanks to the labour of the past year before being hurled into the hectic festive season.

This December as stone fruits reached the markets and the green grocers’ shelves, the Australian Coalition Government’s backpacker tax bill of 15% rate passed the Senate with the support of the Greens. Much of the labour on summer fruit and vegetable harvests in Australia rely on foreign backpackers and seasonal guest workers. Interestingly, it is said that the original purpose of the summer vacation in Normandy was to free up workforces to facilitate grape harvest. In Europe, the summer break remained largely a privilege until relatively recently. The hot weather would prompt the upper classes to relocate to their summer residences. Later, it became an appropriate season to visit resorts and spas in the pursuits of good health. In the mid-19th century, the middle classes (later followed by the working classes) gained enough resources to follow suits, vacating their urban residences in favour of the seasides. From mid-December onwards, Coledale Camping Reserve begins to be filled up with the same caravans, families, and clans. Some of these holiday makers proudly claim the number of summer they spent in Coledale can be measured in decades and bookings for the peak holiday season are made years in advance.

The hottest day of the month in the Wollongong region was Tuesday 13 December with the highest maximum of 38ºC and highest minimum of 22ºC the following day, both recorded at Bellambi AWS. The sun reached the southernmost declination of 23.5º on Wednesday 21 December 2016 at 10.44 UTC and went no further. On the Tropic of Capricorn, the sun was directly overhead. Regions south of the Antarctic Circle (66.5º south latitude) experienced 24 hour of daylight accompanied by the ‘midnight’ sun. It was the December solstice. The termite alates (the winged reproductive caste) left their nests in search of new beginnings. As we walked home from an afternoon swim, we made our way through swarms of tiny insects that had saturated the warm humid air.

Video Poem by Jo Law and Ali Jane Smith