Sydney is celebrated for its storms, and presumably was even before the ships of the First Fleet unloaded their cargo of convicts, who were immediately almost flattened into the rain-sodden earth by a downpour the like of which none of them had ever experienced. ‘What a Terrible night it was last of thunder lightning and Rain – was obliged to get out of my tent with nothing on but my shirt to Slacken the tent Poles’, wrote Lieut. Ralph Clark. The deafening thunderstorms which, it seems, used to be pretty regular at certain times of the year seem almost to have gone away; but periods of tremendous rainfall haven’t – ironically, all too often while half the county is in drought the other half is under water.
Just as the sunlight in Australia is of a different quality to that of Europe, the rain here is of a different quality to that of the UK. The light is a revelation. On the first morning I awoke in Australia and looked out of a window in Perth, even the remembered light of the South of France seemed grubby compared to the light which, it seemed to me, must resemble that of pre-industrial Europe; but perhaps not even that. The quality is difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t seen it. Similarly, the rain which falls in torrents on a really wet day is like nothing one has ever experienced even in the wettest English county. I remember scurrying across a street in Sydney during a rainstorm and understanding for the first time what is meant by ‘sheets of rain’ – and I still can’t resist standing in the shelter of the porch and watching the street turn into a river, with refuse bins tumbling along in the full force of the water. However, the bright side is that even on the wettest day the sun can burst through the clouds and at least a patch of bright blue will appear. Doesn’t happen in Shepherd’s Bush.