The Summertime Blues

Feb 18, 2024
Source: Getty Images.

Am I swimming against the tide when I admit to dreading summer? Am I the only one with a bad case of the summertime blues? As far as I am concerned the reality of summer in Sydney is that it falls far short of its golden days hype.

Sure, if you are lucky enough to live close to the ocean (or within easy travelling distance from it), then a hot and humid Sydney summer may be a season to savour. However, few of us live near the beach and the refreshing sea breeze that keeps the living ‘easy’. Summer in the sweltering suburbs where the maximum temperature in summer is routinely 10ºC (50ºF) higher than it is near the coast is often unbearable.

Heat kills more Australians than any natural disaster and many residents of Sydney’s outer suburbs cannot escape the soaring temperatures. They cannot afford air conditioning or the solar panels that they would need to help with the cost of running them. Old houses in the suburbs lack insulation and the new houses are crammed together with no space to accommodate a single shade-giving tree. For these resident living in these conditions, heat stress is a major concern.

The temperature in the outer suburb of Penrith has reached 48.9°C. On that day, Penrith was the hottest place on earth. Perhaps that is one reason the 2.6 million residents of Western Sydney have been offered a temporary ‘beach’ at Penrith this year. It is sited on the banks of the Nepean River. A beach-with-no-waves sounds as unlikely as a pub-with- no-beer, even so this freshwater venue has attracted 25000 visitors each week since opening in December.

Penrith ‘beach’ was recently closed on sizzling hot days due to pollution and it will permanently close at the end of summer. Perhaps it will reappear next year, but let’s be realistic, one freshwater ‘beach’ at Penrith is hardly a game changer for millions of Sydneysiders who cannot afford to live close to the ocean. For many, it will be back to wading pools and sprinklers or the few overcrowded municipal pools dotted around suburbia. While there is an obvious resource gap between the top end of town and the rest of us, everyone is encouraged to comply with sun safety protocols. Before swimming (or other outdoor activities) we must all apply a thick layer of sticky 50+ sunscreen (half an hour before exposure to the sun) and put on a hat (for good measure). Otherwise, we could wrap ourselves in layers of clothing or if it’s all too much trouble, we could just stay inside all summer. How does that sound for fun?

Have I mentioned sleep, or the lack thereof that comes with stifling summer nights? Temperature plays a huge role in how well we sleep. Trying to sleep in the heat of summer is a special kind of torture. To avoid power bill shock, even those of us lucky enough to live in air conditioned homes are advised to set our thermostats at around 23℃ to 24℃ (73.4 °F to 75.2 °F) and that is significantly higher than the 18°C (64.4°F) recommended for a good night’s sleep.

If heat stress, slip-slop-slap and lack of sleep are not enough to take the shine off summer, statistics also confirm that violent crimes (rape, murder and assault) are more likely to happen in summer than at any time of the year. Hot weather increases body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure (all health risks) and the related discomfort expresses itself as increased anger and violence. That rings true to me.

Heat waves sap my motivation and push my patience to the limit. Of course, for many workers summer means holidays and it represents a time to relax and have fun. For years, I yearned for the long summer break from school or work, but that was then and this is now – and Sydney feels so much hotter!

So, how are those lazy, hazy days of summer looking for you? Are you a summer person, a winter person like me?

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