Freezing, it was freezing in that hotel… Well, actually it wasn’t that bad at The Lawson, but bonus points for anyone who gets where the title came from. We’ll figure out what the points can be redeemed for eventually. It all has to do with that prize for the first international visitor (sorry M&H, you don’t qualify, but K&L in NZ, you do).
Waggans do think it is really cold here. We arrived mid-afternoon on the first Thursday of July, and it was about 10 Celsius. In the week and a bit we have been here, it has maybe gotten down to -2 once (there was a thin layer of frost on car windscreen), and up to 12 or so. Sure, this might be cold by Riverina standards, but for Canadians coming from central Alberta…if this is all you have to throw at us, ha! Bring it on. We can take it.
It is the dead of winter in Australia. Comparatively, this would be January in the northern hemisphere, and Edmonton would be hellishly cold (could be anywhere between -10 and -40), and buried in a snow that the city council is too stupid to plow. Southern Ontario, where we spent the earlier part of our lives, would be damp, snowy, slushy, and generally unpleasant at anywhere from just above freezing to -10 or lower.
In Wagga, there is green grass in places, flowering shrubs are in bloom, and many of the deciduous trees still have their leaves. In Canada, if things weren’t buried under snow, they would be brown and bare. And there wouldn’t be numerous varieties of colourful birds around. Galahs and cockatiels, what Northern Hemisphere people think of as tropical birds, roam the city streets, and the ponds on the outskirts of town abound with ducks and herons. Comparatively, ducks and herons in an Edmonton winter would be frozen into the ice if they were bird-brained enough not to fly south.
The Waggan understanding of cold – or maybe our understanding of the climate in Wagga – is very much a part of how the people here live. It is a very different world, in terms of how people interact with the outdoors, and how they make a distinction between indoor and outdoor. Or, more often, don’t really make a distinction.
Many buildings in Wagga don’t have central heat. Our room in The Lawson is around 450 square feet including bathroom and kitchenette; it is heated by a single wall-mounted heater. Bathroom heat comes from spotlights. The halls aren’t heated at all – which shouldn’t be too much of a problem except that other tenants don’t seem to be able to read the big sign that says “PLEASE KEEP DOOR CLOSED”. Many restaurants, such as Wagga Thai, which is just around the corner from The Lawson and very good, has no heat. The servers wear coats at work. Il Corso, a pretty good Italian place on the main street, is a bit more high class, so their servers have to dress better and therefore be colder. We saw diners at Brasserie3, another high-end place, wearing their coats. Many of the real estate offices that we visited while looking for a house had no heat. So yes, at times, we are cold. But think of Canadian fall or spring and you’ll get the idea.
Our main criteria when looking for a house were ducted air conditioning and ducted heat…basically what Canadians would call central heat and central air. Or, more specifically, what we would call central air, as ‘central heat’ is so ubiquitous in Canada that we don’t even mention it anymore. This wasn’t really easy to find. One place we looked at had ‘gas bayonet points’ where you could hook up a natural gas heater in a couple of rooms. Other houses had wall mounted furnaces in the main living area, and that was it. Blanket sales must really skyrocket in this weather! Eventually we did find one that we think will keep us happy as the seasons change.
But beyond the daily human comfort aspect of the climate, there have been a few interactions that we have had that made sense when you relate them to the weather. First was the difficulty – well, it didn’t turn out to be that difficult, but unusual – of finding a rental that allowed indoor cats. Cats, it seems, are outdoor critters in Australia. Even people who let them in just do so on a part-time basis; fully indoor cats are an oddity. We don’t think that cats should be outdoors, as there are too many predators (animals, crazy people, cars) that can harm them, but in Wagga it is normal. And we realized after talking with a few people that maybe part of our bias toward indoor animals is the temperature: cats in Edmonton need heating vents to sit on. But in this climate, even though your kitty may end up as roadkill, at least she won’t freeze to death.
But the real wake-up about how Canadians and Australians interact differently with the environment came when Dan was looking for appliances (that’s a whole post of its own, coming soon!). He was discussing clothes dryers with a sales lady, and wondering about how you vent them to the outdoors. She gave him a silly grin and said “We don’t vent them, we just open the laundry door.” Laundry rooms in Australian houses all have doors to the outside, which serve two purposes. The one we first noticed was that it makes it easy to carry your wet clothes to the clothes line, because all Wagga houses have one. But on those cool days, when your clothes might not air dry quickly, just throw them in the dryer and open the outside door to let out the steam. This couldn’t happen in Edmonton (or even Ontario) because the steam that the dryer generated would freeze into icicles all over the room.
Another oddity we saw was that on the morning last week when there was actually frost on the car, all the other folk at The Lawson just started their vehicles, turned on the defroster, and stood outside while the windscreen cleared. Pretty much the same as Edmonton, except there they start it remotely from a warm house. We, however, got moving quickly because Lisa was smart enough to pack a tiny ice scraper! These are not normal in Wagga, and Dan thought he could make a bit of money by cleaning peoples’ windows. Or, starting a scraper import business.
So, though we do have a bit of sympathy for Waggans who complain about the cold, we also don’t really feel that bad for you. There are, as Canadians know, simple and efficient ways to heat a house. And you can just dress for the weather. We are wearing leather jackets that we would wear in Edmonton in the spring and autumn (and maybe cool summer evenings), thin gloves, and Lisa has a light scarf. Many Waggans, on the other hand, are wearing sweaters, mini skirts, shorts, and flip flops and complaining that they are cold. NO SHIT…it’s winter, put on some damn clothes!