Every day this spring, in this part of Australia, has been a good day to hang washing. It’s been weeks of swirling winds and dry air, and always the droning, reliable sun – sucking the moisture out of everything.
But perpetual sunshine can feel relentless, oppressive even. Everything is washed out in its yellow glaze.
With this weather comes a sense of a buildup. In the buildup there is tension, and a longing for release. How long can we go without rain?
It happened on Sunday. Up to 90mm of rain fell over drought-stricken regional New South Wales. Figures from the Bureau of Meteorology showed Bourke, in the state’s north-west, received 94mm over two days, “making it the biggest single rainfall event in the area since 2012”.
That’s a massive, game-changing and hugely joyful amount of rain.
Across NSW farmers posted videos of dancing in the rain and jumping in the mud. “There’s so much water,” exclaimed an excited farm kid.
Farmer Rick Bennett, 56, from Tottenham in NSW’s central west, posted a picture of himself dancing around in his undies and an Akubra as rain fell on his property.
He told the Daily Telegraph that due to the prolonged drought he was forced to lose more than 70% of his cattle and had failed to produce any crops in the last 18 months.
“We had a few drops on Saturday then all Sunday we were watching the clouds build up. I didn’t think it was going to happen then it started to pour down,” he told the Daily Telegraph. He stripped off and danced.
Now the farm’s dams have filled up. It’s not enough to break the drought, but it’s a huge help.
In Wagga Wagga, 1,700 people took part in the region’s first corroboree in 150 years. It was a healing experience for many. And they danced for rain.
The Wiradjuri woman Talara Freeman travelled to the corroboree from the central coast to dance. She told NITV News: “Some of the dances are rain dances … We do it to awaken the spirits to let mother earth know we’re still there and taking care of her.”
It worked. On Sunday, the Riverina region received between 10 and 15mm, with Wagga Wagga picking up the highest total in the district with 25mm, their highest one-day total since May.
And the rain fell in Sydney.
In Potts Point on Sunday, the clouds were grey and swollen, and there came first a shift in the wind. Birds were flying low around us before falling ominously silent.
By the time I got back to Bondi, the sky was black, the rain had started falling in thick, slow, horizontal splats, and the beach had emptied.
That morning you couldn’t move for the people; dawdling in packs – eating ice-creams with towels slung over their shoulders, whizzing by on skateboards, taking selfies at Sculpture by the Sea, running across Campbell Parade and down the hill before plunging into the cold ocean. The buses coming down Bondi Road, careening towards the water, were full. People were pressed against each other, standing room only.
Now, with the rain, the whole exhausted suburb seemed to exhale with relief.
The rain turned the empty footpaths grey and a smell rose from them that was unmistakable, the alchemy of the fresh rain and the hot asphalt. It’s a singular smell, intoxicating in what it evokes.
Its power arises not just in the relief of its arrival, but in the memories it carries. It smells like childhood and high summer, relief and restoration.
Walking down Gould Street, I gulped down the smell of the rain deeply into my lungs. Can you be greedy with air?
That night, all night, the rain beat down on the roof as I drifted off – while also not wanting to sleep because I wanted to listen to that rhythmic tapping on tin until dawn.
All the “storm” Spotify playlists and meditation apps can’t really replicate nature, the sound of the rain outside, nurturing the soil and the snug feeling of being tucked up in bed, safe and warm inside.
Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist