‘Australian people are tougher than we are. They just are’

A country of extremes requires residents to become durable and versatile in ways we cannot imagine in Ireland

Apparently, we’re having a bad summer here in the Australian capital. I know this because Australian people who live here and know what summer is supposed to look like keep telling me with great insistence, even as I shrink vampirically from the heat.

Earlier this week, at the hair salon, the friendly Gen Z stylist told me we are having a bad summer as she fastidiously painted highlights into my hair, neatly tucking her work into little foil envelopes that jutted madly from my roots. The foils hold heat and keep the bleach moist as it reacts with the hair, speeding the lightening process and ensuring an even finish.

They also have the unfortunate consequence (for me at least) of inducing an intense and deeply inappropriate sleepiness in a public venue. Something about the skyrocketing temperature of a head wreathed in foil makes me mildly inclined to part ways with consciousness. I’ve never understood how people who wear beanies indoors stay awake or lucid, but I was not equipped even to talk about disappointing weather.

The hair stylist was in her early 20s and indicated to me primly that if she’d had five days of tanning by the pool so far this summer, she’d be positively surprised to hear it

I listened through ears connected complacently to a brain busying itself with the act of shutting down.

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The hair stylist was in her early 20s and indicated to me primly that if she’d had five days of tanning by the pool so far this summer, she’d be positively surprised to hear it. The concept of “tanning by the pool” is, I confess, a horror to me. Having lived through this so-far inadequately hot season, instinct tells me that a Celtic complexion could transform into a perfect simulacrum of a rhinoceros scrotum within two proper Australian summers. I resisted the millennial urge to finger wag about sunscreen and Australian skin cancer rates, partially because other people can do as they please with their bodies and my censorious reactivity wasn’t appropriate, but also because I could hardly keep my eyes open.

Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows set within the salon’s soothing white walls, a livid sun blasted down on to the shimmering surface of Lake Burley Griffin, the large (by Irish standards, anyway) artificial lake separating the centre and north of Canberra from its southern suburbs. I looked at the smartwatch which passive aggressively tells me to stand up every hour and stresses me out with intermittent reminders to practice mindfulness. The temperature outside read 34 degrees.

I wondered if I’d left my body.

“We had bushfires and heat waves last summer,” said the stylist, who I’ll call Amy because it’s getting uncomfortable to refer to her repeatedly without giving her a name. She has a name, and it isn’t Amy, but I don’t think appearing in The Irish Times factored into her week and that’s fair enough, so Amy it is. From the heat pulsating out of my tin foil hat it was tough to determine whether she was speaking wistfully of bushfires or simply factually, but I presumed the latter. Either way, Amy glanced out at the unremitting, murderous, blazing heat slightly dismissively, as though she wouldn’t consider venturing outdoors for anything under 37 degrees.

They live within a natural environment which is simply more extreme than ours in more or less every way

Now, while I understand that people in Australia are as varied and unique a collection of individuals as people everywhere else, and I’d never wish to generalise or insult them, it was at this moment that a suspicion I’d nursed for some months since moving here coalesced into what felt like validity. Australian people are tougher than we are.

They just are.

They live within a natural environment which is simply more extreme than ours in more or less every way and as a result, they don’t rush into the hair salon (as I did) buckled over beneath the sun as though labouring under the weight of Jupiterian gravity. Amy’s eyes passed casually out the window at temperature conditions that would have melted every railway signal light in Tipperary and put half of our TDs in hospital, and flicked one dainty little hand dismissively. She backhanded the weather. Get thee hence, the gesture declared with all the flippancy it could muster, and come back when you feel like heating up. I gazed dumbly at her through my semi-conscious haze, wondering whether she does triathlons and garnishes her morning granola with thumbtacks. When she removed the foils from my head and the air conditioning could rush its way back on to my scalp, I felt as though I’d been resurrected.

She looked at me with concern as I made a soft, grunting sound of the sort you might hear from a particularly feeble woodland creature. “I get sleepy when my head is warm,” I, a complete idiot, explained.

I enjoy the rain here, which falls to earth with the force of an insult because everything about nature in Australia is 10 to a billion times more intense than what we’re used to

Now I’ll admit, it has been raining here a lot lately, which appears to astonish and irk the locals. It’s not what they’re used to. It is, however, an Irish person’s time to shine. You’ll never catch us out without an umbrella and we’d positively never go to the supermarket in flip-flops and then get stuck with wet feet on the way home. Sure we’d catch our deaths.

Not only do I enjoy the rain here, which falls to earth with the force of an insult because everything about nature in Australia is 10 to a billion times more intense than what we’re used to, but I love the way it sounds, especially at night. I lie there listening and hear the voice of every Irish mammy in my head saying, “that’ll be lovely for the grass, now”.

And it is, in fairness. The grass all over the city certainly is looking lovely. The rain is not ideal — the weather doing anything unprecedented anywhere is not ideal, but, after meeting Amy, I’m starting to think it might be the only reason I’m still alive and well this summer.