From Australian Accent (1958)

John Douglas Pringle came to Australia in 1952 to edit The Sydney Morning Herald. He left in 1957 and returned as editor in 1965, staying until 1970:

Sydney is ruled by three winds, which command the city in turn like the chiefs of an invading army. The first is the north-easter, the prevailing wind of summer. It is a fair-weather wind, a lazy, languorous wind, which comes in from the long reaches of the South Pacific heavy with moisture and sticky with salt. This is the wind which drives the great Pacific rollers onto the open beaches before leaping over the narrow barrier of land, making the pines at Manly sing as it passes and ruffling the calmer waters of the Harbour on the other side. On Sundays the crews of the eighteen-foot yachts catch it as they round the buoy for the long run home, and push out their bellying spinnakers which lift the small hulls out of the water until they seem to be flying

The north-easter is a sea-breeze and out of its element on dry land…To the western suburbs it brings no relief from the heat, but to the more favoured eastern suburbs it is a source of pride and joy; and the wealthy citizens of Bellevue Hill and Point Piper set their houses to catch it like the yachts on the harbour set their sails…

18 footer vessel on Sydney Harbour (William Hall collection, Australian National Maritime Museum)

18 footer vessel on Sydney Harbour (William Hall collection, Australian National Maritime Museum)

The southerly comes with a rush of cold air and a splatter of rain. The Sydneysiders call it the ‘southerly buster’, because it arrives with a banging of doors and windows like a train coming into the station. It can be fierce for a few hours, bowling over the yachts in the harbour like ninepins and dexterously removing loose tiles from the house-roofs; but it is a much-loved wind in summer, bringing down the temperature with a bump, cooling the sultry streets and sending fretful babies to sleep. Generally it blows itself out in the night, and Sydney wakes up in the morning to blue skies and brilliant sun as the north-easter resumes its sway over the city. In winter, however, it may blow for days, bringing cold Melbourne weather and a hint of snow to pampered Sydney.

Southerly Buster at Turrimeta Beach, 26 December 1996. (John Grainger, Bureau of Meteorology)

Southerly Buster at Turrimeta Beach, 26 December 1996. (John Grainger, Bureau of Meteorology)

The third wind is the westerly, a gusty, dusty wind blowing from the heart of the continent. It is an unpredictable wind, following no rhythm and obeying no laws, but it is always unpleasant. In winter dry and bitterly cold, in summer dry and hot as the blast from an oven door, it pounces on the city and worries it. It is an uncomfortable, penetrating wind, which gets through clothes and windows, forcing dust into the eyes and nose. Like the sirocco of the Mediterranean, its extreme dryness seems to irritate people, making the easy-going Sydneysiders nervous and bad-tempered. In winter it may blow for weeks on end, but in summer, fortunately, it rarely lasts more than a day or two – fortunately because it is only when the westerly is blowing that Sydney gets truly hot. The temperature climbs into the hundreds, the tar melts on the roads, and those who go down to the beaches for relief find that they cannot run bare-foot across the burning sand to the water. Worse still, it is the bush-fire wind…

Smoke from bushfires fills the sky over the city in Sydney, October 17, 2013. (AAP: James Morgan)

Smoke from bushfires fills the sky over the city in Sydney, October 17, 2013. (AAP: James Morgan)

I have described these three winds which rule over Sydney not only because they set the rhythm of the city’s life but because each one seems to represent the conflicting elements which shape Sydney’s character…The north-easter is the Pacific wind, and while it blows it tries to make Sydney a South Pacific city. Under its warm and humid breath men slow down in their daily tasks and dream of the islands to the east…

The southerly, on the other hand, is the voice of conscience, the voice of home and England, even though it comes from the Antarctic. When it blows life resumes the brisker tempo of the northern hemisphere. A man can work hard without getting too tired or can sit indoors and read without longing to be out in the sun. It is a Puritan wind, which scourges the city for its laziness.

But the westerly is the voice of Australia. This is the true Aboriginal wind, hard and lean and dry as the bones of dead sheep. Like the continent itself, it seems hostile to the white man who has swarmed on the sea-board. It hurls itself down from the mountains of the Dividing Range as if it would blow the city into the sea or burn it down with its fierce bush-fires. It mocks the efforts of suburban gardeners, withering their dahlias and roses in a single morning and turning their trim lawns brown no matter how they try to assuage its thirst with hoses. It is a nagging reminder of the great dry continent which stretches away beyond the Blue Mountains so clearly outlined on the horizon.

John Douglas Pringle, Scottish 1912-1999

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