A Melburnian complaining about the weather is a happy individual. There's no shortage of extreme examples, you don't have to wait long for new material, and you're never alone. In fact, it's one of the ways we signal in-group membership: if a newcomer gets that look of gleeful outrage over the latest meteorological horror, we know they're One Of Us. (Somewhere an anthropology postgrad just got an itch in their grant application muscle.)
But why is it such a powerful bonding device? It's so pointless. Living in the country teaches you that weather just IS. It doesn't care about your tennis match, or your cake stall, or your crops; it's too big. But living in cities erodes that knowledge until the weather comes to seem like just another inconvenient everyday variable, like tram timetables, or the Prime Minister.
When I was young, before the internet made "making your own fun" redundant, I used to go outside to watch the weather. We lived on a hill in the Strathbogie Ranges, and if you were lucky you could sit in the long-drop dunny and look out across a vast expanse of countryside, alone with your thoughts and occasional native rats. On a clear day you could see Waranga Basin glinting 60-odd kilometres away, or cars tunnelling their way along the Hume.
On stormy days, huge banks of cloud would roll in from the west, hulking over Euroa and allowing us to make impressively precise judgements about how long to leave the washing out. When rain came, it stretched out before us in sheets, or mists, or waterfalls, and the angle told us how much wind to expect. Sometimes clouds dipped down over the house completely, leaving us blind and deaf. At night, lying on the ground watching the Milky Way unfurl, you'd see the weather slowly black out the stars as it crept past.
At that time we lived in a tin shed on a concrete slab, and rain was a fairly immersive experience. Wood collecting happened whatever the weather, whether we liked it or not, and often came with a free set of centipedes. Heatwaves were inescapable too; our cooling options consisted of cold showers (a waste of tank water) or getting someone to drive you into town to loiter in the supermarket.
OK, this might be veering towards Monty Python's Yorkshiremen territory ('We used to DREAM of sodden centipedes!') and yes, it's easy to be nostalgic about being close to the weather when you don't have to be (don't ever leave me, hydronic heater). But there's also something wonderful about going out into the world and experiencing it in its entirety, rather than as a screenshot from a larger whole.
I used to go hiking and camping regularly, and still think of myself as the kind of person who does. But really, the only things our tent has housed lately have been silverfish and regrets. So last week we took the kids to the Organ Pipes National Park, a short walk on a warmish day filled with cicadas and birdsong. I remembered, suddenly, how microclimates shift as you descend a valley or meander around a rocky watercourse, and how big the sky is when you leave town.
I remembered too how impressed my city friends had been, when I first moved here, at my ability to tell when rain was coming, and how I'd gradually lost that skill and started checking the nightly forecasts like everyone else – and whingeing about them the next day. My horizon shrank to the gullies between buildings, my weather mediated by the city. That's why I need to get out in it from time to time, to remember how small I am in the scheme of things, how comfortingly irrelevant, and how grand the weather is. I'll think of that next time I hear the Melbourne group-bonding chorus.