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DIY air conditioning ... back in the day, wet sheets on the clothes line did the job for the sweltering residents of Hay. Photo: Supplied

BEFORE there was air conditioning Hay residents would hang sheets drenched in cold water on the line and stand underneath to enjoy the cool breeze.

Now, locals in Hay, in the state's south-west, where it hit 48 degrees on Saturday - the highest temperature since recordings in the town began 56 years ago - set their thermostats as low as possible, stay inside and avoid using their stoves. Or, they go to the pub.

New Crown Hotel publican Chris Shalders said trade was booming as locals and travellers sought refuge in his air conditioning, which was working ''flat out''.

''The streets are fairly empty,'' Mr Shalders said. ''There's a few in the river swimming. The pool was crowded with kids. Even the golfers started playing early. Everybody is hot. There's no point walking around saying, 'Shit, it's hot' because everybody knows.''

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts the temperature in Hay will stay in the low-40s until Wednesday, when a change will bring it down to the low to mid-30s.

Tourists travelling between Sydney and Adelaide were particularly shocked by the intense heat at the weekend, Mr Shalders said. ''They were coming in pretty thirsty and hot. It's not so bad for people who live here because they've seen it before.''

Barbara Matthews, 84, who has lived in Hay since 1952 said she didn't mind the heat.

''We've all got air-conditioning now,'' she said. ''People used to hang out sheets and let the breeze go through them. We had babies, we didn't know any better then. We just didn't really think about it.''

Mrs Matthews said that for most people in Hay, the heat was just a part of life.

''I haven't been out for a couple of days. But I love Hay, I wouldn't live anywhere else.''

The mayor, Bill Sheaffe, who is a farmer, said most people living on properties rose early to start work. ''You start as soon as it is light enough to see and then knock off around 11,'' he said.

''Otherwise we're knocking ourselves about and knocking the stock about with no real outcome.''

Cr Sheaffe said Hay was one of the few towns that had an Olympic-sized swimming pool with no admission fee.

The town of just over 3500 is on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, where people water ski and swim to get a reprieve.

''People just go about their business. You don't go outside if you can avoid it.''