As we write, all Canberrans are going ''Phew! It's hot!'' (or sometimes less printable words to that effect). But the city has had heatwaves before, and during what may have been the worst of them, the one of January 1939, canny J.B. Young ran opportunistic newspaper advertisements with the bold heading ''Phew! It's hot. Beat the heat at J. B. Young's Kingston store.''
J.B. Young's advertised heat-beaters included three models of Frigidaire refrigerators (the most grand costing £75), then water-cooled safes ( £1.9s.6d) and galvanised butter coolers (3/3).
What was in January 1939 mostly just an exceptional heatwave for Canberra (although terrific bushfires menaced the city) was elsewhere, and especially in Victoria, a fiery tragedy.
Although named by a day (Friday, January 13), the Black Friday bushfires of January 1939 burned somewhere for a whole Victorian summer, killing 71 people and consuming whole townships.
In Canberra, a city of 10,000 sweltering souls without air-conditioning (and with no Lake Burley Griffin to go and wallow in) there was extreme discomfort.
Distinguished visitors (they included the world-famous futurist and science-fiction writer H.G. Wells) were in Canberra for a big science congress and shared the locals' ordeals.
There were ''many extraordinary sights'' as Canberrans struggled to stay cool and sane.
The Canberra Times of Saturday January 14 panted: ''The heat wave. Trying conditions continue. Three sunstroke cases at Canberra. Fatality reported at Yass.''
''For seven consecutive days residents of Canberra have experienced temperatures in excess of the century. Yesterday's maximum of 107.4 degrees [Fahrenheit, 41.8C] was reached at 3.30pm. Extreme heat continued until midnight and at 11pm, the temperature reading was 98.4 degrees, with a humidity of 67 per cent. Canberra has experienced little relief from the trying conditions, the heatwave being the longest on record.
''Many extraordinary sights were witnessed in Canberra last night. Some residents, in order to escape from the intense heat, endeavoured to get cool under the water which was being sprayed on their lawns. Occupants of cars, finding the heat unbearable, left their vehicles and, clad in singlets and shorts, stretched out on the grass plantations along Commonwealth Avenue. Heat was largely responsible for many bicycles being disabled through the melting of solution [glue] on puncture patches on tyres.''
Distinguished boffins here for the science congress (it was held at Telopea Park school) must have wondered why they had come somewhere so hellish.
The Times reported that the congress opened ''in an eerie yellow light caused by the sun's rays passing through a cloud of smoke from bushfires raging 30 miles west of Canberra''.
Sessions were poorly attended ''with many delegates remaining in the cool lounges of their hotels''. War was looming in Europe and on an evening of the blistering week Wells gave, in the Albert Hall, an uncompromising speech about how mankind seemed to be doomed.
He thought the English-speaking and Latin-speaking peoples represented mankind's one faint hope.
The hall was packed with people listening to this message of doom (we cannot overestimate just how famous the author of The First Men in the Moon, The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine etc, was) and an overflow of 400 listened on the lawns via a public address system.
Some who heard him may have gone home to have nightmares that night, because he foresaw a future in which just one brutish race, the Germans, perhaps, or the Chinese, would rule the world and exterminate all other races, not even retaining them as slaves.
Perhaps, upon reaching home that night, some shaken Canberrans sought comfort in a glass of Scotch poured on the ''rocks'' from their trusty Frigidaires.
Family stories add poignancy to Misery's origin
As nattered in one of last week's consciousness-raising columns, suburbia is creeping out towards the Molonglo Valley's evocatively named Misery Hill and Misery Point. The pioneering suburbs of Coombs and Wright are under way. A reader wondered if anyone among this history-conscious column's readership knows what lies behind these unhappy names.
Brian Blundell stresses that he doesn't know for certain when and why the two places acquired these lugubrious names.
However, ''We have a few family history bits and pieces relating to Misery Hill and Misery Point.''
''One of the early Blundell boys [Isaac] in the 1870s took up a selection at [today's] Misery Point called Riverview … While I don't exactly know why or when Misery Hill got its name, there's a number of events that could have given rise to it. The original hut on Isaac's place was too close to the river and was washed away in a flood. So they built another house further up the hill, the remains of this house and orchard are still visible.
''In 1902, Isaac and his wife [Emily Shumack] lost a newborn baby there and the baby was buried at Misery Point. Isaac died there of pneumonia in 1910. By 1913 Emily had lost the place to make way for the Federal Capital Territory.''
This probing, investigative column is trying to find out what the enigmatic Planning and Land Authority has planned for Misery Hill and Misery Point (there are rumours of perhaps a park and a walking trail) and whether those plans include retention of the evocative old names.