Weather

When you are writing up your family history, don’t forget the weather.

Sydney is suffering today from a few days of hot weather. We are always shocked when it gets hot like this, with the north-westerly wind straight from the desert, and we hide inside with our air-conditioners. At least, that’s what I do.

Our reliance on domestic air-conditioning has developed during my life time. Where I grew up, in Dubbo in central western New South Wales, we got days like this quite frequently in summer. It’s a dry heat, with little humidity. We had an evaporative air-cooler, which was an air-conditioner-shaped box on a stand with wheels that you filled up with water and turned it on. It would blow air, cooled by the water, in the direction you pointed it.

In the evenings, when the sun was low but still quite bright, we would go outside and sit in the shade, much cooler than inside the house. Any slight breeze was made the most of out there. But of course the cooking still had to be done inside, on the stove or in the oven, heating the kitchen, at least, even more.

I went to a high school that was growing faster than the buildings to contain it. We had two demountable classrooms, which were spare classrooms that could be trucked in in pieces and put together onsite quickly. They had a metal roof and were like ovens in summer. We hated them. A class in one of those rooms was torture. I believe those classrooms are still there, in the same place on the edge of the oval, with air-conditioning in them, with more recently erected classrooms alongside.

Christmas Day was spent cooking a large hot meal with roast chicken and vegetables and plum pudding. Chickens were expensive in those days, without battery hen houses, and turkeys even more so. We always had a box of cherries that my grandfather would buy on his annual trip to Sydney. As a special treat we might have bottles of soft drink with dinner. After dinner we would go somewhere and sit, or lie, as still as possible.

Imagine, then, what it was like for our ancestors! What a shock this heat must have been, for those new immigrants!

The clothes of the eighteenth century did not leave any skin bare except for the hands and perhaps the forearms, so they would have been hot, even though they were made of natural materials. They didn’t just wear them once and toss them in the laundry basket, either, as we do. Water wasn’t on tap, for washing clothes, or people, or anything else, but brought by bucket from a dam or river. Kids didn’t play under the hose when it was hot, as we did.

Work had to be done whatever the weather, then as now. Offices weren’t air-conditioned, and I imagine the clerks with their beautiful handwriting in their shirtsleeves on days like today, trying not to get sweat on the big registers we look at now in the archives. The paper was thicker, and I guess it could withstand a bit of moisture!

Farming was mostly small holdings, with little money for livestock, let alone air-conditioned trucks and farm machinery. Farmers are tougher than most of us even now, in their shirtsleeves and hats, out in the fields mending fences, ploughing, harvesting, hay-baling… there is always a long list of jobs a farmer has to do.

Admittedly, they did build houses more practically in those days. Houses had high ceilings and many were of double brick. Farm houses had verandahs all around. But the corrugated iron roof was cheaper than tiles, and it’s incredibly hot to live under. Early houses were mud brick and thatch or corrugated iron.

We talk about global warming and so we may assume that the weather was different in  our ancestors’ day than it is now, but look at any newspaper of the period and you can see that generally it was much the same. Perhaps it rained more but that goes in cycles. They had drought, fires, floods, too much rain, not enough rain, and days that were just too hot to bear.

Just like us.

What to do

  • Ask your parents what the weather was like for them when they were young. Did it get hot like this? What did they do to keep cool?
  • Ask your grandparents and their generation the same questions.
  • Look through local newspapers from this time of year. You may see stories about record temperatures, bushfires, dam water levels – similar stories to those we see today.
  • look at climate statistics for your local area at the Bureau of Meteorology. Look at the average monthly temperature and rainfall and imagine what that meant for day-to-day living.
  • Put on a long, high-necked dress and go shopping! (just kidding)

Free access to Irish Times Digital Archive until 5th April

The Irish Times is celebrating 150 years of publication by allowing free access to its digital archive until the 5th March 2009. The first edition of the Irish Times was first published on 29th March 1869, and you can see it and read it for yourself. The website allows browing by date or searching for specific words (or parts of words) within a range of dates or across the whole 150 years.

You can search the Irish Times Digital Archive for the next few days at http://www.irishtimes.com/150/.

Australian Newspapers digitisation project

Sydney Gazette first issue

The first issue of the Sydney Gazette (image courtesy of the National Library of Australia)

The Australian Newspapers project coordinated by the National Library of Australia in conjunction with Australian State and Territory libraries was initiated to digitise early out-of-copyright newspapers. To complement this process an online service was planned to provide access to these images free of charge.

At least one newspaper was chosen for each state, including the earliest one for each state. New South Wales newspapers selected are:

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 1803-1842

The Sydney Herald 1831-1842 (became The Sydney Morning Herald in 1842)

The Sydney Morning Herald 1842-1954

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 1843-1893

Digitising began in July 2007. Scanning has been been completed for these newspapers and the process of putting them online has begun. The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation has donated $1 million to enable the digitisation of the Sydney Morning Herald to 1954.

Last month a beta version of the service was released. For New South Wales the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser is available from the first issue in March 1803 up to the end of 1815 and the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser for the 1840s, early 1850s and early 1880s. This represents a total of nearly 13,000 pages, or roughly 5% of the total. Click here to see the latest statistics.

The website is terrific. It shows you the whole page and shows a transcript of each article on the side. You can enlarge each article individually and turn the whole page into a PDF file or image to be downloaded. A warning – the transcripts have been created using OCR, or Optical Character Recognition. The quality of the printing is highly variable and quite often the characters are mistaken by this automated process and so you see things like “V oTi.cK” instead of “Notice”. We can see by looking at the text that it is “Notice” but computers are not that smart yet.

Another thing to watch out for is the old use of the letter “f” instead of “s” so the word might say “reforted” instead of “resorted”.

There is advanced searching capability which is necessarily dependent on the OCR.

You can add tags and comments to articles, and you can correct the text that was generated automatically. If every one does this when they find an article it will be a great website very quickly, and much easier to search.

If you sign in you can add your own private comments and tags to articles. This is very useful for your own research – you can add tags for the name of your ancestor and the type of article.

The National Library and everyone involved are to be congratulated for getting this project off to such a great start.

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