Yes it’s a scorcher, but it has been far hotter here before | OPINION

DON’T be shocked by the extreme heat this week — it’s been far more severe.

A few days of summer with temperatures higher than 40 degrees isn’t usual for Albury-Wodonga.

Gosh, we’ve had it worse.

Indeed, the highest recorded temperature was 46.66 degrees on January 13, 1939.

That date is well-known in Australian history as Black Friday.

It killed 71 people in Victoria, destroyed several towns and burned 2 million hectares.

Hundreds more people died in NSW and Victoria from the effects of the heat, among them babies and old people, but also people in their 40s and 50s.

At least 10 people died from the heatwave in Albury alone.

Hundreds of chickens dropped dead on local poultry farms in Albury, Lavington and Balldale and many sheep and cattle perished across the district.

At that time, everyone still used the Fahrenheit scale of temperatures and Albury recorded 115 on January 12 and 116 (46.66 degrees Celsius) next day.

Same day Eldorado’s reading was 120.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or just over 49 degrees Celsius.

So when precisely were the Border’s hottest days on record?

It’s difficult to determine the statistics as pre-1973 they are not “official” ones gathered by the Bureau of Meteorology but by local recorders, such as The Border Mail and Albury Banner.

This newspaper kept a thermometer and rain gauge at its offices and published readings daily.

They prove it’s nonsense to claim our summers are getting hotter as time passes — the climate pattern is reflected in the cycle of heatwaves, droughts and floods going in this district back to the 1850s.

Newspaper articles recording these are now freely available online at the National Library of Australia’s Trove facility.

Coincidentally, this district had a very hot spell exactly 100 years ago this month.

A six-week hot spell ended only when the heavens opened in a huge thunderstorm.

Some wags may have joked the sudden change in January 1914 was due to a spell cast by the Ancient Druids.

About 100 people had met in the Albury Town Hall to watch a new lodge of the United Ancient Order of Druids being established.

But it was only a friendly society to help with members’ medical costs.

The unremitting heat that summer of 1913-14 led many Albury-Wodonga people to decamp to the seaside, their last holiday before World War I broke out.

Homes, shops, offices or workshops didn’t have electricity then, let alone air-conditioning or fridges.

Ice could be bought to keep food and drinks cool, but not for long.

True, Albury had a public swimming pool but no other local town did (except some watering holes) and on Sunday the Albury baths were open only to “gentlemen”.

Some bushfires had occurred that summer, prompting some of the new rural fire brigades formed a few years earlier to get their act together.

Hume Shire Council for the first time offered the brigades subsidies, but some said their volunteers and donors were generous enough and declined the offer.

Newspaper files indicate very hot summers occurred in 1926, 1938, 1939 and 1952.

The official records compiled since 1973 show Albury’s hottest day in the past 40 years was 44.8 degrees on Black Saturday, February 7, 2009, when 173 people were killed in Victoria and 2000 homes were destroyed.

However, it had hit 44.6 degrees in January 1990, when fire swept through Thurgoona and Wirlinga, approached Springdale Heights homes and caused Jerildierie hospital to be evacuated,.

“Albury looked and felt like it had fallen into the very jaws of hell,” The Border Mail stated in describing the ring of fire in the hills.

Hopefully history won’t repeat itself this year.

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