Stella Bowen: The city during a heatwave

Stella had strong memories of Adelaide during an Australian heatwave. She described how residents survived the relentless heat:

"The land where I was born is a blue and yellow country, although when the sun pours out of a cloudless sky, there is very little colour to be seen. The blazing sky itself is almost empty of blue, and the yellow ochre of the dried grass is silvered by the glare. Even the shadows are less blue than painters like to pretend, and the air is so dry that the distance has the same quality as the foreground, and you can judge of space and perspective only by the diminishing scale of size. Local colour – flowers in the garden, or a little girl’s dress – is sucked out and bleached by the sun, and the extreme visibility is tempered only by a shimmering heat-haze rising in the middle distance from the baked earth. The world is seen as a pattern of light and shade.

"On the first day of an Australian heat wave, you shut and darken all the doors and windows of your home. Underneath the corrugated iron roof lies a layer of insulating seaweed. The hours pass in a dim and listless obscurity, until eight o’clock – or perhaps nine – when it has become cool enough outside to open up the windows. After dark, all the houses are empty and from every garden comes the sound of quiet voices, relaxing into sociability.

"Perhaps at midnight you carry your mattress on to the lawn, where a mass of pinky-white oleander flowers, sweeping to the ground beside you, reflect such brilliance from the moon that you must needs turn the other way. You wonder whether what your nurse said is true, and that the moon can change you into an idiot with a crooked face; but you are too tired to care much.

"When the early dawn arrives, to chase you indoors with its dog-barkings and its cock-crowings and its glare, you are still unrefreshed and quite unready for tomorrow. The house is closed up again before the sun gets up, and you go back to bed to sleep again till breakfast-time.

"When the change comes, which may be in five days, or in fifteen, the wind swings round quite suddenly, and a great freshness blows up from the sea. Doors bang and the trees bend the other way and the temperature may drop 20 degrees in half an hour. Everyone collapses." 

Images

Self portrait, c.1929

Self portrait, c.1929

Stella BOWEN Australia/Britain, 1893 ‑ 1947 Self portrait c.1929, Paris oil on plywood 45.0 x 36.8 cm (sight) Gift of Suzanne Brookman, the artist's niece, through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation 1999 Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 991P3 | Source: Image Courtesy the Art Gallery of South Australia View File Details Page

'The Heatwave', January 1898

'The Heatwave', January 1898

A heatwave is an expected part of Adelaide summers. This article describes one such event in 1898, when Stella was six years old. It reports, as Stella's recalls, that many residents slept outside on the grass at night to escape the heat trap inside their homes. | Source: 'Our Adelaide Letter', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, 8 January 1898, p.2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137058934 View File Details Page

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“Stella Bowen: The city during a heatwave,” Adelaide City Explorer, accessed June 24, 2017, http://adelaidecityexplorer.com.au/items/show/118.
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