Sydney’s put on a dimmer and turned on the sprinklers: we’re not built to do this much rain | Brigid Delaney

What is Sydney without sunshine? It’s full of personal trainers who can’t train, dog walkers who can’t walk, tradies who can’t build, gardeners unable to garden and swimmers who don’t swim for fear of developing pink eye from the befouled waterways.

As of 24 May Sydney had only experienced 48 days this year without rain. Melbourne, on the other hand, had experienced 128.

The heavy rain is expected to continue in Sydney throughout the winter, with the Bureau of Meteorology’s fortnightly report on climate influences pointing “to the big wet extending for months to come”, says the Guardian’s Peter Hannan.

“The La Niña event, already in its second year, could yet persist into a third.”

Sydney is a city where you almost always need to pack your sunglasses. Outside is usually bright blue, with a special kind of sharp – almost harsh – light, nearly too brilliant for the naked eye. It saturates everything with pure, blinding white glare. But now it’s as if someone put a dimmer on the city and turned on the sprinklers. We’re living in a Blade Runner biodome.

Sydney and its people are not built to do this much rain.

The Covid-recovery outdoor seating the premier, Dominic Perrottet, put around Sydney is slick and unused. Water pools in the chairs; everything is wet to the touch. The Astroturf is sodden. From every footpath your face stars back at you, reflected in a puddle.

The autumn leaves are slip hazards and the relentless push of rain drags everything towards the drains in a disgusting rush of cigarette butts and Big Gulp containers. Rats emerge from sodden piles of rubbish on the street – bigger than usual, as if engorged by the moisture.

The whole city feels and smells different: off, bloated, infected, septic.

After lockdown, one friend, Grace, moved to Manly to a rental with her two children to have a year at the beach. “It’s awful – we had to pay $800 for a humidifier [and] The heavy rain is causing subsistence problems at our house because we have a terraced block. Water comes in from the side which is causing a lot of damp to come into the house through the floors and so the mold is incredible.

“Everyone is getting sick. We moved to Manly for the beach but you can’t swim because there’s pollution everywhere.”

Another friend, Simon, who moved from the UK to Bondi to live his best beach life, tells me: “In the summer we went to the beach once. The water quality is terrible.” Twice during the rains, water has come into his house “and it runs down the walls, like a water feature”.

I laugh when I think of my February self, deciding not to buy an umbrella or gumboots because “the rain will pass”. It is now late May and it will not pass.

It’s not even the sunshine that I crave – rather, I’m seeking the absence of dampness that has been dogging us since this whole La Niña thing started. The effects of the relentless rain don’t just last as long as water is falling from the sky; even on relatively dry days, things still feel damp from the days of rain before.

Clothes, furniture, anything with a tactile surface has a new, specific sensation to them. They are – to use the bad word – moist. Nothing really ever dries in this weather. The memories of the feeling on your skin of a crisp, dry towel straight off the clothesline is fading.

Even children are damp. My friend Rebecca told me that “parenting in the rain is a nightmare. Getting the kids to school makes a difficult logistical juggle even more fraught in the rain. Kids end up with wet shoes and socks that lasts all day – and that makes them grumpy. I don’t want them to get wet and cold – that is my No 1 parenting priority.”

But in the endless rain, “the dog is wet, the carpets are wet, the bedding is wet – everything is damp. We are living in a moist world – it’s a word everyone hates and it’s the state everyone hates.”

Australia weekend

Things aren’t just unpleasant when they are damp: they are dangerous. Damp alchemises into mold. And living in a house with mold can lead to depression and anxiety, according to some research, as well as asthma and respiratory problems.

Whereas once Sydneysiders might have swapped stories on the housing market or what they are working on right now, instead everyone now has a story of mold. They’ll either tell you with incredulity that they don’t have mould, which is weird because they had mold two summers ago and their clothes have mold on them, and their favorite pair of shoes has mold – but right now their house does not have mould.

Or they’ll tell you horrific stories of mold spreading across their walls and ceiling in giant, thriving spores, creating dynamic Rorschach tests across their house. Renters have even reported mushrooms growing in the crevices in their bathrooms.

Last month I came back to my place in Sydney after a few weeks in Victoria to find that my soy sauce had large chunks of mold in it. Soy sauce is usually an environment hostile to the creation of new life forms! But not in this climate.

Then there’s the roads. Learning how to drive in Sydney this summer and autumn has been a lesson in the instability of materials. Some days, lessons were canceled because the rain was too heavy to drive in. After particularly heavy falls in February and March, fresh potholes and cracks appeared in roads across Sydney’s east.

My friend Erik, visiting from Melbourne, was astounded at Sydney’s sogginess. “The whole city is rotten. They’ll have to rebuild. Darlinghurst with all those terraces looks like it’s about to crumble.”

Other friends in the inner west have reported, with horror, burst sewage pipes.

Then there is the effect that all this rain has on mood. After months of this, it’s not a stretch to say everyone is less happy in this weather – if only because there’s been too much of it.

Up in Byron Bay, my friend Trav tells me everyone has Sads (seasonal affective disorder) and that it has not stopped raining in, like, for ever. “It’s so constant and it’s ruining my favorite suede shoes.”

Rain changes lives – not just in dramatic ways like we saw with the floods in Lismore and Queensland. This week, my personal trainer told me he was giving up and going into real estate. His business has not been able to operate this year because he has had to cancel too many sessions because of rain. Friends are coming down with illnesses they associate with the rain: from diarrhoea caused by bad oysters from rain-affected parts of the coast and earaches from swimming in dirty harbor water, to just a low-level funk they blame on the endless gray skies.

Meteorologists are saying it could rain like this right through to spring – by which time we’ll be used to it, right?

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