AS I look outside the sky is orange with dust. It irritates the nose and eyes, tickles the throats and sits heavily on the chest. And I am inside.
According to all the news reports visibility is 10 metres at Broken Hill to the far west and 100 metres in Sydney just 150 kilometres east of where I am. Australian Bureau of Meteorology spokeswoman Jane Golding says gale force winds have whipped up the dust from Australia’s drought-stricken inland and spread it east.
According to ‘Out of the West: A historical perspective of the Western Division of New South Wales’ by Dick Condon (Published by Rangeland Management Action Plan, 2002) there were severe dust storms in 1902-03, 1937-39, 1983, 1993, but the worst were during the period from 1943-1945. Some of these storms were often continuous day-in-day-out for several days.
Most of the dust storms that swept New South Wales during the 1943-45 period had their origins in South Australia with dust pick-up from treeless country. On reaching timber country to the east the wind velocity at ground level is reduced and dust trapped by the foliage of trees. As the storms passed eastward more and more dust was deposited.
Meteorological records report there were 34 dust storms at Wagga Wagga in central western New South Wales during the 1944-45 period. According to Dick Condon many of those resulted in blackouts or near blackouts when it would have been necessary to turn the lights on in order to see inside the average sized house.
Comparing the drought period 1982-83 with 1944-45 Mr Condon concludes that the storms were more severe during the earlier period because of the relative absence of dust raising winds and the much improved conditions of the landscape in the semi-arid and arid grazing country in western New South Wales during the latter part of the 20th century.
Photograph of dust on my mother’s car parked in the driveway at Katoomba, Blue Mountains, September 23, 2009.
The following notes and quotes from ‘Out of the West – An Historical Perspective of The Western Division of New South Wales’, by Dick Condon. Published by the Rangeland Management Action Plan, 2002.
“One thing is certain, however, the millions of tonnes of soil particles, and attached plant nutrients, which were lifted into the atmosphere in the 1965-67, 1980-83 and 1991-94 droughts were minor in comparison with the amounts which would have left the Western Division, and other parts of arid and semi-arid Australia, in the period 1885 to 1945.” Condon pg. 221
“The present climate of New South Wales is very mild compared to the arid periods of the distant past. Wasson (1989) has presented evidence of the extremely long periods of intense aridity in the last 36,000 years – responsible for re-working the dune systems in Australia. These extreme arid periods occurred in cycles, often lasting for thousands of years, developed from earlier arid periods, as in tens of thousands of years, of extreme aridity. In more recent geological times, Mother Nature has arranged to clothe the dune systems with a protective and stabilising cover of ground vegetation as well as tree cover.” Condon pg. 221
“ Many fences were submerged by the drifting soil and stretches of railway line were buried. On 21st November  so much soil was blown from the interior that Melbourne was drenched with dust and, in the afternoon, the sun was almost hidden by the dust in the air.” Blainey 1980 (pg. 206 Condon)
“In an extreme case near Menindee [in 1937] a new four-roomed house was never occupied. It became sanded up, and when the owner returned after a compulsory absence of six months, he had to enter it through the roof. It was however, found impracticable to remove the sand the house was abandoned.” Ratcliffe 1937 (pg. 212 Condon)
[In 1939] Albert Morris, an amateur nurseryman at one of the [Broken Hill] mines, was able to convince the manager of the Zinc Corporation that the best way of protecting the proposed new offices from being buried in drift sand was to establish a plantation of trees on their western side. (pg. 215, Condon)