How to keep your cool in Canberra during a heatwave

Emma Davidson 10 January 2020
Lake Burley Griffin

Temperatures in Canberra this week are forecast to exceed 40 degrees. Photo: File.

With temperatures in Canberra predicted to top 40 degrees this week, everyone will be looking for ways to keep their cool.

Heatwaves are particularly risky for pregnant women, young children and older people. But people of any age who have chronic health conditions can find that the heat causes serious problems. People who are working outdoors, or walking or riding to work also need to be aware of the heat.

Heatstroke is a serious medical issue and needs immediate treatment. For serious symptoms (such as dizziness, confusion and nausea), call 000 and keep the person cool with wet cloths, stay out of the sun and sip water (if possible) until an ambulance arrives.

Also, be aware of heat exhaustion. Symptoms include paleness and sweating, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps (usually in the abdomen, arms or legs).

If you suspect heat exhaustion in you or someone else, go to a GP, hospital emergency department, or a walk-in centre for help (remember that a new walk-in centre has just opened in Weston Creek).

Check-in with family, friends and neighbours to make sure everyone is OK.

To keep your cool during the heatwave:

  • Carry a water bottle everywhere – it’s easier to remember to drink when it’s right in front of you.

  • Reschedule anything outdoors for early morning or late afternoon – sports and fitness activity, cleaning, gardening and dog walking. If you walk or ride to an air conditioned work environment, consider starting early and finishing late if you can – it gives you more time in a comfortable environment, and makes your journey easier.

  • Don’t forget the pets! Bring them inside if it’s cooler, give them extra water, make sure they have shady places if they’re outdoors, and put shallow dishes of water out for local wildlife.

  • Keep the curtains drawn and the house closed up during the day when it’s hottest, and open windows after dark when it’s cooler. This will reduce the load on air conditioning or fans. A wet face cloth or towel, or a cool shower or bath, can be helpful during hot days.

If your home is too hot, there are places to go where you don’t have to compete for space with Christmas shopping crowds or buy things:

  • The National Gallery has fantastic free exhibitions on now, including Hugh Ramsay, Skywhales (yes, plural!), Australian women artists 1900 to now, and Tjanpi Desert Weavers. The NGA is always perfectly air conditioned, with comfortable bench seats in every gallery so you can take your time and enjoy the art. The National Portrait Gallery next door has re-opened and is popular with all ages, also with great free exhibitions.

  • Like the art galleries, the National Museum has some ticketed special exhibitions. But it’s also worth the trip for their free exhibitions, some of which are perennial favourites and others that change regularly. You may recognise some faces in the Australian of the Year exhibition in the Gandel Atrium, such as Canberra’s Katrina Fanning.

  • Want to catch a movie, but don’t fancy the cinema at the mall? See something different at the National Film and Sound Archive, with classic movies screening every day at reasonable prices. There’s also a range of free screenings and exhibitions, including a collection from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers.

  • For southsiders, the free Still Waters exhibition by Sharon Peoples at Tuggeranong Arts Centre is highly recommended. Textile works depicting Canberra’s lakes and mountains have a special resonance during this time of environmental crisis.

  • Belconnen Arts Centre has a range of free exhibitions on right now, including several that specifically talk about disability and chronic health conditions.

  • Libraries are always a good place to sit in air-conditioned comfort with a good book or newspaper. Check out your local library opening hours. Woden is open to 8:00 pm on Monday, Kingston on Wednesday, and Dickson on Friday. If you’ve been avoiding the library because of late fees, fear not – they were all wiped back in November, so it’s safe to venture back!

  • If you’re looking for a walk, try the National Gallery’s sculpture garden or the Australian National Botanic Gardens rainforest gully walk. Both are misted to keep the plants happy during the heat.
  • Swimming pools are a good place to plan an afternoon out, but beware the sun during the middle of the day. Dickson pool offers reduced prices for pensioners and Health Care Card holders, and Phillip pool has seniors discounts, and you can bring a picnic. There’s free swimming in Canberra’s rivers and lakes including at Casuarina Sands, Angle Crossing, Pine Island, Cotter Bend, Kambah Pool, Yarralumla Bay and Black Mountain Peninsula. Check where you can bring your dog for a swim with Transport Canberra City Services.

Don’t forget that food safety needs extra care in hot weather. Try to avoid overloading the fridge as it can make it harder to keep the temperature down, and don’t leave food out for bacteria to grow in the heat.

Emma Davidson is a lead candidate for Murrumbidgee for the ACT Greens in the 2020 ACT Legislative Assembly election.


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