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Communities in Western Australia's north prepare for 'mango madness' as wet season approaches

By Erin Parke

Updated about 9 hours ago

Sun 7 Dec 2014, 8:29pm


MAP: Broome 6725

As the heat and humidity rise in the lead-up to the northern wet season, residents are retreating to the air-conditioning and placing bets on when the first rains will come in a bid to stave off so-called Mango Madness.

At the Roebuck Bay Hotel in Broome, there is barely a day left on the annual rain lottery calendar.

Locals are waiting impatiently for the storm clouds to break, and the jackpot to be won.

The lottery branded "pick your wet spot" involves punters putting down $10 to pick the day when they think the first 10 millimetres of rain will fall.

Local builder John Rose and his mates had their money on some early storms, picking a date at the end of October.

"There's been a few flown out in straightjackets over the years, and there'll be more to come."
Mike Windle, hotel manager

"It's a good bit of fun,"
he explains from the bar.

"We bet on everything else, the crab races, the cane toads races, the Broome Cup, so what the hell, we may as well bet on the rains as well."

Hotel manager Mike Windle said there was a lot at stake for the Broome locals, who endured months of unrelenting heat before the rains hit.

"I started running 'pick the wet spot' about 18 years ago and it's something we've kept going," he said.

"People take it pretty seriously, they get all excited when they walk outside and see the big black clouds, and they think, 'yep, I've got the right date, the rains are here'.

"But then you're thinking and praying it's going to rain, and it just doesn't happen. That's why it's called the troppo season, that build-up of humidity and the waiting for rain.

"There's been a few flown out in straightjackets over the years, and there'll be more to come."

Research supports locals' experience

There is an increasing amount of science indicating the phenomenon of people "going troppo" in the build up to the wet is more real than imagined.


PHOTO: Dr Matt Brearley is investigating the phenomenon of 'mango madness'. (ABC News)

Matt Brearley, research manager at the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, has been studying the impact of the heat and humidity on northern residents.

He said the research showed an increase in violence and self-harm.

"We found ... intentional self-harm was 1.8 times more likely to occur during the wet season than in the dry season," Dr Brearley said.

"Assault was 3.3 times more likely to occur in the wet versus the dry.

"Mango madness is real. We've shown with the research that there's a pattern here but now we need to find the mechanisms and why."
Dr Matt Brearley

"Mango madness is real. We've shown with the research that there's a pattern here but now we need to find the mechanisms and why."

Dr Brearley is currently studying the physiology of outdoor labourers and emergency workers to gauge the impact wet season heat has on their bodies.

The recruits are swallowing tablets that record their core body temperature, and feed it into a database.

Dr Brearley said he believed people develop a
"heat hangover".

"We're thinking perhaps this heat hangover, day after day of being exposed to heat, suffering a mild headache and mild nausea and feeling unwell, whether that contributes to a lack of tolerance in the community, and if that's contributing to an increase in assaults and self-harm,"
he said.

It is hoped the research will help reduce heat-related deaths and injury in Australia's north.
Work injuries spike during 'the wet'

Back in Broome, businesses are already working hard to keep their workers sane and safe during the sweaty build-up months.

At the vast tin-shed workshops of local company Kimberley Construction, dozens of welders are enduring temperatures that would make even the most hardened northerners shudder.

Clad in thick, full-length safety clothes, the sweat drips off their chins as they wield welding torches and lug heavy steels frames around the vast workshops.

"They hate this time of year, because it's not pleasant working out there,"
the company's health and safety officer, Paul Taylor, said.

                   "You have to be very on the ball, because there's not a big difference between someone getting heat stress and it turning into a heat stroke, which can lead to a fatality "                    

Paul Taylor

"The workshop is a big tin shed and it gets very hot in the wet season. It turns into an oven, a sweatbox.

"It's not comfortable to work in, and it's hard physical work as well, so it's not for the weak-hearted."

Mr Taylor monitors the welders on hot days, making sure they are refilling their drink bottles with the industrial-strength hydration drink they make up each day, and taking breaks away from the sparking torches.

"You have to be very on the ball, because there's not a big difference between someone getting heat stress and it turning into a heat stroke, which can lead to a fatality," he said.

"It can deteriorate badly quite quickly, so we have to keep a close eye on the guys."

Mr Taylor said the wet season heat also caused workplace injuries to spike.

All the 'lost-time' injuries - those that result in a worker needing to be off work for at least five days - recorded at the workshop have occurred between December and February.

"We put that down to the heat."

"People's concentration decreases at this time of year, which is a symptom of heat exhaustion. That can lead to injury, which of course we want to do everything possible to avoid, so we really have to keep a close eye on the guys."

The rains are yet to fall in Broome.

The punters at the Roebuck Bay Hotel watch on impatiently as the rain lottery jackpot swells, while all the time, the outline of distant storm-clouds taunts them.

Topics: weather, mental-health, suicide, broome-6725

First posted about 10 hours ago

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