“I’m on the phone,” says publican Cheryl Manurung curtly to the bloke at the bar wanting another beer.
“Just wait a minute, you’re not going to melt.”
Except arguably, Marble Bar — a town of 175 people in the Pilbara region of Western Australia — is exactly the place where someone could melt waiting for a beer. During summer, it’s quite normal for it to be the hottest town on earth.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), on 27 December sometime around 3pm Marble Bar recorded a temperature of 49.3C. During 2018, now officially Australia’s third hottest year ever, that was the highest temperature recorded anywhere in the country.
As of today, the town has ticked over 24 days straight with highs above 40C.
“Has it been that long?” says Ms Manurung who runs the town’s Iron Clad hotel.
“We have a few tourists come through in the hot season and they remark on the heat and it’s only then that we notice it.”
Mind you, that day in December was exceptional, she says. “It felt hot, but its hot every day. We’re just living the dream.”
And yet the Iron Clad Hotel doesn’t have the one mod con you would assume was essential.
“We don’t have aircon, we have ‘fan con’. There’s a couple of fans, there’s beer and great service,” she says.
“You can’t come to the hottest place in Australia and sit in airconditioning. You can have a cold beer instead.”
If there’s a vital resource in Marble Bar, it’s ice. Ice for the Emu beer and, if you’re feeling a bit fancy, to plonk in the wine.
Lang Coppin runs the Marble Bar Holiday Park, a popular spot for caravaners and grey nomads on the inland route up to Broome. But not at this time of the year.
“When the temperatures go up, the visitors f**k off out of here,” Mr Coppin tells news.com.au.
“You can feel it all right. It might be a dry heat but it’s like a f**king blast furnace.”
But he seems nonplussed by the town’s 23-day stretch in the 40s.
“That’s pretty normal for Marble Bar. I think we had 160 days a few year ago now. Marble Bar has had the reputation for the hottest town in Australia for a long time.”
It was more than a few years ago, it was way back in the 1920s. But, says the BOM’s Neil Bennett, the toasty town’s recent run of hot weather has been something else.
The 49.3C high was the hottest it has ever been in the town and, during December, Marble Bar clocked 14 days above 45C. Eight of those were one after each other. The average daily high in December in the town was a whopping 44.1C.
TOPOGRAPHY, GEOLOGY AND METEOROLOGY
“The locals are quite right to say 40C is normal but once you start hitting 45C it’s dangerous. There is a degree of complacency in Marble Bar, of ‘yeah it’s hot mate,’ but this is exceptional heat we’re talking about. They are breaking records even for them,” Mr Bennett said.
He points out that other places have been hotter. Oodnadatta in South Australia once recorded 50.7C while even in WA, Mardie Station — 100kms south of Karratha — peaked at 50.5C. But it’s Marble Bar’s sustained heat, day after blistering day, that has made it famous for weather watchers.
The reason is at least partly in the rocks. The town was formed in 1893 when gold was discovered and was named after what was thought to be a nearby Marble Bar. It turned out to actually be jasper, a quartz tinged red due to the iron contained within.
“The ground and rocks are basically iron which heats up during the day,” Mr Bennett said.
“Topography, geology and meteorology all come together to make for some very hot temperatures.”
HOT AIR ‘OUR GIFT’ TO SOUTHERN STATES
Meteorologically, the town lies north of the subtropical ridge, a belt of high pressure systems that stretches across Australia.
Above the ridge, winds go roughly south east to north west so Marble Bar gets smothered in air that has been slowly baked to scorching perfection in the deserts of Central Australia.
Often an upper level trough will then capture that air and slingshot it back down to south east Australia which can lead to those superheated summer days in St Kilda and Glenelg.
“Next week Adelaide is going to get very hot due to heat from Pilbara. It’s our gift to the nation,” Mr Bennett said.
“During summer we can sometimes get an interaction with the monsoon trough which brings heavy rain and thick cloud in the Kimberley and brings slightly cooler air to Marble Bar, but we haven’t seen any of that this season.”
The night is as much of a danger as the day. On Sunday 6 January the overnight temperature didn’t dip below 30C which means the human body can find it difficult to properly cool down.
“Our lowest temperatures are higher than your hot days,” Ms Manurung tells news.com.au.
“I was coming to work at 9am today and it was already 41C.
“You don’t need hot showers here, the cold ones are hot enough.”
The lack of humidity means the heat often doesn’t feel as oppressive. But you have to take precautions anyway. Mr Coppin says he shelters from the sun for about three hours a day.
And many of the locals avoid the temptation of shorts and a T-shirt, opting instead for long sleeves and pants to prevent them getting burned.
“You see some people without a hat and you’re like, that’s a bit stupid. It’s only a danger if you’re silly and don’t have a hat, but if you’re sensible it won’t roll you.”
One of the reasons Marble Bar is so well known is simply the fact it has a weather station. All of the Pilbara is a sweat box and the settlements of Nullagine or Pannawonica, equally remote towns, could be hotter. But no one’s taking numbers there.
“You wouldn’t say its barren, but right about now the country is so dry. The animals are all under the trees; they only go grazing at night,” said Mr Coppin.
“They’re all waiting for the thunderstorms. When it rains it’s a complete transformation, the animals all get a smile on their face.”
Back at the pub, Ms Manurung is checking the temperature. It’s 12 noon and has just ticked over 45C.
Opening another ice cold one, she’s doubtful she’ll ever leave for chillier climes.
“The cold weather scares me, it just gets too cool. I’m totally happy with it here,” she says.
“This is my home town, always has been, and it’s not going to get any cooler.”