Melbourne’s apocalyptic spring is back: wake up and smell the pollen

<span>Photograph: Andrew Fox/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Andrew Fox/Getty Images

There comes a time in every Melburnian’s year when they unlock their phone and start to browse. Not for information about the footy finals or when their local outdoor council pool will reopen. Something else. They browse with their face close to the screen, trying to see through swollen eyes. Their throat itches. Their ears are somehow both ringing and blocked.

There it is: Melbourne Pollen Count.

Flowering trees and shrubbery keep strict calendars in this city. On 31 August, we wear our coats to protect ourselves from the icy easterly winds and on 1 September we wake up and cannot see through our sealed eyelids. Overnight, every godforsaken blossom has bloomed its floral artillery. It’s lovely, of course – pink cherries, bright yellow wattles, crabapples like wedding gowns. They burst into life, briefly beautiful, and then they gather in stormwater drains and underneath windscreen wiper blades and on bus shelters. All these tiny weapons.

Related: Itchy, sneezy and wheezy? How Australians can get a handle on hay fever season

I didn’t have hay fever growing up. Spring sprung and I went about my business as though the air wasn’t polluted with every conceivable histamine trigger just having a casual springtime walk while oxygen went into my body without a fight. Then I turned 30 and the rebellion began. Sprawling oak trees in full leaf? Deadly! Soft green lawns? Absolutely not. St Kilda Road plane trees? Good riddance.

Clawing at my weeping dermatitis, I began to notice a pattern. As finals footy began, I found myself wandering into my local chemist, chest heaving, throat closing. “Give me all your Fess!” I would cry, using one hand to grope for the high-dosage antihistamines and the other to reach for medicated eye drops. Please. Anyone. Ten more seconds and my sinuses might close over for good.

As time went on, it became a way to be part of a community. On the first day of September I would simply tweet “HAY FEVER” and other sufferers would come from everywhere, nursing their Nasonex or Dymista (you must choose a side in the nasal spray wars), crying tears of both relief and allergic reaction. “The pollen count is extreme,” they wept. “It’s extreme.”

Dogs can get hay fever, too. They can sneeze their disgusting canine nose globules all over your clean couch. Ask me how I know.

This acute period of allergic rhinitis and grass pollen counts is serious and fleeting, the way many things are in this town. As quickly as it arrives, the blossoms turn brown and die. It will become mush in an early seasonal storm and wash away, leaving behind tight green buds to unfurl into summer shade.

But the danger isn’t over. Melbourne’s apocalyptic spring has more than one tool in its arsenal.

It begins with signs appearing in playgrounds. Not “Stop leaving your goonbags here” or “You’re too old for the flying fox” but “BIRDS NESTING”.

Related: ‘It was terrifying’: swooping magpies alarm world road championship cyclists

Birds nesting! What a lovely thought. Mummy birds nestled against smooth, warm eggs, and daddy birds fossicking in the park for grubs to regurgitate into her mouth (my bird knowledge mostly comes from Richard Scarry books). Surely we could only celebrate the arrival of terrifying featherless babies. New life! Lambs, bunnies and tiny nightmares with beaks attached.

Anyone who’s spent Virgo season in Australia knows the danger. We take our hay fever medicine and tearfully pull out a Sharpie. Ice-cream containers have become artisanal, too small to fit our adult noggins but we draw the face anyway. Tearfully. Mournfully. Websites are set up to record attacks in suburbs from Werribee to Officer. No one is safe.

They say you can make friends with magpies. That these birds never forget a face. If you coexist with your corvidae neighbours they might, over time, come to see you as … well, not an equal exactly, but less of a threat. A kind of pitiful skin bag (with allergies). Not worth swooping.

But is it worth tempting fate? Now, while we’re moments away from a pollen-induced sinus infection? And it’s raining for some reason? And the temperature has dropped 10C in an hour? And every street in the city is now a wind tunnel? And you can’t tell if it’s 3pm or bedtime?

Ah, spring. We can do this, Melbourne. Grab both your umbrella and your sunscreen. Wipe the goop from your eyes and put on your ice-cream container face. October is right around the corner.