When the Bureau of Meteorology releases its annual data this week, it will probably announce that Australia has just had the second or third wettest year in its recorded history. No surprise. The most miserable summer in Sydney in 50 years. The coldest autumn nationally in more than 50 years. Record flooding in Victoria. A Christmas Day in Melbourne with hailstones the size of eggs. Massive floods in south Queensland. Cyclone Yasi in north Queensland. Heavy rainfall across the desert inland. Extreme rainfall and cold in Darwin.
Multiple-choice question: what's it all mean?
(a) Onset of global warming impact.
(b) Latest cycle of El Nino - Southern Oscillation.
(c) Combination of global warming and El Nino.
(d) Monumental mishandling of the landscape.
The most interesting explanation I have heard for the extreme weather comes from a landscape restorer, Peter Andrews.
He chooses (d).
''Our landscape is still on a dramatic downward spiral,'' he told me. ''When the heavy rains came recently I saw the Goulburn River was running brown. The river was thick with soil. About one farm an hour was being carried down that river. ''
He discounts the argument that we are seeing the impact of global warming. ''The whole global warming argument misses the point. Yes, we are facing an environmental disaster. Yes, it is urgent. Yes, it is caused by our own activities. But we have misdiagnosed the problem … In terms of dealing with Australia's problems, the global warming industry is a giant con.''
His philosophy, boiled down to its essence, is that our landscape was working brilliantly at retaining water and soil until European settlement began making ''improvements''.
By changing the landscape, we changed the weather. Transforming the land by cropping, herding and irrigation created a cycle of heating and cooling on the land, a cycle of boom and bust, that could only grow more extreme.
Peter Andrews? We wrote about him several years ago. Since then he's been on the ABC's Australian Story, written two books and gathered a following for his land restoration technique called Natural Sequence Farming. His great calling card is the one landscape he has been able to shape and control, the Baramul Stud in the upper Hunter Valley, owned by the retail magnate Gerry Harvey.
During the long drought, I visited Baramul and it remained watered, retaining moisture in the soil. During the big wet of the last two years, Baramul has gained soil, not seen it washed away.
''While other properties have been eroding around us, in the last five years we've gained about 10 million tonnes of soil and sand,'' he told me. ''The reed beds in the creek are now functioning as the system functioned in the millions of years before settlement. The reeds slow the flow of water and help store water in the landscape. The extensive presence of reeds we have now is the same pattern that [Charles] Sturt described when he made his journey down the Darling River.''
Gerry Harvey is happy. His wealth may be taking a beating as the share price of Harvey Norman slides thanks to a structural decline in traditional retailing, but Baramul is thriving.
Andrews, like Harvey, is a businessman, not some anti-farming zealot. He's been a farmer, and thinks farming can be done so much better. Even cotton farming could be transformed into a practice less alien to the landscape and more productively.
He believes most of the agricultural sector has misread its own lifeblood, the landscape, causing a massive build-up of heat on the land, which then draws cool air from the ocean.
''As soon as all the crops ripen, there is a build-up of heat on the land that is not managed by plants. This heat joins the weather system, causing a massive increase in thermal build-up. This causes extreme weather …''
It is a big theme to consider on the first Monday of the year, especially with the linkages Andrews sees between the wet Sydney summer, the storms in Melbourne, and the rainfall across northern and central Australia.
It's all linked, he says, and the accelerating cycle of extreme weather is a challenge made by our own hand.
He regards the global warming debate, and the government's responses via a carbon tax, as an exercise of expensive irrelevance on a massive scale, compared with the immediate challenge of soil and water loss and the build-up of salinity in the landscape. He sees the threat to the nation's long-term productive capacity as more immediate than the threat posed by higher global temperatures.
Andrews is also disenchanted by the attempts to restore the Murray-Darling river system, a process that has so far pleased no one, and led to the federal government's purchase of water rights for billions of dollars.
''Cattle are the main reason why the Murray-Darling is in a mess,'' he said. ''It used to function perfectly. The amount of evaporation today is a disgrace. It is about 54 per cent. It used to be zero. Water was recycled many times after rainfall.''
On the other great issue facing farmers, coal seam gas mining, and the practice of extraction by hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, Andrews also has strong views. ''Fracking is exceptionally dangerous. Groundwater is the most critical thing in the landscape and coal seam gas is a real threat to groundwater.''
All this should make him a hero to the Greens, but he is appalled by the thought. ''The Greens have no idea. They are clueless.''