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Federation and MeteorologyBureau of Meteorology
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The Case of Meteorology, 1876-1908


Early Colonial Weather Reporting

The Impact of the Telegraph

Beginnings of Intercolonial Co-operation

The Intercolonial Meteorological Conferences

The Role of Clement Wragge

Towards a Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology





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Towards a Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology

Various issues surrounding the Commonwealth's exercising the powers spelled out in the relevant section of the Constitution needed to be clarified. To consider the most important of them, the state meteorologists and astronomers met again, in Adelaide, on 10-16 May 1905.[100] Todd, in his last year in public life, was the only survivor from the previous era. Most participants rejected the idea of the Commonwealth administering either meteorological or astronomical services. They urged that the status quo be maintained, arguing against the 'establishment of one central observatory' to supplant the astronomical work of the state observatories, and claiming that it was 'impracticable' for 'one central meteorological bureau to supplant existing institutions'. They were prepared to allow the Commonwealth only a very limited role in these fields, recommending, for example, that the data reduction for the International Photographic Catalogue of Stars—a major task for the observatories at the time—be further centralized at Melbourne, and that 'a Central Institution be established for theoretical and scientific meteorology'.[101]They were particularly concerned that control of the network of observing stations, and also responsibility for issuing forecasts, should remain at state level: in other words, that the system that had so recently, with Wragge's defeat, been finally set in place, should be maintained. It was in this context that Todd compared his success at forecasting with Wragge's, to show that such work was better done locally than at a distance.[102]

However, serious differences of opinion emerged. Pietro Baracchi, who had succeeded Ellery as Victorian Government Astronomer in 1895, issued a dissenting statement with the conference report in which he concurred with the view expressed earlier by his observatory's Board of Visitors. The astronomical and meteorological work of the observatories should, Baracchi argued, be completely separated, the meteorological work being transferred to a new federal bureau while 'the Astronomical Observatories of Australia, relieved of all their present meteorological duties', should 'remain independent state institutions'.[103] W. E. Cooke from Western Australia also filed a supplementary statement indicating that, though under present conditions he supported the recommendations of the majority, it would be best, if cost were no object, to have 'a separate meteorological bureau in each State, with a central institution for co-ordinating these and undertaking scientific investigations at the Federal Capital'.[104] In the event, Cooke's caution was justified. He correctly foresaw, as Baracchi and his Board of Visitors did not, that removing the meteorological functions from the state observatories would come at the expense of the support they received for their astronomical work.

People in Bright Sparcs - Baracchi, Pietro; Cooke, William Ernest; Ellery, Robert Lewis John; Todd, Charles; Wragge, Clement Lindley

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Home, R. W. and Livingston, K. T. 1994 'Science and Technology in the Story of Australian Federation: The Case of Meteorology, 1876-1908', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 10, no. 2, December 1994, pp. 109-27.

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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