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Federation and MeteorologyBureau of Meteorology
Table of Contents

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 (continued)

The main recommendations of the 1905 conference were attacked in the federal parliament some months later during the debate on the Meteorology Bill, those responsible for them being accused of self-interest and parochialism. The position adopted by the Deakin government in the legislation it introduced was identical to Baracchi's, and the government's leading speakers were not slow to capitalize on his arguments.[105] The result was the federalizing of meteorology by 1908, but the postponing of federal intervention in astronomy until the 1920s, when the Commonwealth Solar Observatory was established on Mt Stromlo, near Canberra. Meanwhile, the state observatories, bereft of the activity that had for years brought them their greatest public support, went into a steep decline.[106]

It was by no means inevitable that the states should have acquiesced so readily in the transfer of meteorology to the Commonwealth. As became clear during the course of the parliamentary debate over the Meteorology Bill, the Constitution did not require them to do so.[107] In the House of Representatives, Joseph Cook, the future Prime Minister, insisted that the government was proceeding far too cautiously. He regarded it as inevitable that state governments and state officials would oppose any diminution of their powers:

Is there not a constant tug-of-war going on between the Federal and State authorities, which tug-of-war, I fear, will continue for many years, or, at least, until the permanent relations of the Commonwealth to the States have been fixed? There must necessarily be friction, and consequently we cannot pay too much attention to recommendations which come from State authorities, and which have to do with the maintenance intact of State functions.[108]

In Cook's view, meteorology was a field in which the Commonwealth could 'take up a bold and safe stand, so far as those functions are concerned', and neither could he understand why the Minister was so diffident about taking over astronomy as well. Cook was correct in claiming that the respective powers of States and Commonwealth were at issue but, as the subsequent debate made clear, he was on less secure ground in urging that the Commonwealth simply take over these responsibilities. In his rejoinder, the Minister, Littleton Groom, pointed out that, technically speaking, the Bill was concurrent legislation, providing not for the taking over of existing state operations in meteorology but only for the establishment of a Commonwealth Bureau. Given the way the Constitution defined the Commonwealth's power in this field, this was all the government could do. Individual states had the power to decide, even after the creation of a federal agency, to maintain their own activities. That they all decided not to do so reflected a general recognition that the science had developed during the previous few decades into one that could not be confined within state boundaries but depended on co-operative observing over as extensive a geographical area as possible.

People in Bright Sparcs - Baracchi, Pietro

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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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