Page 1600
Previous/Next Page
Federation and MeteorologyBureau of Meteorology
Table of Contents

Australian Meteorology through the 20th Century


The Origins of Australian Meteorology

Meteorology in the 20th Century
The Forecast for the First Parliament
The Meteorology Act 1906
The Birth of the Bureau
The Early Years
Meteorological Services for Civil Aviation
Meteorology at the Universities
The RAAF Meteorological Service
CSIR Meteorological Physics
The Meteorology Act 1955
Flood Warning
Long-range Forecasting
World Meteorological Centre, Melbourne
Regional Forecasting Centres
Global Weather Experiment
Research in the Bureau
Committees of Inquiry

The Weather and Climate of the Twentieth Century

The Great Weather and Climate Events of the Twentieth Century

A Century of Progress in Science and Service


Australian Meteorological Milestones of the 20th Century



Contact us
Meteorology in the 20th Century

Although meteorological influences had shaped the development of the colonies through most of the nineteenth century and the Centennial Drought of 1888, which had followed several decades of generally plentiful rains, was still fresh in the minds of the participants in the Constitutional debates, these paled into insignificance with the onset of the Federation Drought and the inauguration of the Commonwealth on the first day of the new century.

The Forecast for the First Parliament

Unlike Posts and Telegraphs and some other former colonial functions, the responsibility for meteorology did not automatically transfer to the Commonwealth on 1 January 1901. It was thus some time before the new meteorological arrangements could be negotiated, and none of the necessary understandings were in place in time for the opening of the First Parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901. The most ominous forecasts over the previous week, and right up to the day before the opening, came from Clement Wragge in Brisbane: 'Fierce westerly squalls with driving rain are (now) tearing through the channel between Cape Otway and Flinders Island, and the Federal Parliament will be opened amid the blustering grandeur of a blow from Antarctica'. His South Australian and Victorian counterparts had been more optimistic early, but eventually conceded the possibility of showers (Souter 1988). In the event, the crowds who lined the streets of Melbourne to greet the royal procession on its way to the opening ceremony were well and truly wind blown, if not completely drenched. Wragge felt vindicated.

The Meteorology Act 1906

Difficult negotiations lay ahead. Not all of the State Governments were happy at the prospect of transferring their meteorological records, facilities and staff to the Commonwealth, and a conference in Adelaide in May 1905 failed to reach agreement, with several States arguing that, while there should be a central Commonwealth institution for theoretical meteorology, the collection of data and provision of services should remain with the State Meteorologists. In the end, the Premiers' Conference of April 1906 agreed that there should be a single Federal Meteorological Department responsible for both science and services meeting the needs of both the Commonwealth and the States. The Premiers also resolved 'that the (State) astronomical and meteorological departments be transferred to the Commonwealth together'.

The Minister for Home Affairs and father of the House, Littleton Groom,[1] introduced the Bill for a Meteorology Act into the House of Representatives on 1 August 1906. There was a high level of bipartisan support for the proposed consolidation of meteorological functions, with debate centering mainly on whether the astronomical function should be taken over by the Commonwealth at the same time (it was not) and on whether some local meteorological functions should remain with the States (they were not). Future Prime Minister Joseph Cook was forthright in stressing the importance of a unified federal service and the benefits that would result from its establishment.

The expectations of the proposed Meteorological Department were high. In the words of the member for Echuca (Mr James McColl): 'In our present complex civilisation where interests are so inter involved and worldwide, the discovery and formulation of laws governing the weather are of first importance. To obtain an accurate meteorological system throughout Australia, the government would be justified in incurring almost any expenditure. To all sections of the community the matter is one of great importance—to those interested in commerce, transportation, navigation, agriculture, and trade of all descriptions. In short, it concerns everybody whose living and comfort depend upon the seasons and upon the weather'.

The Meteorology Act 1906, establishing the position of Commonwealth Meteorologist, setting down the functions of what was soon to become known as the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology, and authorising the conclusion of arrangements for transfer to the Commonwealth of the meteorological records and facilities of the States, received Royal Assent on 28 August 1906.

People in Bright Sparcs - Wragge, Clement Lindley

Previous Page Bureau of Meteorology Next Page

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher