To Bourke and beyond: one scientist’s epic journey to 112 weather stations
There are 112 weather observation stations that feed into Australia’s official long-term temperature record—and Bureau scientist, Blair Trewin, has made it his personal mission to visit all of them! Having travelled extensively across Australia—from Horn Island in the north to Cape Bruny in the south, Cape Moreton in the east to Carnarvon in the west—Blair has now ticked off all but 11 of those sites.
Map: the 112 observation locations that make up Australia's climate monitoring network
Some of the locations are in or near the major cities, but many are in relatively remote areas and can be difficult to access. Blair says perhaps his most adventurous site visit was on the 2009 trip at Kalumburu, an Aboriginal community on the northernmost tip of the Kimberley, and two days’ drive on a rough track from Broome. ‘I asked the locals the wrong question—they said I’d be able to get in, but I didn’t ask them whether I could get back out again’. After striking trouble at a creek crossing leaving town, he spent an unplanned week there waiting for his vehicle to be put on a barge back to Darwin.
While these locations are remote now, in some ways they were even more remote in the past. These days you can get a signal for your mobile phone in Birdsville, Queensland, but as recently as the 1980s, the only means of rapid communication was often-temperamental radio relays through the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Today distance is no longer an issue; the majority of weather stations in the Bureau’s climate monitoring network—including Birdsville—are automated, with thermometers that submit the information electronically.
Photo: Blair Trewin at the weather observation station at Tarcoola, in the far north of South Australia. The Stevenson screen houses a resistance temperature device (thermometer) and a relative humidity probe
But, even some of the sites closer to home have posed a challenge for Blair’s mission. To get to Gabo Island in Victoria for example, you need to either fly or take a boat, and the runway is just a few hundred metres long, so it can only be used in light winds. ‘I spent two days in Mallacoota waiting for the winds to drop enough to get over there’.
Similarly, the site at the Wilsons Promontory lighthouse, if you don’t use a helicopter, is accessed through a 37 km return hike, which Blair did as a training run with one of his Victorian orienteering teammates.