June 21, 2011 /
February 13, 2011 /
August 1, 2008 /
From Wallal, in Australia’s far north-west, to Goondiwindi, near the New South Wales-Queensland border, local and international scientists watched the sun and waited.

A total solar eclipse was due on 21 September 1922. An eclipse always held scientific interest, but this one offered the chance to confirm one of the most revolutionary theories in science. Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted that light passing near an object such as the sun would be bent by gravity. In 1919, Arthur Eddington’s observations of a total solar eclipse lent support to Einstein’s theory, but some challenged his results. The 1922 eclipse, best observed in Australia, promised to decide the matter. Read MoreLooking at the sun

November 14, 2006 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘Civilisation versus the giant, winged lizards – Changing climates, changing minds’, Altitude, no. 7, 2006.


‘Modern man is a forest butcher’, warned the pioneering science journalist Hugh McKay in 1923. ‘He is also an oil-spendthrift and a coal waster’, McKay continued, ‘recklessly spending his capital of fuel… with never a thought of the tomorrow when he will stand shivering and motionless in the middle of a coal-less, oil-less, treeless, steel-less planet’.1 Read MoreCivilisation versus the giant, winged lizards

  1. McKay, Hugh Cleland. ‘Mankind’s Last Stand’. Smith’s Weekly 15 September 1923: 29. []
January 1, 2005 /

Author’s preprint version

Tim Sherratt, ‘Human elements’, in Tim Sherratt, Tom Griffiths and Libby Robin (editors), A Change in the Weather: Climate and Culture in Australia, National Museum of Australia Press, Canberra, 2005, pp. 1-17.


‘I say emphatically that the climate has changed’, Henry Hodgson told the Argus in 1928. The experience of seventy-eight years brooked no denial, summers were milder, and thunderstorms were fewer. ‘It is no use telling me that weather bureau statistics do not bear this out’, he added defiantly. ‘You can do anything with statistics, but no statistics will convince me that the climate has not changed radically.’1

It’s hard not to have some sympathy for Mr Hodgson, for even as we express our concerns about global warming and educate ourselves about the characteristics of Australia’s variable climate, there remains a nagging feeling that somehow he was right. Think back to the boiling-hot Christmases of your youth, to those long weeks spent at the beach, and answer honestly – do you remember summer as being hotter? Read MoreHuman elements

  1. Argus, 29 December 1928, p. 15. []
January 1, 2005 /
A Change in the Weather
A Change in the Weather

We live between weather and climate – between the daily experience of nature and our attempts to discern the patterns and regularities that define an Australian climate. In this land of extremes, where climatic variability is the norm, we are constantly challenged by the experience of change. Read MoreA Change in the Weather

September 26, 2002 /

On 26 September 1902, exactly 100 years ago today, the people of Charleville tried to make rain.

Stationed around the town were six Stiger Vortex guns, their long, funnel-shaped barrels aimed skywards.

At noon the guns were manned, and at the direction of the Mayor, ten shots were fired from each in quick succession’.

Charleville’s assault on the weather was marshalled by Queensland’s energetic, but irascible meteorologist, Clement Wragge.

[Wragge enters reading from paper]

‘Soon after the firing a few drops of rain fell, and at 2 o’clock a slight shower fell. At the time of firing the guns a strong wind was blowing, which doubtless interfered with the force of the vortices’.


‘Later – A second experiment with the Stiger Vortex guns was made at half-past four this afternoon, but without any visible results. An accident happened to two of the guns, one stationed at Mr Ormiston’s paddock, and the other at Mr Spence’s residence; each of these guns had a large piece of iron blown out of the sides, making them worthless…’

[Slams down paper, takes up pen]

To the editor, Brisbane Courier, dear sir… Read MoreWragge

July 3, 2001 /
forecast: 1 January 1901

The day had been hot, the air hung ‘heavy and dead’; but as evening approached, ‘ominous-looking clouds’ swept over the city, and a thundery change seemed imminent. On this, the last day of the nineteenth century, as Australia prepared to celebrate its birth as a nation, the people of Sydney looked to the weather. ‘The keenest dread is that Proclamation Day will be wet’, the Age reported, ‘“Will it rain?” is the question in everybody’s mouth’.1

The storm broke shortly after 7 o’clock. Fierce winds and heavy rains battered the city’s festive finery, toppling some flags and hoardings, and making ‘rather a sorry sight’ of the buntings. As drizzle continued on into the night, the Government Astronomer, H.C. Russell, offered calm reassurance: ‘Prospects are strongly in favor of fine weather for our natal day’.2

Despite Russell’s confident prediction, 1 January 1901 dawned uncertain. ‘Overhanging clouds and portending thunder’ threatened to mar the procession that was assembling in the Domain. But just before the parade marched off on its triumphant journey towards the inauguration ceremony, the cloud cover began to break. Suddenly, the sun ‘burst forth’, flooding the scene with new colour and life: ‘His beams were never before half so welcome’, remarked the Age. Soon, an ‘invigorating southerly breeze’ arose, rustling the banners and the flags, freshening the air. The weather, it seemed, had succumbed to the sense of occasion. ‘The new nation was awakening’, the Age continued, ‘and with it inanimate nature was springing into renewed beauty and life’.3 Read MoreA climate for a nation

  1. Age, 1 January 1901, p5; Daily Telegraph, 1 January 1901, p. 5. []
  2. Daily Telegraph, 1 January 1901, p. 5; Age, 1 January 1901, p. 6. See also Helen Irving, To constitute a nation: a cultural history of Australia’s constitution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 16-17 []
  3. Age, 2 January 1901, p. 5 []
July 1, 2001 /
the charleville rainmaker

Cloudy skies at last! On 26 September 1902, the drought-wearied residents of Charleville looked to the heavens with new hope. They knew, of course, that clouds offered no certainty of rain; too often before they had watched them drift on, merely taunting with the possibility of relief. But this time the people of Charleville had science on their side. They were going to make it rain.

Stationed around the town were six Stiger Vortex guns, their long, funnel-shaped barrels aimed skywards. At noon the guns were manned, and at the direction of the Mayor, ten shots were ‘fired from each in quick succession’. A few drops of rain fell, but nothing more until two o’clock, when there was a light shower. The drought had not been broken, but it seemed an encouraging start. Perhaps, it was suggested, the prevailing strong winds had ‘interfered with the force of the vortices’.1

Later that afternoon, the experiment was repeated. This time there was no rain. Nothing. Moreover, two of the guns exploded, rendering them unusable. No-one was injured, but the experiment had clearly failed. There would be no more rain. The clouds again moved on, while the would-be rainmakers succumbed to disappointment and recrimination.2 Read MoreThe weather prophets

  1. Brisbane Courier, 27 September 1902, p.5. []
  2. Ibid.; various versions of this story. []