April 2008


logoAustralia’s Bureau of Meteorology celebrates its centenary

By Geoff Love*

The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology jointly celebrates its centenary and World Meteorological Day

David Day, a noted Australian historian and author of the Bureau’s centenary history The Weather Watchers, gave the World Meteorological Day Address at the Bureau’s Head Office in Melbourne on 12 March, saying that the security of Australia depended on the Bureau: “If the Bureau ceased to exist for a month, people would start dying, farmers would make mistakes, and Australia would lose wealth….” Mr Day urged the Bureau—“a nation-building organization from its beginning”—to continue to work at making its role and value apparent to politicians and the public.

G. Love, D. Day and J. Zillman   World Meteorological Day, Melbourne, 12 March 2008: Director of Meteorology, Geoff Love (left) with David Day (centre), author of the Bureau’s centenary history The Weather Watchers, and former WMO President John Zillman

In the broader context of Australian history, the Bureau was about knowing the possibilities of the continent so it may be more effectively claimed, and its resources developed, he said. Early prominent Bureau figures like geographer Griffith Taylor researched publications meant to set out wealth possibilities, to encourage migration and closer settlement.

As a youngster, David Day watched his father make weather observations and launch balloons at the remote weather station at Charleville in western Queensland.

The Weather Watchers (Melbourne University Press, 2007)  

The Director of the Bureau paid tribute to the professionalism and tremendous contribution of past and present staff. “Compared to those we measure ourselves against, we have a much smaller budget, a much larger area to cover, and it is done excellently. It is a testament to staff that the Bureau is one of the foremost world services, known for the breadth, quality and consistency of its products.”

“The two towering people who led the Bureau for much of its 100 years were Bill Gibbs and John Zillman. Both had tremendous commitment and belief in the power of science and meteorology, and an intense faith that meteorology was of great value to the Australian community — and that the Bureau had a role to deliver that value. They fought for the opportunity to do that.”

“Australia is fortunate in its excellent national climate record in an era when many nations face a confluence of increased population, climate change and environmental degradation,” he concluded. “We will be able to deal with the myriad problems that we face in Australia because we are a developed society, because we have a climate record and because we understand our environment, largely through the data the Bureau has kept.”

The colonial political debates leading to the Australian Federation (1900) recognized that meteorology had to be a national responsibility. The Bureau of Meteorology commenced operations on 1 January 1908, drawing together the meteorological services of the former colonies.

Mr Day reminded the World Meteorological Day audience how the Bureau endured decades of financial austerity before it was doubled in size in the late 1930s to better serve the infant civil aviation sector, then the demands of World War II. The 1960s brought further expansion to improve services through weather computing, weather satellites and improved radar.

The 1990s saw a growing focus on automation (notably the expansion of the automatic weather station network, now approaching 600 sites) and service delivery, especially through the introduction of the Bureau’s Website, now by far the most popular Australian Government Website.

The Bureau is now a major national environmental monitoring agency, with recent additional responsibilities for expanded climate change studies, ocean forecasting (with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the Royal Australian Navy), an enhanced tsunami warning system, the national tidal centre and ionospheric prediction. It also has a key role in national water management as part of the National Plan for Water Security. The new Water Division will lead a A$ 450 million programme to significantly enhance the quality and utility of water resources information over 10 years.

Continuing international links

  Mr. Warren

The Bureau has long supported international cooperation in meteorology, most recently through contributions to the IPCC process. The first Director of the Bureau (then called the Commonwealth Meteorologist), Henry Hunt, was an active participant of the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), the predecessor of WMO. Its third Director, H. Norman Warren, chaired the IMO Committee which drafted the final text of the WMO Convention in 1946, and signed the Convention of WMO on behalf of Australia at Washington DC on 11 October 1947. He attended the IMO Executive Council meeting in Lausanne in May 1950 which wound up IMO and planned the inauguration of WMO.

His successor, E.W. Timcke, attended the final IMO Conference of Directors in Paris in March 1951 and the first Congress of WMO which immediately followed. He became an acting member of the WMO Executive Council (EC) in 1953.

In 1958, L. (Len) J. Dwyer, Director of Meteorology, was elected president of Regional Association V (South-West Pacific), and became an ex officio member of EC.

W. (Bill) J. Gibbs was elected member of EC at Fourth Congress in 1963 and his successors (John Zillman and Geoff Love) served as EC members. Bill Gibbs was First Vice-President of WMO from 1967 to 1975.

John Zillman became Director of Meteorology in 1978 and was Principal Delegate at Eighth Congress. He was elected First Vice-President of WMO at Tenth Congress in 1987. He was elected President in 1995 and served two terms till 2003.

Australians presidents of WMO technical commissions: W.A. Dwyer (CAeM, 1964-1968); D.J. Gauntlett (CAS, 1990-1998); G.B. Love (CBS, 2000-2001); R.P. Canterford (CIMO, 2003-2006); B.J. Stewart (CHy, 2004-) and P. Dexter (co-president JCOMM, 2005-).

Australia hosted the first session of RA V (Melbourne, 1954) and the eighth session (Melbourne, 1982); the eighth session of CAS, (Melbourne, 1982); the extraordinary session of CBS (Cairns, 2002) and the 14th session of RA V (Adelaide, 2006).

Australian recipients of the IMO Prize for outstanding contributions to international meteorology were C.H.B. Priestley (1973), W.J. Gibbs (1982) and J.W. Zillman (2005).

The Bureau looks forward to another 100 years of productive involvement in the programmes of the WMO.

Australian Bureau of Meteorology Website: www.bom.gov.au


line* Director of Meteorology, Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Australia

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