by clicking the arrows at the side of the page, or by using the toolbar.
by clicking anywhere on the page.
by dragging the page around when zoomed in.
by clicking anywhere on the page when zoomed in.
web sites or send emails by clicking on hyperlinks.
Email this page to a friend
Search this issue
Index - jump to page or section
Archive - view past issues
Memento : Issue 35
Australian farmers. 'Anything we can do to help us to forecast our weather is of extreme urgency and moment to the people who are building up our primary industries,' commented Prime Minister Joseph Cook to a delegation of scientists in August 1914. Did the sun hold the key? Records in the National Archives of Australia reveal how, in the early decades of the 20th century, Australians looked to the sun for deliverance. Watching the sun A number of the world's top astronomers, including Abbot, visited Australia in 1914 for a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. They took the opportunity to pressure Prime Minister Cook for the establishment of a solar physics observatory in Australia. This would complete a worldwide chain of observatories enabling the sun to be kept under constant surveillance. The idea was not new. Expatriate physicist Walter Geoffrey Duffield had lobbied the Australian Government for a number of years winning the support of Prime Minister such an institution 'for the sake of science and Australian meteorology.' Deakin and his successor, Andrew Fisher, set the plan in motion, but by 1914 a firm commitment was needed. Deakin, his enthusiasm undimmed by retirement, accompanied the delegation to persuade his former deputy to act. A solar observatory appealed both to national pride and practical ambitions. Australia could contribute to the international research effort, while perhaps bringing within its grasp the means to tame its capricious climate. Sir Frederick Dyson, the Astronomer Royal, stressed the scientific significance of the research while admitting that they all hoped the study of the sun 'might enable forecasts of the weather to be made.' Henry Hall Turner, from Oxford, and CG Abbot emphasised the reality of solar variation. 'Sometimes a very small variation might be of immense value to agriculture,' Turner noted. Confronted with this parade of scientific worthies, Prime Minister Cook glumly admitted the merits of their case: 'I am inclined to think we cannot over-estimate years, winning the support of Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. In 1909, Deakin pronounced that the Commonwealth would maintain the value of the enquiry you are suggesting today.' But while the scientists' arguments were sound, their timing was inopportune NAA: A3560, 7535 A brutal climate For many European settlers the Australian sun seemed alien and unyielding. Others embraced it as a symbol of optimism and pride. At the turn of the 20th century, Federation abounded in references to the dawn -- the sun which rose over the new nation symbolised something fresh, full of energy and life. Yet Federation was also a time of severe drought, when the sun was a daily reminder of the rains that would not come. But what if the sun could tell us when it would rain? While the sun appeared to be eternal and unchanging, research in the early 20th century revealed much about its moods and inconsistencies. At the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the eminent astronomer Charles Greely Abbot embarked on a lifelong quest to chart variations in solar activity. His observations suggested that the sun's output varied by up to 10 per cent. Abbot believed that detailed knowledge of such variations would fuel the development of long-range weather forecasting. Afflicted with a brutal climate that seemed to defy prediction, the possibilities of such research offered hope to beleaguered MEMENTO ISSUE 35 15