Upfield Commentary – Jessica Hawke’s ‘Follow My Dust’ (Part 4)

Posted on Fri 10/08/2010 by



In this book, Jessica Hawke mentions that during Arthur Upfield’s first meeting with Angus and Mary, they discussed long range weather forecasting and actually mentioned one of them by name, Wragge.

Again, this may seem to be something of an isolated, and probably obscure and esoteric thing to mention, and it was only a brief mention at that, but here in Australia, something like this is in fact quite important to farmers and graziers in the Outback, and in fact, areas not even considered as part of the Outback. Outside of the main larger cities on the Eastern Seaboard, in Rural and Regional Australia, there is a lot of crop and produce farming, and also Stations that run the many and varied breeds of cattle, both beef and dairy, and also sheep for their meat and most especially for Australia, their wool. Because conditions are such an important thing in these ventures, then the weather is also a very important factor.

This is where, over the years, these long range weather forecasters have come into their own. Some people might think of long range weather forecasting in the realms of ‘mumbo jumbo’, but it is in fact quite an accurate art, and here in Australia has been a large part of Rural Australia since the late 1800’s. In today’s times when the News Bulletin weather segment can hardly even get it right for the next 24 hours, the general belief by the public is that weather forecasting by its very nature is inherently a difficult thing to get right, hence the belief is that if they cannot get it right for the next 12 to 24 hours, then forecasting for months into the future has about the same accuracy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These Long range weather forecasters have built up a solid reputation for accuracy, and here I do not mean ‘hit and miss’ accuracy, but absolute accuracy.

The first of these was indeed the man mentioned in this Jessica Hawke book, and his name was Clement Wragge. In the 1890’s he had set up a vast network of hundreds of weather and rainfall stations in Queensland. His record keeping was already meticulous, having records already dating back decades for large areas of Eastern Central Australia. He used these records, continuously updated, the recorded information from those weather stations, and other factors as well to give detailed weather patterns for the coming months. These in fact proved to be quite accurate, and his reputation was enhanced, as more and more of these farmers and graziers came to rely on the accuracy of those reports, which was an important thing when planning for future crops, planting times, and harvesting, etc.

After he died, another took over, this being the great Inigo Jones. His work improved substantially that already done by Wragge, and his accuracy saw those weather reports of his looked to from many sources. He built up a reputation second to none. With the mention of the name Inigo Jones here in Australia, especially in those Rural and regional areas, people almost automatically think of the weather.

During Jones time, he set up a major Observatory here in Queensland, and one of the men working side by side with Jones was Lennox Walker, who took over from Jones.

Again, Lennox Walker improved things, and also took this forecasting in different directions. He moved into Radio, and his radio forecasts were broadcast every week, and in fact was probably one of the most listened to programs on radio in rural and regional Australia, as they all tuned in to here what was in store.

When I was training with the Air Force in the late 60’s I was stationed at the Trade Training School at Forest Hill, near Wagga Wagga, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. In the days long before FM radio, there was only the one commercial radio station in that Inland city. On one morning a week, during the Farmers Report which went for around half an hour, there was always a detailed weather forecast from Lennox Walker. It was always part of this farmer’s and grazier’s report, and ensured that radio station had a very wide audience, such was Walker’s reputation.

Lennox Walker’s work has been taken over by his son, Haydon Walker, and now, this large undertaking has literally the most complex and detailed records for most of Australia dating back nearly 150 years. The Walker’s have used these detailed records, and other factors as well, mainly the activity of the Sun, and all of these factors give detailed and very accurate weather forecasts for Months into the future, and to this day, those forecasts are relied upon by farmers and graziers across Australia.

For further information on this subject, visit Haydon Walker’s site at this link. There you will find many more links to all matters concerning the Weather. For some history about the four names I have mentioned here, visit this link.

This talk of long range weather forecasting in the Hawke book may not seem much, but it proved later to be the genesis for Upfield’s Bony novel,  ‘The Battling Prophet’.

This in fact is a subject that is probably close to the heart of many an outback station owner, or for that fact, at those earlier times, a swagman as well, mainly for the reason that they would have to have a fairly good handle on the weather, thus giving them an indication that if there was to be an extended period of very heavy rain, then the rivers could flood from the north, and the swaggies mostly lived by these inland rivers.

In fact, from those times in the 30’s and well up until the 70’s even, these long range weather forecasts were important not only for those on the land, but for those in the extended communities in those rural areas. This was due in the main to those people on the land religiously following those reports. They would actually base their outlays for farming equipment etc on those reports. If a poor season was being forecast, then those famers would not run the risk of purchasing new farming machinery and equipment. Even Agents selling crops would also look closely at these reports as well, and know fairly well when proces for those crops etc would be high and low, depending on if crops did in fact go into the ground in the first place.

So, again, what might seem an obscure reference is in fact an important thing in Australia, and Upfield again cleverly wove something like this into his novels.