Members of the Scott family have been collecting rainfall figures for the Bureau of Meteorology for 151 years.
Story By Paul Daffy
In yards and paddocks all around Australia, thousands of volunteers check their rain gauges at 9am every day, recording their findings on a sheet of paper. At the end of every month, all these sheets of paper are sent off to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). And so the national rainfall figures are compiled.
Among the thousands of volunteers who note down rainfall figures for the BOM, nobody has been compiling figures for longer than the Scott family of Scotsburn, south of Ballarat in Victoria. In July 1856, the Scotts began recording rainfall on their property. July 2006 marked the sesquicentenary – 150 years – since the family began doing so.
Apart from a brief story on the Ballarat television station’s news service, the 150th anniversary passed without recognition. Celia Burnham, a great-great granddaughter of the property’s original settlers, was relieved at the lack of fuss. Eight years earlier, on March 8, 1994, which was World Meteorological Day, reporters had beaten a path to her door to compile stories about her family’s service.
Celia explains her history with monitoring rainfall while sipping tea in the kitchen of the family homestead, which is the main feature on the family property “Mount Boninyong”. The mountain that inspired the property’s name, Mount Buninyong (nobody knows when the original spelling was changed), is visible through the kitchen window.
The sunlight that bursts through the window belies the fact that outside, it’s one of the coldest November days on record. Then the sleet begins to fall and Mount Buninyong, which has an elevation of 745 metres, disappears from view. “You just missed the snow by 15 minutes,” Celia says.
Celia and her sisters Susie and Sally grew up on the Mount Boninyong property. They all moved to Melbourne after finishing school. Celia worked in medical records. In 1976, she married a Riverina farmer, Graeme Burnham, and the newlyweds headed over the Murray River to live on a property near the New South Wales Riverina town of Moulamein.
In 1984, the Burnham couple and their three daughters – Sarah, Emma and Lisa – move back to the Mount Boninyong property. Celia’s father John Scott moved to a smaller property just down the road, where he also continues to record the rainfall.
While Graeme works in Ballarat four days a week, Celia takes care of the farm. She tends to 1000 sheep and 50 beef cattle and helps Graeme with the cropping. “I love it,’’ she says, looking outside. “Most of the time.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #54
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2007