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Published: September 3rd 2013
6 Oscar Foxtrot
Giles Weather Station
Thursday 29 August
I wonder sometimes where I am waking up in the morning, some mornings it is quicker for me to remember than others, this morning took a while for me to connect that we were in Warakurna at the roadhouse on the Great Central Road.
If you thought for one minute this would be remote, you are right, but one thing was a fact this is not that busy road, well if you consider 30 Vehicles in 4 days, I would guess its not that busy, no wonder there is a campaign to have bitumen laid down, there were 6 campers here last night and people in the cabins, including a Senator for Western Australia and her team who are in town to talk to the local indigenous people, apparently voting day today.
Andy handed me my morning cuppa, I gratefully drank it but I needed to get out of bed as we wanted to be at the Giles Weather Station by 8am ready to do a tour as we had agreed with Doug yesterday.
Gypsy has been attracting attention again, the people camped next to us where very interested in her and started to ask questions, they currently have a caravan which is getting on a bit and they want to upgrade, but also want something that is easier to manage than a caravan, I talk her through the basics, show her what Gypsy is like on the inside and give her a leaflet. She also explains that they have been marooned at Warakurna Roadhouse for the last 3 days because of electrical problems with their friends car, they themselves have a broken rear window which happened on the way in here so they have a lot of dust in their vehicle, not really helped by the high winds yesterday that sent dust everywhere. I even cleaned the work surfaces down inside Gypsy 3 times but the dust still managed to find it's way back again.
Anyway, with their car troubles sorted they were ready to leave but had to give the key back to the people at the roadhouse, which was not open, I said that I would be happy to take it back for them as we were coming
Len Beadell's Cartoon's
Len is a hero of mine, for what he has done for Australia, we are enjoying his legacy
back to the roadhouse after our tour of Giles Weather Station. They were more than happy with that and suggested that I put their $5 deposit money in the RFDS box.
By 07.50 we were driving out of the roadhouse and up to the Giles Weather Station in anticipation of our tour, I know we were early but Andy wanted to make sure we were there in good time, he didn't want to be late for the tour and it also gave us another chance to have a look around.
There is a small room that we mentioned in the last blog that contains, some old pictures of Len Beadell and his Gunbarrel Road Construction Party, along with some of Len’s fantastic artwork and other bits of weather station guff, such as tools and bits and bobs and the weather stations old Codan HF (High Frequency) radio set that was used up until I think about 1986, The weather stations call sign was Six Oscar Foxtrot, hence the fitting name of this blog, people on the lonely outback roads would call up the weather station for weather and road reports or just a chat,
Len Beadell's Cartoon's
He certainly was a talented bloke, if he hadn't have been a brilliant surveyor, he would have made a great cartoonist.
unfortunately when HF radio ceased in favour of Satellite technology the sense of community was lost
We have also mentioned that Lens’s grader is a permanent fixture here for everyone to see, he is probably looking down from heaven making sure it is being looked after.
Just a small note here, Warakurna and Giles Weather Station operate on CST - Central Standard time, which is the time for South Australia and Northern Territory, (The reason they do this is because it is aligned with the Woomera Rocket Range, which is in South Australia) as soon as we leave here and travel further west, we will be on Western Australia time which adds 1 1/2 hours.
Notices in the car park tell us to look out for snakes, we find out a little later that whoever is on duty first thing in the morning at Giles has to check the grounds for snakes first, I am not sure what they do if they find any but good luck to them.
Eventually Graham appears, he is going to start the tour off for us today, another four people have turned up so
he gets started. Graham is a local aborigine and has more than one job in the community, he is well versed on the facts of the weather station and is obviously very proud of the role he plays.
He takes us through to see Doug and then Doug goes on to explain about the weather balloon which we are going to see go up this morning, I think that is all we will see on the tour, but I am wrong there is so much more to it than that, Andy will explain the next bit because it gets technical.
We go in to a small work shop where Doug, grabs the shiny foil coated fins and slots them together, they are foil coated to reflect radar signatures, It was a bit like Blue Peter for Adults ( For some of our readers) Blue Peter was a British kids program, that was quite Arty and always made something out of egg boxes and sticky backed plastic, like a nuclear Submarine or a crocodile, as I have just read this to Caroline as I am editing her blog she has just confessed to making a
Remnants of the Blue Streak Rocket, launched from Woomera.
Crocodile out of some material which her mum helped her with, when she was about 11.
Once the fins were put together, Doug grabs the correct size balloon from the shelf and unwraps it, wrapped it’s the size of an empty toilet role but unwrapped its quite large, at least the size of your double doona (Quilt).
The final bit of the puzzle was to fit the radio sonde, which is the electronics platform, that us suspended on a piece of string that dangles under the balloon, far enough away that it doesn’t conflict with the reflective surfaces of the balloons, flight fins, the radio sonde is the heart of what is being done here, this will record that data and transmit it back to the data gathering computer, data such as temperature, GPS position, height, speed (Possibly ) and so on, this weather station is important to Australia, it provides meteorological support, for aviation, defence and so on and covers an area of 2.5 million square Kilometres.
The Sonde is very sensitive, Doug tells us, that if the Sonde, is unwrapped to early or it gets contaminated then it becomes
useless, so its all about timing.
Doug now has to get himself dressed in his Nomex (Fireproof Suit) it has a hood and is like a cape, strangely it look like he is in the Ku Klux Klan, but its not white but a soft green colour.
We all follow Doug carrying the balloon, when he walks in to the Hydrogen filling room,, he attaches the balloon, and we had to stand behind the painted cordon but before he fills the Balloon, he has to turn the sprinklers on to dampen the room down to reduce the static charge within the room.
The balloon starts to fill and eventually it is quite a size and is ready to go, before they take the balloon of the filling nozzle Doug again has to douse the room down with water to remove any residual Static on the balloon, Doug and Graham then take the balloon to the launch site (I.e the car park) and Doug says if we are all ready, he is happy to pose for a couple of action shots, everyone’s cameras are clicking then he says 3-2-1 and he release
First used in 1953 on the Emu Flats and Maralinga Atomic Bomb Test sites
the weather balloon.
Giles weather station produce their own Hydrogen, as it is unrealistic to bring bottled gas, so far and at such a huge cost
Where Giles is positioned the balloon will reach the Jetstream, fairly quickly and will travel about 180 Kilometres before it will eventually explode do to pressure.
We all watch our balloon rise in to the atmosphere, Doug tells us it rises at 3000 ft per minute, against the Blue Sky it stays in our vision for about 10 minutes.
Doug invites us to follow him to see what other meteorological data they also have to record, on a daily basis, rain fall, ground temperature at difference levels, evaporation, and the amount of sun light.
The amount of sunlight is done with a beautiful instrument called a Campbell Stokes sunshine recorder, where a glass sphere is held in a frame and the sun reflected through the recorder physically burns a pre marked card, Doug tells us they are always being stolen by souvenir hunters, and they cost about two thousand dollars each, the instrument is reset in Summer/winter for solstice
One thing we have found at this metrological station is how tradition is important, just because modern instrument and reading mathematics have come along in recent times the weather has always been recorded a certain way and basically that’s the way it is going to stay they do accept change but has to be proven against the statistics they already get
One we have done all the clever stuff outside we follow Doug in to the office as he wants us to see where our balloon is on the tracking radar, the computer is giving him the data that the balloon is at 50,000 feet of 16 Kilometres up and is at minus 76.5 degree’s as it travels on it’s atmospheric journey
Everyone has now left except for me and Caroline, we are having such fun we don’t want it to end, Doug tells us he is not really a weather man he is a physicist, but had a pang of guilt after his grandfather had died of cancer and he was doing research in to radiation, I explained about my grandpa, who had worked with Sir Marcus Oliphant
Helping set up this mornings Balloon flight
at the Physics department at Birmingham university , some time between 1939-1950 and Doug then said his family were all from Birmingham, well Erdington to be precise, so we had a long discussion about that being my old stomping ground and his family.
I have to say, we had a fantastic time, it was really interesting and there are not many times in our lives when we have been part of a weather balloon launch
It was nearly 10am when we got back to the roadhouse, we grabbed a cup of coffee gave the keys back and I was handed $10 in deposit monies. There was no RFDS donation box here, so I cannot yet fulfil my agreement to our fellow campers, I will have to make the donation another day.
Back on the road we continue our journey west, we were chattering away about the weather station tour and as we rounded a corner suddenly there was a herd of camels across the track, fortunately we were able to slow up in time, Andy counted 19 as they all ran off into the bush, I guess that makes our camel
In his fire proof garments, after filling the balloon.
count 32 out of 700,000.
I mention to Andy that we were passing the junction of the Old Gunbarrel Highway, which he would like to do, but you need an additional permit for that road and information on my map tells me that you need a minimum of between 2 and 5 vehicles in your convoy with effective communication equipment, so we will have to save that journey for another time.
Just before we get to Warburton Roadhouse, we see a memorial so stopped to have a look and find a rock called Tim's tree, he died aged 21, very sad. We wondered what had happened to Tim Bellinger, but there was no story about him, I even asked at the Warburton Roadhouse when we got there but nobody knew.
We topped up with diesel at Warburton and headed back onto the track, we are now on Western Australia time, so we really need to start adjusting.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, just the occasional rest/comfort break and as it was after lunch I was on the lookout for our overnight stop, identifying some potential places
Filling the Balloon
This is where they fill the Balloon full of Hydrogen, first they, damp the room down with sprinklers to reduce the static charge
which we would check out on the way through.
We find a turn of which was marked on one of my maps as a bush camp, it was not in my Camps app though. Upon checking it out we figure it would make a good overnight stop, although we have driven about 7 or 8k's down this track the reality is that it runs alongside the Great Central Road so there is probably about a kilometre of bush that separates us, which is good because we are off the main track and therefore invisible.
Most of the track is not bad, there are a few washouts that we drive through carefully with one quite deep, remembering our training, if you cannot walk it you cannot drive it. We both jump out and assess the washout, we agree a route and make our way through with extreme care and out the other side easily enough. It does not look busy down here, there is one other set of tyre marks but the plants seem to be growing across the track in places.
We arrive at a suitable place, plenty of room to
set up camp, there is almost too much choice, there seems to be nobody else here and there is evidence that people have camped here from remnants of camp fires, interestingly there is a 44 gallon drum nearby that is full of empty beer bottles, I wonder if someone cleaned up or is that just provided for campers to put their empty bottles in? I see a few old tin cans that have clearly been here a long time, they are rusted away and some are crushed into the ground.
I am not entirely sure if this is a sacred aboriginal site, however as we always do, we will not leave anything behind except for maybe a few ashes from a camp fire.
The GPS coordinates for this stop, Winduldarra Rockhole: 52S 203778E 7063115N as taken from my Hema Map (Gary, these are for you).
Before dinner we had a walk around the area, there was not another soul in sight, we had only heard one vehicle travelling up the main track and in the distance we could see a wrecked car, but that is normal for this area,
there are so many lying around the bush, the sun is starting to set it feels much later than it really is, this area is beautiful with the Mulga's, the wild flowers and the deep red rock, it looks like we will be camping alone tonight, I have no idea how far away the next set of campers will be, but that is the beauty of being out here, there is so much space and people really don't have to camp on top of each other.
We gather some wood for our camp fire, well alright then, Andy gathered some wood for the camp fire, but I did cook the dinner! The sun went down and we sat and ate our dinner by the fire, the sky was just one big dark blanket with millions and millions of stars, no moon tonight or not yet anyway.
I saw a couple of satellites and two shooting stars, amazingly we do see an aeroplane go overhead, but at least with those ticked off we can go to bed!
I think we were relieved to go to bed, we were tired, but as much
Getting ready to launch
This balloon, will rise in to the jet stream and be carried about 180 Kilometres
as we wanted to try and hang out because of the time change, we failed we were in bed and fast asleep by 9pm.
Silence, not even a dingo can be heard, sleep comes easy on such a warm night.
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