Anthony Healey is a Dairy Farmer living in Brogo, 25 kms north of Bega in NSW.
In 1950 when he was 16 years old, he started recording the rainfall which fell on his farm. He used a rain gauge that consisted of an old jam tin on top of a post with a small ruler marked in 1/10 inch to measure the depth of water in the tin with 1/10inches equalling 10points. 54 years on, Mr Healey is still recording rainfall figures for Brogo.
Today he measures rainfall with a manual and an automatic gauage and only 2 years ago, he transferred his data of 54 years into the Computer using Excel which he taught himself. As "the weather (and rain) is always foremost on farmers' topics of conversation" with "people on the land" being "so dependent on rainfall," Anthony Healey's informative statistics has been a trusted resource during critical times, as in the current drought that the region is still in the midst of.
Mr Healey's interpretation of the data that he has collected and his reflection on water as a sustainable resource in the context of global warming is significant and exemplary of grassroots leadership that is self-initiated and self-perpetuated. It is based on a passion of what is a vital element in the world of the farmer, an interest in helping his community and in a desire to make meaning of scientific trends and patterns, and apply it to his day to day living.
Bio of Anthony Healey:
I was born in Bega NSW in 1936, the youngest of six children. We lived on a dairy farm at Brogo 25 km north of Bega, where I still live with my wife of 44 years. I attended a local one-teacher primary school at Brogo before attending Bega High School for five years obtaining my Leaving Certificate. On leaving school I commenced working on our family dairy farm with my parents and brother. When major changes began to occur in the dairy industry in the nineteen seventies with the move from butter production to whole milk supply, my brother and I dissolved our partnership and divided our farm. I changed from dairying to beef production and commenced a building repair business to supplement the beef income. I married a farmer’s daughter in 1960 and we now have 5 adult children who have all left the farm to pursue their own careers.
Interview with Anthony Healey
Why did you start measuring rainfall and recording it in 1950?
During my time at Bega High School I became interested in weather recording while studying Agriculture. I began to record the rainfall on our property in 1950 and have continued ever since. It has only been over the last few years that I have been able to transfer my written records to computer so they are much easier to study.
Where is the nearest place to your property where the Australian Bureau of Meteorology records weather conditions?
There are automatic weather stations in several areas around my area, which are monitored by the Canberra office of the Bureau of Meteorology. Probably the closest station to me is located at Merimbula with another at Montague Island.
How has your rainfall data assisted you in your work over the years? How have you helped others with the information? How have the used your data?
I don’t think that the data has been of much assistance to me or to others except them being an interesting talking topic because the weather (and rain) is always foremost on farmer’s topics of conversation.
What do you find most interesting about the data that you have collected since you began? Are there any significant patterns that have emerged in your evaluation of the data?
Probably the most interesting fact to appear is that there is NO pattern to rainfall in this area. The only thing that I have found is that there has not been a large flood in December or January, but this theory could easily be broken.
What has been some of the worst difficulties that you and your family have faced during the years of drought? How have you coped with them?
In times of drought I guess financial loss is the biggest difficulty, just as it is with all people on the land. Striving to maintain livestock in severe drought conditions becomes very disheartening to say the least, but when farming is in your blood and you consider there is no other life that you could be happy with, you have to cope and continue on, knowing and praying that it is going to rain again soon. This is exactly the situation in this southeast area of NSW. at present with the drought worsening every day and winter is commencing meaning that growth will be slower even if rain falls. The South Coast is not as severely affected, as is the Monaro area as yet but many areas of the South Coast are experiencing severe stock water shortages also.
Has there been any changes in the type of equipment that you have used to measure and record weather conditions? Do you feel that the equipment you use today is more accurate than what you used before?
There have been some changes to the equipment over the years, when I started recording my rain gauge consisted of an old jam tin on top of a post with a small ruler marked in 1/10 inch to measure the depth of water in the tin. (1/10in=10points.) Of course now rainfall is measured in millimeters. (1mm = 4points in the old scale.) Now I have two rain gauges’ a few metres apart. One is a manual gauge that can record up to 250mm in 1mm increments, and the other one is an automatic gauge connected to my computer, but I still consider the manual gauge more reliable and probably more accurate. Since I have been using the automatic gauge there hasn’t been any significant falls of rain to properly test it, so I can’t judge yet.
Have you inspired your children or anyone else to take an interest in measuring weather conditions?
My eldest daughter married a local dairy farmer so naturally he is very interested in my rainfall data. My other children have moved to the city now so none of them have as much interest in rainfall as people on the land who are so dependent on rainfall. Most farmers in our area measure their rainfall but many do not keep a record of there measurements.
What are your thoughts about the overall changes in the Australian climate and its effect on the land in rural Australia?
I feel that records have not covered a sufficient time frame in Australia yet to be able to judge whether there is a significant climate change occurring in Australia at present. I have noticed that here in Brogo the winters over the last few years have not been as cold but the summers have not been as hot as they were when I was growing up. It is so hard to judge because so many conditions have changed over the last fifty plus years. On the south coast there have been many large and small farm dams constructed, including government river irrigation and town water supply dams constructed, and many hectares of irrigation established that must have an influence on the climate, even if ever so slight. The construction of the Snowy scheme has also occurred in this time, which hasn’t changed the flow of any of the streams in this area. The south coast area doesn’t receive any water benefits from this scheme as all the stored water is diverted westward.
What would you like Australians living in the city to most understand about life in the country?
Water is our most precious natural resource for without water nothing can exist. When I see the water consumption per capita in our cities it makes me wonder how our climate will be able to sustain the continual growth in city populations with their exorbitant water consumption. The threat of global warming may cause a lowering of average rainfall in our continent