Simple Pleasures: Checking the rain gauge

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Andy Utri grew up on a small farm—about 24 hectares—in what was then a part of Austria but is now in Croatia. In 1954, when he was 29 years of age, he and his wife Ilse immigrated to Australia to seek a better life.

‘I wanted a roof over my head and a shower when I got home from work,’ says Andy, who was a builder.

Andy and Ilse lived in St Albans, in Melbourne’s western suburbs, for 20 years before moving to central Victoria because they wanted a bit of land. They lived on 35 hectares off Spring Flat Road near Heathcote. Wild Duck Creek ran alongside their property. Andy built fences around the property and ran a few cows. As soon as he had finished building a home in which he and Ilse could live, his back went.

Andy smiles ruefully at the sudden onset of his back injury. ‘I was a builder for many years and never missed a day of work because of a bad back,’ he says.

Not that it gets him down. At 81, with a tough upbringing that included having his left pointer finger amputated after a doctor’s mistake when he was ten years of age, his air of quiet wisdom suggests he’s seen life’s good and bad. His response to the back injury was to sell the land and head back to the city. In 1988, he and Ilse moved into a retirement village in Keilor, on Melbourne’s north-west fringe, where Andy resumed a habit from his rural property. Every morning, like farmers throughout Australia, it was his ritual to check the rain gauge.


In early 1990, a summer thunderstorm left 70 millimetres of rain—almost three inches—in his gauge in the backyard of his retirement villa. George Herbert, a nearby resident, who had been accustomed to keeping a lookout for the weather when he was working at Melbourne Airport, began asking every morning whether there had been any rain.

Further questions from residents prompted Andy to begin noting the rainfall on a chart that he put up in the retirement village’s mailroom. In 1999, after a decade of noting rainfall figures for his fellow retirees, a Bureau of Meteorology representative asked whether he would be interested in joining the hundreds of volunteers around Australia who record official rainfall figures for the national weather bureau.

Every morning at nine o’clock, Andy pokes his head out of his back door to see whether there’s any rain in the old plastic gauge, which hangs alongside the pegs on the clothesline. He then walks 200 metres from his front door to check the bureau’s gauge, which sits in a 40-centimetre stainless steel cylinder.

On the mid-July morning that Andy checked his gauge under the watchful eye of Eureka Street, the weather was mild and the sky was beginning to cloud. Over the previous weekend, Keilor had received 20 millimetres of rain—more than had been seen for months. On this morning, however, there was no rain to be recorded.

‘Nothing,’ says Andy, holding the gauge up to eye level. He explains that the film of water at the base of the plastic tube is the result of dew.

On the mornings on which rain is found in the gauge, Andy notes the amount in one of the bureau’s sheets entitled ‘rainfall and river height observations’. At the end of every month, he sends the sheet into the bureau, which records the figures.

When asked whether he might get a kick out of hearing Keilor’s rainfall on the ABC news, Andy looks blank. Keilor is a place of unexceptional rainfall, being on the plains that sprawl out from Melbourne’s western fringe rather than on the hills that rise up from the city’s east. Andy admits with a shrug that he has never heard the word ‘Keilor’ on the ABC weather report or any other weather report.

Bureau of MeteorologyHis motivation for recording the rainfall is more philanthropic. ‘It’s helpful to the bureau—and I like to know exactly what’s going on,’ he says.

There is pride on his face when he points to the framed Certificate of Recognition, signed by John Howard, that is on a wall of his neatly appointed villa. The certificate was sent in 2001, the International Year of Volunteers. Andy was invited to receive it at a function in the city, but declined the invitation because he had been helping out the weather bureau for only a few years. ‘Others had been doing things for many years,’ he says.

In his garage, Andy pulls out a croquet mallet. A handful of residents from the retirement village play croquet every fortnight in Brunswick. Several years ago, when it was suggested that money should be raised to buy mallets, Andy turned his building skills to crafting mallets himself. When it was suggested that he could turn a handy profit from creations, he said his business days were over. He would rather make mallets for friends on a voluntary basis.

On a tour of the retirement village’s central building, Andy points out the long bench seats he has made for his fellow residents. After showing the rainfall chart on the wall in the mailroom, he excuses himself. It’s ten o’clock. He’s on the roster for a voluntary shift in the retirement village kiosk.

Even at his advanced age, Andy sees no reason to slow down his voluntary service. ‘You keep yourself busy,’ he says.

 

 

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Existing comments

I would like to print out a blank chart on which to record rainfall in my back-yard rain gauge. Cannot find one.
Can you hep?
Peter McCausland | 20 September 2009


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