1958, 38 Minutes
In the 1950s, Giles Weather Station was established in the Australian outback, on the edge of the Gibson Desert, 750 kilometres from Alice Springs, near the border of West and South Australia.
The area south of Rawlinson Range had long been home to nomadic Aboriginal peoples, but at that time there were no other white settlements for hundreds of miles. It was less than 90 years since the first white man - Ernest Giles - had explored the region and few had followed.
Balloons and Spinifex records the construction of the weather station, with 40 men from various countries working six days a week in very basic conditions. It reveals the challenges of building in such an isolated area: one truck convoy took 10 days to travel 500 miles through mud and difficult terrain. A year later, the completed complex included a mess, laundry, showers, living quarters and offices, where 12 men could work for one-year periods: six weathermen, a cook, driver, mechanic, electrician, handyman and a “native patrol officer”.
The documentary shows the finely tuned process of taking weather measurements and making reports, including the most important task of sending up hydrogen-filled weather balloons, and the co-ordination of this information by the Bureau of Meteorology in the days before computerisation, using a mind-boggling array of paper charts.
Shot on 35mm film, Balloons and Spinifex captures the stunning colours and stark beauty of the landscape. It also includes footage of Indigenous families living in the desert as they had done for many generations, passing on from parents to children their ancient knowledge of this land.
Produced by the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit with the cooperation of the Bureau of Meteorology. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
Directors: Ian Dunlop, John Gray
Running Time: 38 Minutes
Classification: Exempt from classification
Curriculum Links: Australian History; Geography; Indigenous Studies; Meteorology; Earth and Environmental Science; Science and Technology.