11 Apr 2019
Spiro Buhagiar takes enormous pride in being the man who checks Australia’s hardest-working rain gauge. Every day for 36 years the far north Queenslander has been travelling to the top of Mount Bellenden Ker, operating the bright red cable car that takes technicians to its peak to check the radio and television broadcast towers. The top of mountain is officially the wettest place in Australia, receiving more than 8 metres of rain a year on average.
“Our job is to do maintenance on the cableway to make sure it’s all safe, and to provide transport to get the ABC and SBS to the top of the mountain, but we’ve made [checking the gauge] part of our job,” he said. “When you know you’ve had a bit of rain overnight it’s a thrill to get up here and just pour it into the counter and see that we’ve had twice as much as anywhere else has gotten.” The Broadcast Australia supervisor is one of 6,000 volunteer weather observers across the country who gather vital rainfall data for the Bureau of Meteorology. “It’s just a matter of emptying the rain gauge from the collector into our container so we can measure how much we’ve actually got. Then we log it in our diary and register it,” he explained.
Spiro’s commute puts all others to shame
Mr Buhagiar said he felt lucky to travel the scenic route every day on the Broadcast Australia cable car, which is not open to the public. A wry smile comes across the cable car operator’s face when he boasts about his mountain getting more rainfall than anywhere else in the country. “When you’ve got the most rainfall in Australia it’s always an honour to come up here and log it,” he said. “It’s pretty freaky sometimes. The rain can be very strong with the wind behind it. “You can be up here and it’s not raining and even the cloud going through the tower [creates] raindrops the size of marbles.”
Views make rain-soaked work days worthwhile
The mountain has already been drenched with more than 4 metres of rain this year. Most of the time Mr Buhagiar is forced to wear a raincoat while checking the gauge, frequently battling heavy falls and, some days, winds of up to 70kph.
Heritage rainforest canopy below, made it all worthwhile. “Most of the time it’s cloudy, windy, raining and usually half the temperature [compared to the ground],” he said. “So it’s 16 degrees up here now and it’s 32 down the bottom, so it’s pleasant to come up here on days like today. “You’re sitting on top of the world. “The weather is unpredictable really but when you’ve got a view on a [clear] day, it’s magic.”
Passion for weather has not faded
If you are thinking you might want to take over the 62-year-old weather enthusiast’s job, you might have to wait a while yet. Despite more than three decades in his current career, Mr Buhagiar said he did not plan on leaving anytime soon. “I guess I’ll have to retire one day,” he laughed. “I’ve been doing it for 36 years and it’s been enjoyable, so hopefully I’ve got a few years left in me. “But I’ve got [my own] rain gauge so even when I do give it up here I’ll still be collecting it at home.”