Watching over us

Mount Macedon fire spotter Graeme Wilson says there's never a dull moment in the life of 'towery'.

There’s never a dull moment in the life of a fire spotter says Mount Macedon ‘towery’ Graeme Wilson.

Toweries are always watching something.

Even when there’s not much happening on the ground, clouds and wind and birds – nature’s signs of impending weather events – keep it interesting.

“There’s a team of eagles out here and they’ve always got a new chick each year and they’re the most beautiful birds to watch,” Graeme says.

“Then there’s the swift, it’s like a swallow on steroids, it’s a much bigger bird, much faster, and it eats insects.

“When you’ve got a change coming through, it forces the insects ahead of the front and these birds fly up and down the front feeding on the insects, so when you see that you know you’re going to have a weather change and probably a storm.

“If you go up in the morning and see one or two swifts, that’s okay, but when you get 100 or 200, that’s a serious storm coming.”

Graeme says he often calls the office to say “we’ve got a storm coming today”, only to be told there’s no storm forecast.

“Later on in the day the storm arrives and it’s ‘oh you were right, how’d you know?'” he says.

“A little bird told me!”

Aged 83, Graeme climbs a 100-foot-tall ladder every day, which helps to keep him fit.

He has been a spotter for the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning for 16 years and has been stationed on the mount for the past six years.

While he has spotted major fire events at previous postings, Graeme is pleased to report he is yet to spot one from Mount Macedon. In the meantime, he has become known locally for his well-spoken radio voice and his “good night” sign off in the evenings.

“If you speak with a clear voice over radio, everyone knows what you’ve said the first time and you don’t have to keep repeating it,” he explains.

The former light aircraft pilot was also a parachutist while in the Army for 10 years (clearly not afraid of heights!), so he has a keen interest in military history and aviation.

“During WWII, the fire towers were used as air spotters as well,” he says.

“The Royal Australian Air Force Auxiliary volunteers would spot aircraft going back and forth and they were all recorded.

“During the war, a Japanese aircraft flew over Melbourne. It was launched from a submarine in Bass Strait and flew over Melbourne and had a good look around.

“That same submarine was spotted from the Mount Raymond fire tower.”

While most of the time the job entails spotting and assessing plumes of smoke, Graeme says toweries also often spot questionable activity of people completely unaware there’s a set of eyes above them looking down.

“It’s funny that people never look up,” he says.

“In the Army we always used to say if you want to hide from someone, climb a tree, they never look up.”

If you’re ever on the mountain, do look up and give Graeme a wave and a well-spoken shout hello!