Showcasing our Volunteers: Peter Bate

The next person in “Showcasing our Volunteers” is Peter Bate. Peter is one of our house volunteers. He also helps out at many of our other events. Peter is also a fine musician. He belongs to the Top End Folk Club and he and his group of fellow musicians play at many of our events. Sometimes under the name of “The Fettlers” when they play at Railway events, “The Aviators” at aviation societies, “Moonta Revellers” at Goyders Day. They are indeed a very versatile group.


I completed my B.Sc. in 1968 (Melbourne) then Diploma in Meteorology with the BoM, 1969. My educational background was strongly scientific but I believe that cultural pursuits are also vital.

I came to the Territory in early 1970 and, apart from a stint in Papua New Guinea 1972-74, have been based here ever since. Most of 1970 to mid-1972 I spent at Alice Springs where I was an aviation forecaster at the airport. I also experienced Alice’s 1971 centenary celebrations, which highlighted local history. For six months of 1970 I lived in Darwin – based in the old Esplanade Hostel, now the Transit Centre. My block was old tropical Darwin, along Peel St – not sure if Burnett was responsible. It was, sadly, demolished for the Holiday Inn. Helen and I met at the hostel, nurtured our relationship in Alice Springs and married shortly before going to Port Moresby.

November 1974: arriving back in Darwin to settle was perhaps a bad miscalculation for a weather forecaster. However, after Cyclone Tracy’s trauma, including Helen’s evacuation, we were determined to return which we did after our first son Sam was born in April 1975. Back in Darwin BoM I became a Senior Forecaster. Our second son Michael came in March 1977. In 1989 I left the weather forecasting desk to take over the BoM’s Climate section, a job I loved.

I joined the Top End Folk Club in the immediate pre-Tracy days when it was located at the East Point No. 2 Gun Turret; I have supported it ever since. I was also heavily involved in the folk scene in my earlier Alice time. I credit my enduring interest in folk music and traditional jazz to three main influences:

  • My parents – both into music, albeit classical; as a child in both Sydney and Melbourne I was introduced to symphony concerts;
    ABC radio – during my childhood “the wireless” had School Broadcasts and, on weekday afternoons, the Children’s Hour; both promoted singing and many of the songs were traditional;
  • International jazz and folk revival movements were occurring during my impressionable teenage years; I became immersed in both.

Fascination with folk music fits nicely with appreciation of cultural heritage. I’m unsure whether the one led directly to the other but I was interested in local history from my earliest Alice time, being particularly taken by the Old Telegraph Station. Helen and I joined the National Trust in the latter 1970s. Being in the local music scene has also afforded many opportunities, for which I am very grateful, to link with heritage activities by playing with friends at such events. In recent years these have included Government House Open Days, Adelaide River Railway Picnics, Coomalie Creek flyins, Goyder Day and John McDouall Stuart celebrations and many others. We always strive to play music appropriate to the occasion.

Helen and I both inherited community service genes. On retirement volunteering seemed the thing to do; the heritage area was an obvious choice. Burnett House needed “sitters” happy to greet visitors, so here I am. Helen helps out waitressing for Afternoon Teas and pots seedlings for Greening Australia. We both volunteer at MAGNT: I lead weekly tours around the wonderful Cyclone Tracy Gallery, neatly connecting my former working life with Darwin’s social history. For a while I was a (paid) Parliament House tour guide, another enlightening interval that provided a great chance to bone up on my Territory history. I also like old cars and belong to the Motor Vehicle Enthusiasts Club, my pride and joy being a 1957 Series I Land-Rover, still registered and running