A new forecast
Rob Gell refers to his career on TV as his Jekyll and Hyde period. But although he is faintly penitent about the years he spent in front of the cameras, he has channelled the ensuing notoriety towards raising awareness about environmental sustainability.
Rob Gell attended Koonung Secondary College and Camberwell Grammar School in the ’60s, and the University of Melbourne in the ’70s where he picked up a degree in science, then began his television career in 1979.
At the time, he was one of only a few weathermen with a degree in science. “I was approached by Channel O at the time (Channel 10). Their argument was that somebody new needed to present the weather. But they had the idea that they didn’t want somebody from showbusiness who knew all about how to present, but nothing about the weather, and they didn’t want somebody from the weather bureau who knew everything about the weather, but nothing about how to present it,” recalls Mr Gell.
“They were looking for a teacher-type person. They found me, teaching physical geography and environmental science, using maps and diagrams to tell stories.”
But aside from his personable storytelling abilities, Mr Gell was also known for his innovative approach to the production of weather forecasts.
“In those days I used to pick up two halves of a printed satellite photograph, stick them together with sticky tape, take a picture of them and put them to air,” he says.
“Two of the things I did, that hadn’t been done in the world, was to say to the TV station, ‘Well, why don’t we take the pressure analysis and put it on top of the satellite photograph’. So, we worked out how to do that and that’s something they do today. Not very well, frankly,” Mr Gell says with a laugh.
Next, he worked out a way to generate animated satellite imagery.
“I had a hard copy of the satellite photograph and I thought, if I keep today’s one and I get them to give me tomorrow afternoon’s one and the next morning’s one, I could do a video recording dissolve and I could make those clouds move,” Mr Gell says.
Moving across the free-to-air networks, he was part of Aussie living rooms for over 30 years, before deciding that it was time to retire from public life and focus solely on his passion for environmental sustainability.
“I wish I’d finished 10 years earlier,” Mr Gell reveals. “But TV gives you an opportunity to build a public profile to use valuably and positively. Today, although I am an old man now, it’s amazing how many chairman, MDs and CEOs will take an email or call from me, which is good for business.
“My view is that there are a number of issues that we seriously need to address as a species about the way we operate and if I can talk to an MD who is going to control a business and induct some positive change, then I’ve done a good thing.”
While on TV, Mr Gell did plenty of good behind the scenes. He travelled to Antarctica, wrote books and campaigned relentlessly for the environment. He was on the board of the Australian Conservation Foundation for a decade, and he started his own environmental consultancy in 1993, which became ReThink Sustainability in 2017.
According to Mr Gell, building ReThink was about returning to his roots.
Together with his business partner, Justin McFarlane, the pair came up with ReThink to encourage businesses to think of sustainability as a mainstream concern. Now joined by David Lynch as CEO, ReThink partners with companies producing a range of phenomenal, environmentally friendly technologies, with the aim to deliver tailored solutions to local businesses looking to transition into outcome-oriented sustainable practices.
Among ReThink’s pool of partners is a producer of a pollution-absorbing paint, which turns ordinary walls into completely natural air puriﬁers.
Questioned about the value his company conveys to its clients and the environment, Mr Gell tells Public Accountant about a well-known cheese producer that turned to ReThink to reduce the amount of energy they consume.
Following a process that included the installation of smart lights, new boilers and 100 kilowatts of solar, this cheese producer saw their energy budget shrink by 72.8 per cent. Despite the obvious beneﬁts, Mr Gell explains that environmentally aware people are tackling a “deplorable” situation in Australia.
“Half of the country thinks that climate change is bunk … It’s because of our lack of political leadership on the issue. Climate change is a real issue and businesses need to understand that they need to do this,” Mr Gell opines.
“The number of businesses, like my friend the cheese maker, who was whinging about his costs yet had done nothing about it. People just can’t be bothered; small businesses are just too busy running their business.”
He also speaks about the pride he felt while walking the streets of Melbourne on 20 September as part of the Global Climate Strike.
“I was in the last call up for Vietnam and we had 100,000 people in the streets in Melbourne twice in 1971. So, this recent march in Melbourne has been the ﬁrst time since then we’ve had that many people on the streets” Mr Gell recalls. “I was fascinated to see not only school kids, but blokes in suits just standing quietly as part of the group in Treasury Gardens.”
He admits he has faith that “people will work it out”.
“We have to understand that the planet my granddaughter is going to inherit is not one that is liveable in the terms that I’ve understood in my lifetime,” Mr Gell says. “This is not about anyone’s beliefs. This is gas laws and physics.”