Stromlo Story

This artistic journey started with a visit to the beautiful Mt Stromlo Observatory, perched on a large hill in suburban Canberra, Australia's National Capital. In 1911, just two years before Canberra was proclaimed, a small observatory was established to test the viability of Mt Stromlo as a future permanent observatory for the fledging capital.  The first Commonwealth building built in Canberra was for the Oddie Telescope. The complex is now home to the ANU's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and consists of telescope domes, a director's residence, office buildings and a visitor centre. 

 

The Oddie Telescope Building is shaped like a cross with a central room which housed the telescope. It used to contain a small kitchen and photography lab.  The Yale-Columbia telescope dome housed a telescope originally from Yale and Columbia Universities, in the US.  The surviving large white dome housed the 74 inch telescope. Mt Stromlo had a workshop, which during World War II, switched from maintaining the telescopes to an Optical Munitions Factory crafting optics for gun sights, telescopes and range finders. Over 25 000 instruments were produced here. From 1944 to 1968 Mt Stromlo was also responsible for the Commonwealth Time Service - keeping a series of clocks accurate to milliseconds. 

The 2003 firestorm ripped through Mount Stromlo complex gutting several of the domes, Director's residence and the intense heat literally melted infrastructure. The fire started in a nearby National Park from lightning strikes. The Emergency Services were unable to control the blaze as it swept across the mountain and went on to destroy 504 Canberra houses and the loss of four lives. 

As an artist, I am interested in the regrowth and regeneration of the site from charred ashes and vegetation to a thriving tree covered mountain top. The building remnants provide an interesting study of the slow decay of this semi urban environment. The rust, stained concrete and brilliant white and curve of the domes make a contrast with the grey-green bush. While the astronomers look to the stars, I am fascinated about the colour and texture this landscape is producing.  

Mt Stromlo
View from Mt Stromlo
74 inch telescope Dome
Oddie Telescope Building
Yale-Columbia Dome
Yale-Columbia Bolt
Yale-Columbia pink concrete
Yale-Columbia Caramel Concrete
Oddie Telescope Mount
Yale-Columbia Bolt
Yale-Columbia mount
74 inch Dome and sundial
74 inch Dome

Story information - with thanks to ANU Mount Stromlo Heritage Trail

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© 2017 Helen Pizzano

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