The Mount Stromlo Observatory was founded by Joan Duffield's father Walter.

The Mount Stromlo Observatory was founded by Joan Duffield's father Walter.

Recollections of an astronomer's daughter

ANU lost one of its great supporters in November when JOAN DUFFIELD died at the age of 104.

Joan was a long-time supporter of science and astronomy and established two ANU endowments - the Joan Duffield Postgraduate Scholarship and the Duffield Chair in Astronomy.

In 2003, after the Canberra bushfires damaged the observatory's heliostat dome, Joan funded the precision re-engineering of the heliostat.

In an edited extract of her unpublished account of her ties to astronomy, Recollections of an astronomer's daughter, Joan shares her stories about to life in the early days of Canberra and the beginnings of the Mount Stromlo Observatory.

The Mount Stromlo Observatory came into existence through a young man's dream.

In 1905, my father Professor Walter Geoffrey Duffield approached the Government with a proposal that a Commonwealth Observatory be built here in Australia.

At that time, Australia was the only country in the world lacking such an institution, though Melbourne had a small observatory with a 50 inch telescope which, in the early 1950s, was transferred to the observatory on Stromlo. Observatories also existed in Perth, Adelaide and Sydney.

The government was not particularly interested and the matter was shelved.

Undaunted, he decided to write to other observatories and scientific institutions asking for support and advice. Each supported, some offered to provide instruments and others financial assistance. Thus a fund was set up.

Geoffrey Duffield attended St Peter's College and the University of Adelaide, graduated in science and won the Angus scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge.

From there, he lectured in physics at the University of Manchester.

It was not until 1923, when he came out to Australia on sabbatical leave from the University of Reading, that the Australian Government really began to realise how important the project he had in mind was.

After much correspondence, discussion with government ministers and visits to various sites in Australia, the outcome was it should be built on the top of Mount Stromlo, Canberra.

There was no industrial pollution, the skies were mainly cloudless and clear and very suitable for night observation of the stars.

In 1910, an amateur astronomer, James Oddie, and his friend, P Baracchi, an astronomer at the Melbourne Observatory, had set up a small telescope on the top of Mount Stromlo.

Today this telescope still stands within its white dome and is known as the Oddie Telescope.

After much deliberation it was announced that the only man considered suitable to be the founder and pioneer director of the observatory was Professor Duffield.

Naturally, this brought about a very great upheaval in our lives. In 1923 we were all in Australia. We immediately returned to England to sell the house, pack up the furniture and have it shipped out to Canberra.

In September 1924, we set sail for Australia, travelling via America to visit the observatories of British Columbia in Canada and Mt Palomar and Mt Wilson in California.

After stopovers in various places we landed in Auckland to visit relatives. Here my father left us to travel to Sydney to confer with government ministers and to purchase a car.