Great Melbourne Telescope To See Night Again.
The draughty timber building used as a dressing room by Shakespearean performers at the Royal Botanic Gardens was the scene of much 19th-century drama.
It housed the Great Melbourne Telescope, a British scientific icon that Victoria wrested off colonial rivals Tasmania, New South Wales and South Africa after industrious political and scientific lobbying and £5000 from the Treasury vaults. The telescope, feared lost at sea when it arrived late in 1868 and then damaged in the 2003 Canberra bushfires, has survived its fire and tempest and will return to Melbourne Observatory after a worldwide scavenger hunt.
When the distinctive metal lattice tube of the GMT is next raised like a gun barrel to the sky, it will do so on a metal bearing scrounged from the US military.
The volunteer astronomers working on the telescope in a museum warehouse in Coburg have much work to do.
”But it is not insurmountable,” says science historian Richard Gillespie, who represents Museum Victoria on a restoration committee.
Some parts are being rebuilt or acquired from elsewhere, such as the mirror, which might cost $300,000 to buy as new.
The planning process for international astronomy projects hasn’t changed much in 140 years.
Scientists are waiting to hear if a London committee favours an Australian plan to build 3000 radio telescopes for a $2.5 billion price tag, or the rival bid for the Square Kilometre Array from South Africa.
But the restoration of the Great Melbourne Telescope requires no assent from the mother country and will be managed on a more modest budget. Mr Gillespie says the work to restore the GMT at its original site comes as Australia takes part in a new golden age of astronomy.
He cites the Nobel prize for physics awarded to ANU researcher Brian Schmidt last year and Australia’s $100 million pledge to help build the Giant Magellan Telescope on a mountaintop in Chile. Mr Gillespie details the story of the telescope in his book, The Great Melbourne Telescope, published last year.
There were some remarkable achievements for an advanced scientific instrument that had a nebulous public purpose. Its operation was mocked in the press in the early years, and the first two observers on the telescope quit after short tenures.
It was regarded by the Royal Society of London as a remote colonial field office, to send information back to Britain, rather than have it studied by local scientists.
Video: Great Melbourne Telescope
Mr Gillespie says the restored Melbourne telescope will be an invaluable educational tool. He estimates at least $1 million is required to rebuild the telescope. The committee has not actively lobbied for funds, and has yet to set a deadline. He says it is part of a much larger project involving the redevelopment of Observatory Gate at the Royal Botanic Gardens.
- The Anglo-Australian Telescope (davidreneke.com)