Funding setback hits observatory

volunteers to fill gaps
volunteers to fill gaps

Only the support of loyal volunteers will prevent the closure of the Bickley Observatory, which has served the State for the past 118 years.

The observatory was entered on the State’s Heritage Register in 2005 in recognition of its scientific, cultural and historical significance.

It remains involved in public education, with assistance from the Perth Observatory Volunteer Group.

A DPAW spokeswoman confirmed last week that the only staff member to be retained at the observatory would be a caretaker.

Perth astronomers and stargazers said they were devastated that observatory staff had lost their jobs.

‘WA has no government or public-owned site to look at the stars other than this location,’ freelance astronomer and lecturer Richard Tonello said.

‘This site is a very important part of the astronomy map in world terms because there is no other observatory at this latitude or longitude.’

Mr Tonello said that the State’s only other major site to peer into the heavens was Gingin Observatory, which was privately owned.

‘We don’t want the observatory to be closed down because good science is done here,’ he said. ‘If it is, it will be a very sad day in the history of the State.’

Other volunteer scientists agreed that work done at the observatory was ‘very important’.

‘WA is a very important part of the work done and it is necessary that we still have a fully functioning observatory here,’ one retired volunteer said.

The DPAW spokeswoman said the observatory would not close and would continue to provide star viewing nights to the public.

‘The Department of Parks and Wildlife is looking at options for the continued provision of services, including a community partnership arrangement,’ the spokeswoman said.

‘Discussions are under way with the Perth Observatory Volunteer Group, who have indicated they are interested in an arrangement to continue the community engagement functions of the observatory.’

She said the functions would be staffed on a voluntary basis by the Perth Observatory Volunteer Group, which included many retired scientists.

The spokeswoman confirmed that the observatory’s caretaker would continue to be employed and would live on the premises.

‘The fact that volunteers are being given the chance to run the facility now is a good thing,’ Mr Tonello said.