The goal of the GMT project is to restore the telescope to working order so that it may be used for educational and public viewing.
In August 2008, the Astronomical Society of Victoria, Museum Victoria and Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne signed a memorandum of understanding to pursue the feasibility of restoring the GMT and reinstating it in its original building at the former Melbourne Observatory site, adjacent to the Botanic Gardens.
The project will conduct a careful, step by step approach to test all aspects of the financial and technical feasibility. There are many challenges – technical, operational and funding – and these will be jointly resolved as we go along.
Each partner brings distinctive expertise and oversight to the project:
- The ASV brings astronomical, optical and engineering skills, and has a membership willing to volunteer to assist with the project.
- The RBG has responsibility for the former Melbourne Observatory site, and brings heritage and public program skills.
- Museum Victoria has responsibility for the GMT as part of its collection, and brings curatorial, conservation, engineering, education and interpretation skills.
The project is overseen by a Great Melbourne Telescope Project Coordination Committee, comprising:
- Barry Adcock, Astronomical Society of Victoria
- Matthew Churchward, Senior Curator & GMT Project Manager, Museum Victoria
- Professor Tim Entwisle, Director & CEO, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
- Dr Richard Gillespie, Head, History & Technology, Museum Victoria
- Dr Robin Hirst, Director, Collections, Research & Exhibitions, Museum Victoria
- George Littlewood, Secretary
- Jim Pollock, Astronomical Society of Victoria
The GMT Conservation & Restoration Team comprises:
- Barry Adcock, joint Mechanical Team Leader
- Steve Bentley, Electrical Team Leader
- Barry Clark, joint Mechanical Team Leader
- Barry Cleland
- Arthur Coombs, Optical Team Leader
- David Crotty, Curator, Engineering, Museum Victoria
- Jim Pollock, Chair ASV GMT Reconstruction Sub-Committee
- Helen Privett, Senior Conservator, Museum Victoria
- Neville Quick, Manager, Collection Facilities, Museum Victoria
- Steve Roberts, Support Leader
Invaluable assistance is being provided by volunteers from the Astronomical Society of Victoria and Museum Victoria specialist staff.
Recovering the Telescope
The GMT was recovered from Mount Stromlo Observatory in two stages.
Museum Victoria recovered more than half of the telescope from Mount Stromlo in 1984; these parts included a primary mirror, half of the telescope tube, setting circles, counterweights, bearings, load reduction assemblies and parts and a grinding and polishing machine for the speculum mirrors. The polar and declination axis assembly, and north and south pier supports remained at Stromlo as part of the rebuilt 50 Inch Telescope.
The bushfire that swept across Mount Stromlo destroyed all the major telescopes and many of the buildings. In the case of the 50 Inch Telescope, the aluminium dome itself caught fire and melted onto the telescope. Temperatures reached an estimated 500ºC, shattering its Pyrex glass mirror. The steel struts were softened, causing parts of the structure to sag. Only the large iron castings from the GMT, bent metal and broken glass remained.
The Astronomical Society of Victoria (ASV) and Museum Victoria (MV) discussed the future of the 50 Inch with the Mount Stromlo Observatory, and in 2008 it was agreed that the remaining parts of the original GMT could be returned to Melbourne. This decision also had to be approved by the Commonwealth Government, as the 50 Inch Telescope was on the National Heritage Register as a significant part of Mount Stromlo’s history.
A recovery team made up of Mount Stromlo staff, MV and the ASV dismantled the telescope parts for transport in November 2008.
Conservation & Restoration
Restoring the telescope for educational and public viewing means that the team will need to balance conservation principles (maintaining the existing state of the telescope) with restoration (returning the telescope to working order using original parts). In addition, some elements may need to be replaced entirely, either because they are missing or their use would potentially damage the original part.
The initial step is to assess each part of the telescope, analysing it in terms of its suitability for re-use and need for repair. The team is also documenting the condition and measuring each of the parts, so that detailed engineering drawings can be prepared.
The current engineering and conservation assessments will contribute to the development of a Conservation Management Plan. The final plan will be influenced by the proposed restoration approaches, given the proposed use and location of the telescope. The plan will be developed using the principles outlined in the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance, The Burra Charter, 2013.
The original house built for the GMT remains on the former Melbourne Observatory site, and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
When Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944 and the GMT was shipped to Mount Stromlo, the GMT House was taken over by the Victorian government’s Weights and Measures Branch. Several changes have occurred to the building since 1944. The original bluestone telescope piers were removed, the photographic stage at the north end was dismantled, and other rooms and structures were added to the building.
The Royal Botanic Gardens has commissioned a condition assessment and restoration plan for the building by conservation architects Lovell Chen. Their report shows that the building is structurally sound and that there are no major impediments to restoring the building. The major tasks will be to reinstate the telescope piers, remove some later additions, enable the roll-off roof to once more operate, and to reinstate the photographic stage.