Restoration Project

The goal of the Great Melbourne Telescope 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 Great Melbourne Telescope and reinstating it in its original building at the former Melbourne Observatory site, adjacent to the Botanic Gardens.

The project is overseen by:

  • Maryanne McCubbin, Project Executive, Head of Strategic Collection Management, Museum Victoria
  • Professor Tim Entwisle, Director & CEO, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
  • Jim Pollock, Restoration Director, Astronomical Society of Victoria
Metal builder's plate
Thomas Grubb’s builder’s plate on the Great Melbourne Telescope following the 2003 bushfires at Mount Stromlo.
Source: Mount Stromlo & Siding Springs Observatories, Australian National University

Restoration Team

The current Great Melbourne Telescope Conservation & Restoration Team comprises: Barry Adcock (ASV), Jenny Andropoulos (ASV), Graeme Bannister (ASV), Ian Barry (ASV), Barry Clark (ASV), Matthew Churchward (MV), Barry Cleland (ASV), Bob Crosthwaite (ASV), Campbell Johns (ASV), Frank Marian (ASV), Steve Pattie (ASV), Jim Pollock (ASV), Mal Poulton (ASV), Steve Roberts (ASV), Simon Brink (MV), Laurie Goodison (ASV), Chet Yilmaz (ASV), Naomi Arndt-Cooper (ASV), Ken Woolhouse (ASV), Allan Davies (Swinburne), Jessica Widjaja (Swinburne), Wei Zheng Ong (Swinburne), Nathan Andersen (Swinburne), Phillip Gossip (Swinburne), Jai Cornes (Swinburne), Son Hoang (Monash University), Ujashkumar Patel (The University of Melbourne)

Recovering the Telescope

The Great Melbourne Telescope 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 Great Melbourne Telescope, 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 Great Melbourne Telescope 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 restoration is being carried out in accordance with the principles outlined in the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance, The Burra Charter, 2013.

Great Melbourne Telescope House

The original house built for the Great Melbourne Telescope remains on the former Melbourne Observatory site and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

After the Melbourne Observatory closed in 1944, the Telescope House was taken over by the Victorian government’s Weights and Measures Branch. Several changes have been made 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 Telescope house is now being restored in preparation for a return of the Great Melbourne Telescope.