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The Australian National University

The Director's Residence

Now open to the public from 9.00am-5.00pm every day - The Residence provides visitors with a unique experience.

Joan and Doris Duffield gardening during the construction of the Director’s Residence 1927/28 (Duffield Family)
Façade of Residence post fire, 2003 (Tim Borough)
Director’s Residence, 2015

Stabilisation of Director's residence

The Director's Residence was severely damaged by the 2003 Canberra fire storm and for more than ten years remained untouched with its condition continuing to worsen.

In 2013, a generous grant from the Commonwealth Government through the 'Your Community Heritage Grants Program', which was then matched by ANU, provided the opportunity to stabilise the structure, arrest further deterioration, allow public access and interpret the unique heritage values of the place.

The stabilisation works were carefully planned with expert architectural, heritage and structural advice, adhering to best-practice guidelines including the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter which recommends a careful approach, to 'do as much as necessary, but as little as possible'.

While many of the interventions, such as steel beams, brackets and lintels are clearly visible, they are essential in supporting the structure. The replica roof, windows and doors ensure the building is secure and weatherproof. While this is not a complete restoration, the work undertaken to date is non-abortive and allows for future uses of the building.

The Maid's Sitting Room remains exactly in its post fire condition. In this room, you can see the original wall plaster, the line of the timber picture rail and the old oil heater panel. Elsewhere in the building you may be able to spot more areas in original condition such as bathrooms, fireplaces, and the brick piers - see if you can find an old toilet roll holder still in place.

Interpretation of the Director's residence

Original plans of the Director’s Residence (National Archives of Australia)
Living room and Master bedroom (Image: Stuart Hay, ANU)
Dining room showing 'Eyes on the Skies' installation (Image: Stuart Hay, ANU)

A major component of the restoration project was the development of four audio and visual installations which interpret and communicate this diverse history of Mt Stromlo Observatory and the Residence itself.

Developed by ESEM Projects, the installations are separated into key interpretive themes:

A home on the hill

While the Mt Stromlo Observatory is well known as a place for science, it was also a village, where the astronomers, engineers, staff and their families lived. 'A Home on the Hill' is a multifaceted soundscape illustrating the domestic life of Stromlo and the Director's Residence. The soundscape includes oral history recordings with former and current staff and residents of Mt Stromlo, and those with a close relationship to the site including Professor Penny Sackett, Professor Brian Schmidt, Claire and Hermann Wehner, Dr Ragbir Bhatal and readings of the memoirs of Miss Joan Duffield, daughter of founding Director, W.G Duffield and former occupant of the Residence.

The people of Mt Stromlo

A visual installation showcasing some of the well-known and lesser known faces of the Mount Stromlo Observatory including the Directors, astronomers, engineers, staff, students and residents. This installation is displayed in a replica telescope control panel. Compiled by ESEM Projects.

Eyes on the skies

A two way audio visual installation centred on the Observatory's significant contribution to the fields of Astronomy and Astrophysics. This installation includes readings of a significant Ngunawal dreaming story - Why the Emu Can't Fly, historic images of the Observatory and stunning views from the telescopes. Compiled by ESEM Projects.

Wildfire, wildlife

An audio-visual installation illustrating the natural, physical, social and emotional impact of major fire events on the site. This installation uses oral history recordings, historic and recent images, news reel footage and music. Compiled by ESEM Projects.

Landscape works

The Director's Residence was once the social heart of Mount Stromlo. The immaculate grounds hosted parties, functions for visiting dignitaries, and other special events. The landscape was primarily in the European domestic style with large established trees, manicured lawns, a formal patio, rose garden, orchard, arbour and even a croquet lawn.

Following the 2003 fires, most of the landscape features and plantings were destroyed. What you see at the site today is a modern interpretation of the original landscape, taking inspiration from recorded memories and historic images of the site.

Stromlo had, and continues to have a strong sense of community, and many staff and residents fondly remember regular croquet games as a rich part of the site's social history. As the site context has changed dramatically since that time, landscape elements such as the croquet lawn are not in their original location, however the reinstatement of an element so strongly linked to the site's history was seen to be important in interpreting the past and invigorating the use of the site into the future.

Updated:  28 November 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director, Facilities & Services Division/Page Contact:  Systems & Information Technology