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The Australian National University

Timeline of Mt Stromlo

Over 20,000 years ago

Aboriginal occupation in the Canberra region for over 20,000 years. Evidence of occupation of the lower slopes of Mt Stromlo.

From 1824

Pastoralisation of Stromlo area

View of Molonglo Valley, 1832 by Robert Hoddle (National Library of Australia)


Walter Geoffrey Duffield first identifies the opportunity for an Australian solar observatory in 1905. In 1908 he returns from his studies in England and a 'Solar Research' conference in Oxford with the plan to establish a solar observatory in Australia.

Walter Geoffrey Duffield (Mt Stromlo Archives)


With support from the Commonwealth Government, Mt Stromlo is tentatively chosen as a potentially suitable site for an Observatory.

Federal Survey Camp, 1910 (National Library of Australia)


In 1911, the first observatory building is constructed to test the suitability of the Mt Stromlo site. The Oddie Dome is the first Federal building to be constructed in the ACT.

In 1913, following test observations, Government Astronomer Pietro Baracchi praises the conditions of the site, and the federal government provides an 'in principle' agreement to establish Mt Stromlo as the Commonwealth Observatory.

Oddie Dome, 1911 (National Archives of Australia)


The First World War hinders the development of the Observatory.

Plans for Kite House at Stromlo, 1914 (National Archives of Australia)


Meteorological observer J.C Cotterill and his family move into the Oddie Dome in 1920, becoming Stromlo's first permanent residents.

Oddie Dome, 1920s (National Archives of Australia)


The Federal Government confirms the establishment of Mt Stromlo as the Commonwealth Solar Observatory. Duffield is appointed as the CSO's first director.

Walter and Doris Duffield (Mt Stromlo Archives)


The main CSO building is completed. The astronomers begin moving equipment from the Observatory's temporary housing within the Hotel Canberra.

Commonwealth Solar Observatory, 1920s (National Archives of Australia)


Observatory staff relocate to Mt Stromlo as the residential buildings are completed.

First measurements made with Farnham Telescope.

The Director's residence is completed in 1928. The Duffield family move in.

The 30" Reynolds Telescope is completed in 1929, becoming Stromlo's first reflecting telescope, and the largest operational telescope in the southern hemisphere.

W.G. Duffield is struck with influenza, dies died on the 1st August 1929 at Stromlo. He is buried on the ridge, beyond the Oddie telescope.

Bill Rimmer is appointed Officer-in-charge.

House 19, Mt Stromlo (National Archives of Australia)


The Heliostat (Sun Telescope) is completed. Telescope is used by Clabon Allen in analysing stellar spectra and developing Solar Atlas.

Clabon (Cla) Allen using the Heliostat (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Richard van der Reit Woolley is appointed as the Observatory's new director. An Observatory Advisory Board is also formed to guide the facility's work.

Richard van der Riet Woolley (Mt Stromlo Archives)


The Second World War dramatically changes the role of the observatory. The CSO operates Optical Munitions Factory, designing and manufacturing gun-sights and other equipment to aid the war effort. The Observatory swells in size - a number of new workshops are constructed, and the staff numbers grow from 10 to 70.

Optical Munitions manufacture at Stromlo, 1940s (Mt Stromlo Archives)


The Observatory acquires responsibility for the Commonwealth Time Service in 1944.

The Observatory acquires the Great Melbourne Telescope in 1944 and begins construction of its dome.

Director Woolley shifts the focus from solar to stellar astronomy. He begins negotiations to acquire more suitable telescopes.

Commonwealth Time Service at Stromlo (Mt Stromlo Archives)


A February bushfire attacks Mt Stromlo, workshops and part of the CSO building are destroyed.

Bushfire at Stromlo (Mt Stromlo Archives)


The 26-inch Yale-Columbia Telescope is made operational in 1955.

In 1955 Stromlo's largest telescope, the 74-inch reflector commences operation.

In conjunction with the University of Uppsala in Sweden, the Uppsala Schmidt telescope is erected at Mt Stromlo.

The Australian National University assumes control of the Observatory from the Department of the Interior, and the name is formally changed to Mount Stromlo Observatory.

Bart Bok is appointed Director of the Observatory, and Head of the ANU's Department of Astronomy.

Construction of 74 inch dome (Wehner Collection, Mt Stromlo Archives)


An IBM 610 computer is rented to assist in the analysis of data. It is the first computer to be used by the ANU.

Computer work at Stromlo, this is not the IBM 610 (Mt Stromlo Archives)


The Duffield Building is constructed to accommodate research students and staff.


The Siding Spring Observatory is officially opened in the Warrubungles, near Coonabarabran.

Siding Spring Observatory, 1960s (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Olin Eggen is appointed as the fourth Observatory Director in 1966. Eggen shifts the focus of the Observatory to understanding the formation and evolution of the Milky Way galaxy.

Olin Eggen (Mt Stromlo Archives)


In 1968, the Commonwealth Time Service departs the Observatory.


Don Mathewson becomes the Observatory's fifth director.

Don Mathewson (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Uppsala Schmidt telescope moves to Siding Spring Observatory.

Removal of Uppsala Schmidt to Siding Spring, 1981 (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Stromlo scientists Mike Bessell and John Norris discover the oldest star, a record which stands for over 20 years. The same team reclaimed this title in 2014.


Mt Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories separate from the Research School of Physical Sciences to become an independent centre within the ANU.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke and other dignitaries visit Mt Stromlo to observe the close approach of Halley's Comet.

Alex Rodgers becomes Acting Director, before being confirmed as the sixth Director of Mt Stromlo in 1992.

Halley’s Comet, 1986 (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Mt Stromlo embarks on the MACHO project (Massive Astronomical Compact Halo Objects), in an attempt to solve the mystery of the Universe's missing mass 'dark matter'.

Great Melbourne Telescope in use for MACHO project (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Jeremy Mould is appointed as the seventh Director.


The Woolley Building is constructed to accommodate the growing numbers of staff and students working at the Observatory.


The Mt Stromlo Visitor's Centre or 'Exploratory' is opened.

Hermann Wehner shows visitors through the Exploratory, 1990s (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Following observations of supernovae, Mt Stromlo researcher Brian Schmidt (along with two other astronomers from the United States) publishes evidence that the Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

The Satellite Laser Ranger Observatory is installed on Mt Stromlo. It is built and operated by Electro Optic Systems Pty Ltd for Geoscience Australia.

EOS Satellite Ranging Facility (Mt Stromlo Archives)


Penny Sackett is appointed as the Observatory's eighth Director.


On the 18th January, Mt Stromlo Observatory is devastated by bushfire. Telescopes, workshops, the original Observatory Building, the Director's Residence and many of the original houses are destroyed.

Bushfires at Stromlo (Actew)


Three small telescopes with domes are constructed in 2005 on the site of the former Workshops for use in visitor outreach.

Outreach Telescopes (Mt Stromlo Archives


In 2006, the first phase of construction is completed on the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre (AITC) which will continue the design and manufacturing of astronomical instruments.

Advance Instrumentation and Technology Centre (RSAA)


Harvey Butcher takes on the role of Director.


Mt Stromlo astronomers and engineers join an international partnership to build the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile.

Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)


Mt Stromlo's Professor Brian Schmidt and his research partners are awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics


Matthew Colless is appointed the Observatory's tenth Director.


The Mt Stromlo Heritage Trail is launched. The Director's Residence is partially restored.

Updated:  17 October 2014/Responsible Officer:  Director, Facilities & Services Division/Page Contact:  Systems & Information Technology