Four-and-a-half years after the original lodgings at Siding Spring Observatory were destroyed in the Wambelong bushfire, a state-of-the-art accommodation facility has been officially opened at the site.
Representatives from the Australian National University (ANU) were joined by staff and members of the community to help inaugurate the Lodge on Friday, 23 June.
The former building, a temporary home to visiting astronomers, was destroyed along with two other buildings - the Fire Station and the Director’s Cottage - in the same blaze that razed 54 homes and 95 per cent of the Warrumbungle National Park.
ANU Vice-Chancellor and Nobel-winning astrophysicist, Professor Brian Schmidt, said 13 January, 2013 was a date he would never forget.
“We were able to watch the bushfire electronically,” Professor Schmidt said.
“I remember seeing the fire build up that day and I was concerned.
“As the night fell, I remember looking up at the glow from the site and we knew something was alight and we suspected it was the Lodge.”
Professor Schmidt said while fire could destroy buildings, the discoveries made by the great academics at Siding Spring Observatory could never be deleted from the global understanding of astronomy, astrophysics and space science.
“The buildings signify our belief that this knowledge has life- changing, real-world application, as well as the potential to inspire people around the world to support and work in science.”
Having spent many months working “on the mountain” during his career, Professor Schmidt said it was a place where you could do great things.
“Siding Spring is a thriving site, leading the world with some impactful papers, with many different things just waiting to be discovered.
“This building is a large investment in the future and signifies ANU’s ongoing commitment to
discovering what lies beyond our own world.
“Having accommodation on the mountain, means that we can do a wider variety of activities in addition to the work we do at night...when it’s not cloudy!”
The newly-constructed Lodge offers 18 private ensuite double rooms, combined with a library, lounge and seminar room, offering spectacular views over the Warrumbungle National Park.
The building features current bushfire protection measures, including ember shields on all windows, while lighting restrictions have also been incorporated, with block- out blinds on all windows and a special “push button” lighting system along walkways.
ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics director, Matthew Colless, said the new Lodge would ensure that Siding Spring Observatory’s position was one of the best places in the world for scientists to visit and conduct astronomy.
“Astronomers work unsociable hours in remote locations, but the new lodge will ensure that they have the best possible facilities to enable them to focus on the science,” Professor Colless said.
Warrumbungle Shire Council mayor, Peter Shinton, ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics director, Professor Matthew Colless, Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Maureen Sullivan, and ANU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brian Schmidt officially opened the Lodge at Siding Spring Observatory on Friday, 23 June. Photo courtesy Stuart Hay, ANU.