Olin J. Eggen (1966-1977)

Mount Stromlo’s fifth Director, Olin Eggen, was a ‘scientific nomad’ who worked in Observatories in the United States, England, South Africa, Australia and Chile over his illustrious career. Eggen did not need to apply for the Mount Stromlo position – he had developed an impressive reputation with the publication of a seminal paper: ‘Evidence from the motions of old stars that the Galaxy collapsed’. On the University's invitation, Eggen took up the position of Director in 1966.

Eggen had a love for astronomy. He said it afforded him a ‘very pleasant life . . . a life on the dome floor, in the dark.’ He was less enamoured with the administration duties of his new position. It is said he often spent the entire night observing, and then slept until 4pm, leaving only an hour to deal with university administration. Eggen focussed on bolstering the Observatory’s intellectual reputation. He hired a range of highly proficient astronomers, including Mike Bessell, Don Faulkner and John Norris. Eggen actively encouraged scientific contribution – the rate of published papers more than doubled when he was in charge. He even published 99 papers himself during his 11-year directorship.

Eggen’s directorship was only soured by his negotiations for control of the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT). The previous director Bart Bok had lobbied for this joint British and Australian 3.8m telescope to be located at Siding Spring Observatory. As a board member of the AAT, Eggen vehemently argued that ANU should have sole control of the telescope’s research program. He lost this battle, and astronomer Ben Gascoigne remarked that “a great rift developed between Stromlo and the rest of Australian Astronomy . . . it was years before Stromlo was accepted back into the fold.”

Eggen resigned from the position of Director in 1977, and immediately accepted a position as an astronomer at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, where he remained for the last 21 years of his life. But he noted that ‘Australia still retains its allure’ and continued to return to Mount Stromlo for a month every year until his death in 1998.