Walter Geoffrey Duffield (1924-1929)

Duffield was the natural choice for the first Director of the Commonwealth Solar Observatory – he had spent almost twenty years lobbying for its existence. In 1905, the Adelaide-born astronomer presented this idea at a meeting of the International Union for Cooperation in Solar Research in Oxford. He argued that an Australian solar observatory would fill the gap in observations of the Sun between the United States and India, allowing astronomers to continually monitor the Sun’s behaviour.

Duffield and his family arrived at Mount Stromlo in December 1923, but construction of the main CSO building and the residential houses were behind schedule. The Hotel Canberra served as the astronomers’ living quarters and offices until the observatory buildings were completed. Duffield commuted regularly between Canberra and Melbourne as he negotiated funding, acquired telescopes, and oversaw construction. His ambition for the Observatory was clear:

“We should take our place among the great observatories of the world. It is even possible that we may lay the foundation of a lens-making industry . . . which would make periscopes for submarines, range-finders, theodolites and field glasses.”

Duffield’s determination, vision, and skills of negotiation turned this into a reality and set the foundations for the world-class facility that Mount Stromlo was to become.

The Duffield family moved into the Director’s Residence, then known as ‘Observatory House’, in 1928. They hosted musical evenings for staff and entertained visitors such as Prime Minister Scullin and the Prince of Siam. Dr Geoffrey Duffield caught influenza in the cold winter of 1929. With the mountain road blocked by snow, Duffield could not be moved to hospital. He died on the 1 August and as he had requested, was buried on the ridge beyond the Oddie Dome.