ANU Hidden Gems - A founder's grave

Publication date
Monday, 30 Oct 2017

Nestled amongst the wild grasses, white domes and the scientific equipment atop Mount Stromlo sits a peaceful, humble nod of respect to the site's founder Dr Walter Duffield.

The Duffield family grave sits along a slightly hidden and modest path, down the hill from the Visitors Centre in a semi-private spot.

If you're not familiar with the complete history of the Duffields and their connection to the site and ANU, there are a few in-depth articles such as this one from the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Needless to say the family name is synonymous with science students, staff and the broader Canberra community, given the Duffields were well-known not just in scientific circles but in Canberra's circles too.

"They were the first guests in what was then called the Hotel Canberra," said Mount Stromlo Astronomer Dr Brad Tucker.

"The first entry in the guest book is by Walter Duffield, as the official observatory headquarters were in the Hotel Canberra while the main buildings were built at Mt Stromlo in the mid 20's."

Like most of the infrastructure and original telescopes at Mount Stromlo, the Duffield gravesite was severely damaged in the 2003 bushfires. The fence surrounding the grave was destroyed, as was a cross that was standing over the plot. Metal-embossed letters used on the plaques sitting over the grave were also melted in the fire. The site, including the plaques have since been extensively restored. (Check out these photos of the site, our thanks to Mount Stromlo Observatory's staff for sharing this fantastic archive of images.)

In 2014 Walter Duffield's daughter Joan was interned at the gravesite, after she passed away at the remarkable age of 104.

"Joan was a long-time patron and donor of the Observatory, and we still benefit today via scholarships and endowments from the Duffield family," Dr Tucker said.

"It is only fitting they are resting on site, watching over the observatory they built."

The slightly hidden and modest path leading to the gravesite of one of Canberra and Astronomy's most influential families is a fitting symbol. Given all that the Observatory has been through since the 2003 fires, the gravesite sits as a reminder of the past, and a symbol of a never-ending commitment to astronomy in the ACT.

Not only is the site a hidden gem, but Walter Duffield and his family are as well.