The growth, destruction and rebirth of Stromlo

31 May 2013

A Federal Government grant of almost $500,000 has been awarded to The Australian National University for restoration work to commence on the 1920s Director’s Residence at Mount Stromlo Observatory.

When the firestorm of January 2003 ravaged the nation’s capital, much of the two-storey brick home was destroyed – seemingly beyond repair.

While still bearing the scars of the fires 10 years ago, the Your Community Heritage Grant will help restore the old-world charm of the heritage-listed home, and provide safe public access to the building.

A second government grant, of $25,000 will help develop an interactive heritage trail and smartphone app to engage visitors and communicate the scientific and cultural heritage of the site.

Federal Member for Canberra Ms Gai Brodtmann MP said the residence was an important piece of Australia’s history.

“This grant recognises the significance of the Mt Stromlo Observatory not just to Canberra, but to the nation,” Ms Brodtmann said.

“By restoring the Director’s Residence as a managed ruin, we will be able to understand its many lives, and the travails of its long and remarkable history.”

ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics Director Professor Matthew Colless welcomed the funding, saying the project and the Residence captures Stromlo’s rich history and exciting future plans.

“The old Director’s Residence has witnessed the growth, destruction and rebirth of Mount Stromlo Observatory,” Professor Colless said.

“Thanks to this generous new funding, ANU can take the final step in the reconstruction of Stromlo. We will preserve this heritage site and share its memories with the public, and with posterity.

“Stromlo will continue to grow as an iconic astronomical research institution, as a precinct for advanced technology in the space sciences, and as a centre for public education and outreach.

“We hope that the Director’s Residence will therefore bear witness to an exciting future as well as an illustrious past.”

The Director’s Residence was designed by Henry Maitland Rolland from the Commonwealth Department of Public Works and was built for WG Duffield, the Observatory’s first Director.

It was built between 1925 and 1929 and was often a hive of activity throughout the years, with many gatherings held at the home, including events for royalty and politicians.

The restoration project will take about 18 months to complete and will include stabilisation of the ruin, addition of a roof, windows and doors for weatherproofing, landscaping and other repairs.

ANU Heritage Officer Amy Guthrie said the project was an unprecedented opportunity for an iconic part of Mount Stromlo.

“This project aims to make the structure safe, and provide visitors with an interactive and new experience. The development of an interactive heritage trail and smart phone app will also link the Director’s Residence to the wider Stromlo site and explain the complex history there, the relationships between the buildings and provide detailed interpretation and explanation of the site today,” Miss Guthrie said.