Perth Observatory

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Old Perth Observatory at Mount Eliza. Now home to the WA branch of the National Trust.

The Perth Observatory is the name of two astronomical observatories located in Western Australia. The original Perth Observatory close to the city and the Bickley Observatory.


First Perth Observatory[edit]

Observatory staff, c.1900. The first Government Astronomer, W. Ernest Cooke is seated at the left. His successor Harold Curlewis, is standing in the light coloured suit

The original Perth Observatory was constructed in 1896 and was officially opened in 1900 by John Forrest, the first premier of Western Australia. The observatory was located at Mount Eliza overlooking the city of Perth. Its chief roles were keeping Standard Time for Western Australia and meteorological data collection.

WA Government Astronomers[edit]

William Ernest Cooke[edit]

William Ernest Cooke was appointed the first Western Australian Government Astronomer in 1896 after a similar posting at the Adelaide Observatory. On arrival in Perth, his first task was to determine the exact latitude and longitude of the colony. He was also able to determine the time of day with greater accuracy. Before his arrival clocks could vary by up to half an hour. The time was announced each day by a cannon still present on the grounds. The design was by the government architect, George Temple-Poole, and features a bold combination of styles.

Harold Burnham Curlewis[edit]

Cooke's successor as Government Astronomer was Harold Curlewis who wrote in 1929:

Since the prevailing winds blow over the huge extent of King's Park, its excellence for astronomical work is not impaired by its proximity to the city, as is so often the case with other observatories. ...A glance from the tower, from which a wonderful panorama of Perth may be obtained, shows that no growth of the city can ever adversely affect observing conditions[1]

Curlewis and the WA border[edit]

In 1920 and 1921 Curlewis was involved with the Government Astronomer of South Australia, Dodwell, in determinations to fix positions for marking of the West Australian border on the ground with the South Australian border at Deakin, Western Australia.[2] In 1921 the same group from the Deakin determinations travelled by the State Ship, MV Bambra to Wyndham, where they were guided by M.P. Durack to a point on Rosewood station near Argyle Downs close to the 129th meridian east longitude (129° east).[2] They used the relatively new technology of the day, wireless radio time signals, and other methods to fix a position for the Northern Territory border with Western Australia.[3]

These early determinations led to the 1968 agreement for the formation of Surveyor Generals Corner and a fact that not many will know, that the WA border is not as straight as you may think.[2] In fact at the 26th parallel south latitude (26° south) latitude there is an approximately 127 metre "sideways" section of the WA/NT border, which runs east-west.[2][3]

Current Government Astronomer[edit]

According to the Perth Observatory website the current Government Astronomer / Observatory Director position is vacant. The last person to act in this position was Ralph Martin. The last scientists to work at the observatory were Ralph Martin and Andrew Williams - prior to the cessation of all research programs at the observatory.[4]

Earthquake records[edit]

As an earthquake observatory in Perth a Milne-Shaw seismograph was utilised between 1923 and 1959 for the recording of earthquakes in Western Australia. After 1959 the earthquake monitoring was taken up by the Mundaring Geophysical Observatory.[5]

New building[edit]

Perth Observatory 61 cm telescope dome at Bickley.

In the 1960s light pollution from the city of Perth forced the relocation of the observatory to its current site at Bickley near Mount Gungin in the Darling Range. Construction of the new observatory cost $600,000 and was opened in 1966.

Recent History[edit]

The observatory has fought off several attempts to close the facility by the State Government, the most serious being in 1987 when it was part of the Department of State Services. An outcry from the public, scientific and amateur communities was helpful in retaining the observatory.

Centenary 1996[edit]

In January 1996, the centenary of its foundation, the observatory was transferred to the Department of Conservation and Land Management, now part of the Department of Environment and Conservation.[6]

Bickley Observatory heritage listed[edit]

In 2005 the Bickley site was heritage listed, being Australia's oldest continuing operating observatory and Australia's only remaining State Government operated astronomical observatory.[7]


The Western Australian astronomy almanac was published in the 2000s by the DEC as part of the Observatory expertise, utilising staff of the Observatory to edit and contribute. The 2002 publication for the 2003 almanac had an extra subtitle which was not utilised in later editions: the really useful guide to the wonders of the night sky.[8][9]

It had been preceded by Astronomical Data (1965-1990)[10] and the Astronomical Handbook (1989-1992 ?).[11]

Perth Observatory today[edit]

Currently the observatory is involved in Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT). The Minor Planet Center credits some asteroid discoveries to Perth Observatory.

On 22 January 2013 the WA Government announced that all research programs would be cut and the Observatory would only be open for tours.[12]


  1. ^ H B Curlewis (20 July 1929). "The Perth Observatory". Civil Service Journal: 73–74. 
  2. ^ a b c d Western Australia border
  3. ^ a b Porter, John, Surveyor-General of South Australia (April 1990). AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE - Longitude 129 degrees east, and why it is not the longest, straight line in the world. National Perspectives - 32nd Australian Surveyors Congress Technical Papers 31 March - 6 April 1990. Eyepiece - Official Organ of The Institution of Surveyors, Australia, W.A. Division (Canberra: The Institution: The Institution of Surveyors, Australia, W.A. Division, published June 1990): 18–24. 
  4. ^ "Perth Observatory: Staff". Perth, WA: Perth Observatory. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  5. ^ Gordon, F.R and J.D. Lewis (1980) The Meckering and Calingiri earthquakes October 1968 and March 1970 Geological Survey of Western Australia Bulletin 126 ISBN 0-7244-8082-X - Appendix 1 - page 213 Catalogue of Larger Earthquakes recorded in Southwestern Australia and in National archives ref CA 3539 Mundaring Geophysical Observatory, WA
  6. ^ Spreading the Word - Western Style: Education and Public Awareness Programmes at Perth Observatory James Biggs, Astronomical Society of Australia 1997. Retrieved 2007-02-11.
  7. ^ "Perth Observatory". Heritage Council, State Heritage Office. 2015-02-08. Retrieved 2015-02-22. 
  8. ^ Perth Observatory (2002), Western Australian astronomy almanac 2003 : the really useful guide to the wonders of the night sky, Perth Observatory, ISBN 978-0-9581963-0-7 
  9. ^ Western Australia. Dept. of Conservation and Land Management; Perth Observatory (2000), Western Australian astronomy almanac, Perth Observatory, retrieved 17 March 2013  (2003 - 2012, not published in 2011 )
  10. ^ Perth Observatory (1965), Astronomical data, The Observatory, retrieved 17 March 2013 
  11. ^ Perth Observatory (1989), Astronomical handbook, The Observatory, retrieved 17 March 2013 
  12. ^


  • Western Australian astronomy almanac. Bickley, W.A. Perth Observatory. ISBN 0-9581963-6-2 (2007 edition)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°0′28″S 116°8′7″E / 32.00778°S 116.13528°E / -32.00778; 116.13528