BSC Newsletter #3

Dear Big Skies Collaborators, Friends and Supporters

Our Collaboration already has some significant achievements to report for 2019!  Let me share them with you.

  • First Inland Astro-Trail (IAT) Symposium
  • First IAT Inc. AGM: introducing the new committee
  • Night Skies Experiences Masterplan: call-out for proposals
  • Skywriters Anthology
  • First guest blog post, Staring At The Sun by Tracy Sorensen
  • Night Sky as Cultural Heritage


Our IAT Symposium

Our first IAT Symposium was co-hosted in Parkes by >Inland Astro-Trail Inc. with partner organisations and in-kind sponsors Destination Country and OutbackParkes Shire CouncilCentral NSW Councils (CENTROC)Arts OutWest, and the University of Canberra. It exceeded all my expectations, including how exhausting it would be to organise it!

More than 60 people with professional interests in Astronomy, Local Government, Tourism, the Arts, Sustainable Development, Cultural Heritage and STEAM Outreach (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics ) participated. And all were keenly interested in developing the potential of the Inland’s many astronomical observatories, astro-heritage sites and big, dark skies for the benefit of inland communities.

IAT Symposium 2019 - Linden
Miriam Williamson, artist and cultural officer for Linden Observatory in the Blue Mountains, Inland Astro-Trail Symposium 2019.

Towns and local government areas represented included Tamworth, Coonabarabran, Parkes, Forbes, Cowra, West Wyalong, Balranald, Condobolin, Orange, Bathurst and Bungendore, with a few outliers from Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, UC Berkeley (USA) and Vancouver (Canada).

IAT Symposium Chinese Heritage
Juanita Kwok, Charles Sturt University, at the IAT Symposium.
IAT Symposium 2019 - David Clarkson
David Clarkson, creative director of Stalker Theatre.

I opened the symposium with a virtual tour of our Inland Astro-Trail sites and
a summary of our Founding Vision. Parkes Mayor Ken Keith OAM welcomed us to his shire; a couple of unexpected visitors, Jamie Drew and Danny Price, from Breakthrough Initiatives, presented their show-and-tells about answering one of humanity’s big questions, Are we alone in the Universe?; and four panels of speakers explored the potential of our Inland Astro-Trail from their own very different perspectives. You’ll find the program and list of speakers here >>

IAT Symposium 2019 Michael - Molonglo
Michael Playford, Molonglo Radio Telescope Project, University of Canberra.

The great challenge then was to pull all our ideas and aspirations together into a coherent plan! Central NSW Council’s (CENTROC) Executive Officer, Jenny Bennett, facilitated the discussion and we now have a very long wish list for the new IAT Inc. committee to follow-up.

IAT Symposium 2019 - group discussion
Group discussion chaired by Jenny Bennett, CENTROC. With microphone is poet, translator and scholar Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya introducing the Bridges -Maths/Art Organisation.

My thanks to everyone who was involved in this event: our co-hosts, without whom it would not have been possible; the Parkes Mayor and his Council’s staff who ensured that everything ran smoothly; our caterer Craig Smith and his staff at The Dish Cafe; our after-dinner speaker, Jane Kaczmarek, Parkes Observatory’s resident astrophysicist and a passionate STEAM proselytiser,  and, most especially, all our participants, including our 20 speakers, many of whom travelled hundreds of kilometres to attend our gig, or waited patiently online to connect with us via Zoom.

IAT Symposium 2019 - Jane K guest speaker
Our after-dinner speaker, astrophysicist Jane Kaczmarek sharing her enthusiasm for astronomy with us in the auditorium at CSIRO’s Parkes Telescope Visitors Centre.

Together, we shared a rare experience that day and, in time, will be able to share the credit, I hope, for establishing the Inland Astro-Trail as a great benefit to inland communities and to the thousands of new visitors who will travel our IAT to experience our big dark inland sky, unique cultural and natural heritage and bush hospitality.

IAT Symposium 2019 - Dinner @ The Dish
Our Symposium Dinner @ The Dish with some very animated diners.

Introducing our new IAT Inc. Committee

Immediately after the Symposium, we held the first Annual General Meeting of our still-nascent organization, Inland Astro-Trail Incorporated. My thanks to Phil Betts, Acting Mayor of Tamworth Regional Council and Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club‘s Publicity Officer, for chairing the election of office bearers.

IAT Symposium 2019 - Donna Burton
Donna Burton, IAT Inc.’s new President.

Our new committee is as follows:

President, Donna Burton (left), astronomer and astro-tourism operator, Milroy Observatory (Coonabarabran)
Vice  PresidentPeter Shinton, geologist, farmer and Warrumbungle Shire Councillor (Coonabarabran)
Secretary, Tracey Callinan, musician and Executive Director of Arts OutWest (Bathurst)
Public Officer, writer and Big Skies Collaborator Merrill Findlay (Forbes)

Non-executive Committee Members

Ray Pickard, astronomer and astro-tourism operator, Bathurst Observatory Research Facility
David Clarkson, Big Skies Collaborator, stargazer and creative director, Stalker Theatre Company (Sydney)
Alexandra BurkeClean TeQ Sunrise Community Team (Parkes)
Gai Lander, community advocate (Grenfell)


IAT Symposium Grenfell poster
Detail of a mural in the corridor of Weddin Shire Council’s Community Hub, Grenfell, New South Wales, featuring a quotation from the first stanza of Henry Lawson‘s 1888 ballad, ‘A May Night On The Mountains’.

Night Skies Experiences Master Plan

Destination Network Country and Outback (DNCO) have now committed to a Night Skies Experience Development Master Plan to guide the development of the Inland’s emerging astro-tourism industry.    

DNCO staff have been liaising with IAT Inc., and other Inland ‘stakeholders’ over the past 12 months to identify “game-changing initiatives … [that] strengthen the appeal of Country and Outback NSW”. These conversations are now bearing fruit. DNCO has released a draft call-out for proposals to develop the Master Plan and has allocated a substantial budget for it.

We are seeking quotations from suitably qualified specialist agencies to work with DNCO to devise and deliver a master plan to guide and develop exciting new experiences and opportunities designed to raise the profile of the region and attract more visitors, particularly the domestic short break and touring markets,” the draft document states.

The Night Skies Experience Master Plan will:

  • Identify the ‘best of the best’ existing opportunities across the regions, including smaller observatories as well as nature and cultural-based experiences
  • Support both the enhancement and expansion of successful existing products and experiences (such as StarFest, and world-class infrastructure such as The Dish and Siding Springs, and the development of exciting new night time activities, tours, events and festivals, including guided astronomy tours and seasonal night sky programs, Aboriginal night-time cultural tours, wildlife spotting, dinners under the stars, outdoor concerts under the stars, etc
  • Engage potential partners and identify appropriate funding sources and project personnel to lead concept development and create an Experience Development Strategy

For further information contact Lucy White, DNCO General Manager, or  Nicola Chandler, Business Development Manager,

Mud map of the Inland Astro-Trail: very rough indicative sketch by Merrill Findlay. We await the skills of a great graphic designer!

IAT White Paper

Our Inland Astro-Trail is far more than an astro-tourism route, notwithstanding the economic significance of tourism to inland communities. It is also an Arts, Natural and Cultural HeritageSTEAM Outreach (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), and Sustainable Development initiative to link, promote, utilize, and conserve sites of astronomical significance, and to educate and inspire wonder and sense of connectedness with the cosmos.

The IAT will, therefore, be a conduit for the transmission of ideas between Inland and Coastal communities, including our east coast capital cities. It will offer universities, museums, CSIRO, and other government and non-government agencies new opportunities to access and engage with rural inland communities in ways that are not currently available. The IAT will also help to break down many of the barriers between Inland and Coastal communities and challenge the prejudices and stereotypes that city folk and Inlanders believe about one another.

I don’t want this Big Vision to be lost. So – while the DNCO’s yet-to-be-appointed consultants are working on the Night Sky Experiences Master Plan and the new IAT Inc. committee is developing its own strategic plan, I’ll be writing a White Paper to ensure that our Founding Vision is fully understood, acknowledged, and integrated into future decision-making processes.

More on this soon.

IAT Skywriters

Skywriters Anthology Update

Big Skies Collaboration’s Skywriters Project received more than 60 submissions from all over Australia for our first Skywriters Anthology to be published by Interactive Publications (IP) as a hard-copy book and in three digital formats later this year.

Our curating editors, all of us unpaid volunteers, are now reading and prioritising the submissions. The next stages will involve contracts, editing, and promises of tiny royalty payments to the selected authors, and, unfortunately, a few rejection letters.

My thanks to all the writers who submitted their fiction, nonfiction and poetry. It has been a joy to read your work. And yes, the Anthology should be launched and on sale well before Christmas – which means you’ll be able to give copies of it to all your relatives and friends!

NASAsun_pic SML
Image of the sun from NASA/SDO (AIA) (Public domain).

Sunquakes and Solar Turbulence

We’ve now published our first guest post, Staring At The Sun, on our Big Skies Collaboration blog: a long-form read by Bathurst-based novelist, documentary maker and Big Skies Collaborator Tracy Sorensen

Tracy visited the BirminghamSolar-Oscillations Network (BiSON) stations in her home-town of Carnarvon, Western Australia, and at the Paul Wild Observatory near Narrabri, one of our IAT sites, for this project. As a non-scientist, she found her BiSON experiences a bit, um, intellectually challenging, as she describes in this essay. Her confessions will make you smile, perhaps even giggle!

For Steve Hale, the University of Birmingham’s instrumentation engineer who leads the BiSON team, Tracy’s essay is good STEAM Outreach. A perfect synthesis of science, technology, engineering, creative thinking, photography, video and literary art!

If you would like to add your own STEAM long-read to our Big Skies Collaboration blog, then please contact me on I’d love to hear from you.

Molongo meeting Feb2019 Brigid
Brigid Whitebread (right) at a meeting about the University of Canberra’s Molonglo Radio Telescope Project, Queanbeyan Libary, February 2019.

Night Sky as Cultural Heritage

Local heritage festivals don’t generally feature stargazing, astronomical observatories and space exploration on their programs but this year, 2019, the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Heritage Festival does! Because visionary locals, including Brigid Whitebread (above right), from Queanbeyan’s regional library, and Alison Wain, from the University of Canberra, recognised that the stars, planets and other celestial objects are part of our cultural heritage, as are the tools we use to learn more about them.

Gamilaraay astronomer Karlie Noon, a postgrad. student at ANU’s Research School for Astronomy and Astrophysics and finalist in the Young Australian of the Year Awards 2018, will give the heritage festival’s opening keynote address this Thursday, 11 April.

Astronomy and skylore are culturally important to us all. For me, for example, the Zodiac constellations take me back to ancient Sumer where women astronomers, such as the priestess En’Hedu’anna, observed the stars from the top of ziggurats some 4,300 years ago. Knowing this is surely important for all women!

Alison and Brigid recognised that 20th-century radio telescopes, like the Molonglo Observatory, near Bungendore on our Inland Astro-Trail, are also valuable cultural heritage objects. So Molonglo is part of the Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Heritage Festival too.

Molonglo 2018
University of Canberra heritage students at Molonglo Observatory,  November 2018.

Meanwhile, stargazers in Coonabarabran and elsewhere celebrated International Dark Sky Week last weekend with sky parties, and Siding Spring Observatory is advertising their school holiday tours. Soon CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory and NASA’s Canberra Deep Space Centre at Tidbinbilla will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. So lots on along our Inland Astro-Trail!

My thanks for your support of our Big Skies Collaboration initiatives.
Clear Skies!

11 April 2019

Dr Merrill Findlay
Big Skies Collaboration
T: +61 404057162

All photos by Merrill Findlay.

Page created 12 April 2019