July General Meeting Report
Celebrating the ASV’s 80th Anniversary

You may have read in the July Issue of Crux about the Social Sub-committee’s efforts for the 80th anniversary celebration in the Kew’s Art Gallery Restaurant on 22nd June. Well, for the ASV July General Meeting Kerry and Sandra have excelled themselves again and arranged another surprise with all sorts of finger-licking delicacies set out on two tables, including a decorated, iced ASV 80th birthday cake that covered almost half a table. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, there were formalities to be dealt with first, and speeches: a hop-skip-and jump through the history of the ASV, performed by eight current or past members of the committee, each covering a chosen pet subject in a time limit of 15 (or so) minutes:

Rod Brown loves the organised flow of time and events and excels in talking of historic anecdotes. He spoke about the origins of the Society. Originally intended as a revival of an earlier Victorian brach of the BAA, the ASV, after two preliminary meetings in June had its formal beginning on Saturday, 5th July 1922. There were 80 people in attendance and some 50 became members. The first annual subscription was the then princely sum of on guinea. He showed slides of the first officers of the Society, Charles Merfield, president, and John Michie, secretary, and talked about their contributions to the stabilisation of the new Society. Anyone interested in all the details of this period (or other ASV history) is referred to Rod’s excellent article “The ASV in Perspective” in the 1997 Jubilee Issues of CRUX.

Perry Vlahos spoke about (no, not the Messier Objects, his other love) Phenomena of the Sky. Perry has this rare gift of getting an audience to participate in his presentations. Especially so in his impromptu, off the cuff talks. Often he uses a member in the audience as a sounding board (Steve Pattie frequently takes the brunt), but he also likes to keep us awake by slipping in the odd Furphy, like at the beginning of the evening when he presented his customary Sky of the Month, not for July 2002 but for 1922, the founding date of the ASV. Of course he then castigates us for not immediately correcting him. He spoke of Halley’s Comet; of a trip to Flinders Island to watch the 1991 annular eclipse; of the 1993 clouded out total lunar eclipse in Melbourne; the July 1994 Shoemaker-Levy encounter with Jupiter, and more. Eugene Shoemaker died tragically during a return visit to Australia in July 1997, the 75th anniversary year of the ASV.

Pat Larkin has a great love for astronomy, eclipses and occultations in particular. She endures all sorts of hardships in chasing these event throughout Australia and around the globe, and her reports are always a pleasure to read. Pat spoke, with the aid of slides, of the solar eclipse on 23 October 1976, how the event was covered in the media with supportive literature on timing and shadow bands and how, despite extensive warnings on eye damage some accidents still did occur; mostly through the use of faulty, home-made filters. There was even a flight arranged for an eclipse view from above the clouds for $180, greatly extending the viewing window. And afterwards you could watch it all over again with the kids on TV. Pat Larkin, your eyes have it: Don’t loose sight of the rainbow!

Bruce Poppelton presented some background information on the environmental evolution of the Society since 1976. How the dreams of a society telescope and a dark-sky site slowly took shape, and with Leon Mow’s generosity then became reality. He spoke of his 1984-5 presidency and the acquisition of the Parer Street property in Burwood, its transformation into a functional Society Centre; the liaison with Robin Hirst for fund raising: $1 for comet viewing, society “T” shirts, bottled port and memorabilia; Jells Park public viewing during Astronomy Week that together with a museum science show tent attracted an estimated 160,000 visitors over the period.

Steve Roberts is a skeptic. He loves a debate, in fact he can make an argument of almost anything you may say. He spoke about the evolution of the ASV Newsletter, from the folded and stapled A4 sheet that you needed a set of pliers to open. Remember sic itur ad astra? There was no e-mail then, most notes, and articles had to be retyped. The name change to CRUX came in 1997 with the 75 Jubilee Issue, edited by Tom Richards. The photos are much better now, Dr. Steve Roberts reflected, and more pleasure to look at. However, he musingly argued with himself, I enjoyed my time as a member of the council and recommend the experience to everyone.

Ken Le Marquand didn’t talk about Amateurs in Review, nor the New Astronomers Group, he spoke of the ASV 20 inch telescope and dedicated the talk to the memory of his father, a member of the ASV for over 30 years and President in 1975. He spoke of the search for potential sites for this telescope, investigating Chirnside Park, the Organpipes, Tyabb and Cardinia, of the research and studies for a suitable dome, and the frustration with the lack of progress. And how it finally came to a prominent position in Parer Street.

Gunnar Grönvall chose Astronomy for the People, a subject he has great affinity (and commitment) to. ‘The objective of “Astronomy for the People” is to establish an awareness of Astronomy in the wider community. To encourage its study and practice and to disseminate knowledge of the science’. Starting with Dr. Roberts and Ian Sullivan it was in full swing by February 1992 at the Cardinia Dam site. A variation of the theme was the “Astronomy in the Parks” in 1993. By now the section activities were developing into a welcome source of extra income for the society, with bookings to private venues as well as public demonstrations, Schools, Clubs, and a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary, all just for showing people the night sky. Tony Schalken took over from Jim Dale in 1996 and Sandra Wing in 2001.
The greatest rewards, and a satisfying compensation for all the woes and tribulations that go with the job, is still the sight of kids standing in front of telescopes, saying ohs and ahs with youthful rapture. It makes it all worthwhile.

Steve Pattie chose to speak about the Leon Mow Dark Sky Site. Most members know Leon Mow for his gift of this Heathcote property to the Society, in 1989. But Leon, who joined the ASV in 1981, was also a keen photographer who enjoyed astronomy, and it was this hobby of his, cultivated under the then Astrophotographic Section Director, Ken Harrison, that made Leon the gracious benefactor we remember so well. Meanwhile, after much effort (and even more planning, discussions and debates) the LMDSS has become quite user-friendly, had numerous improvements done to it in access, accommodation and sanitation, and useable astronomical equipment. Average height above sea level is 241m and the four survey points on site are claimed to have an accuracy of 0.01". The reflective “Host-a-Post” labels have been fitted and/or refitted where required. Security is still a concern and strict guidelines regards access code and locking the main gate must be observed.
But a lot of member enjoyment has resulted from this site and some valuable experiences for the benefit of both members and the Society. It is reasonable to credit incentive for the creation of the ASV Catalogue to the excellent viewing conditions provided by this facility.

The speeches were over, and while the props were being rearranged, time for a bit of reflection. Indulging in this type of narcissism, or reflective naval gazing now and again, is good for a Society. It is an entertaining way to keep the members informed, show were the society is coming from and the direction we are moving in. It promotes greater diversity of the society’s activities, while at the same time uniting the individuals with an awareness of past achievements and our common motivation in the science (and hobby) of astronomy. Ideally all of these speeches/lectures should be collected in a catalogue/book, properly sorted and indexed and brought out annually, available as a ready reference at the ASV library or for purchase by interested individuals. Together with the now popular PowerPoint presentations collected on CDs it would make for fascinating archive material; even become another source of income for the society.
And what happened to the food, the cake, coffee and tea? We did get around to it, after an “all hands on deck” cake cutting ceremony. It was delicious.