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Thursday, 5 August 1926

Senator KINGSMILL (Western Australia) . - I do not intend, in the few remarks I propose to make, to touch upon subjects which have been discussed by other honorable senators. Nor do I wish to anticipate the debate on the Roads Bill, the petrol tax, or the per capita payments, which subject, for the moment, is sub judice. I propose to bring under the notice of the Government one matter only, and to deal with it as briefly as possible. I refer to the establishment and maintenance of, and the conferring of proper dignity upon, the national observatory which the Government is starting at Canberra. Up to the present, Australian observatories have not been generously treated by State Governments. I cannot help thinking that it would have been much better for some if they had never been started, because, whilst efficient scientists have been placed in charge of them, the money necessary for the proper maintenance of these institutions has not been made available, and they have been allowed slowly to starve to death. I should like to receive an assurance, when the right honorable the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) is replying to the various points that have been raised in the debate, that the Government does not intend to be guilty of such neglect in connexion with our national observatory at Canberra. The site is eminently suitable. The gentleman who has been chosen as Astronomer Royal of Australia is a man whose reputation is better known in England than it is in this country. He brings to bear on his work, a vast store of knowledge acquired at an early period of his life; he is in every sense eminently fitted for his position, and is full of enthusiasm for his work. Therefore it should be a matter of national pride with us to make this national observatory at all events equal to any in the world. The cost in any one year will not be very much, because the expenditure on its equipment must necessarily be spread over a number of years. I understand that the largest telescope in the world has a reflector with a diameter of 108 inches, and that it would cost approximately between £80,000 and £90,000 to erect at Canberra a telescope with a diameter of 120 inches. I know that some honorable senators will think this is a large sum to spend on what some call a fad. Some people say that astronomy is of no real value. Of course, they are quite wrong. During the last two or three decades many of those raTe elements, whose existence was not even suspected, have been traced by the spectroscopic analysis of the stars, and their existence upon the earth established. For example, helium, a gas of extreme lightness, without inflammability, which has very largely entered into the development of dirigibles, was discovered by spectroscopic astronomical analyses. There are other matters that are well worthy of attention. But, above all, looking at the matter from the point of view of national dignity, it were better for us never to start the observatory at all than to establish it and then neglect it. The present equipment of the observatory is, I understand, of the most meagre description. I think the telescope reflector has a diameter of only 9 inches, and I understand that another telescope with a reflector 30 inches in diameter has been presented to the observatory. In Australia, we possses an astronomical field that has not been investigated to any extent, and it is a duty which we owe to ourselves, as well as to other nations which have fostered and encouraged this great science, to do the best we can to place this country on a scientific level with them. In other countries, especially in America, private individuals have given valuable assistance in this direction, and I put it to the Government that when the Prime Minister is in England it might be possible for him to get in touch with some of the great and wealthy astronomical societies in the Mother Country to see if some assistance cannot be given to the Commonwealth for the equipment at Canberra of a national observatory equal in status to observatories in other parts of the world. I hope that honorable senators will not think that this is a fad. If we are faddists in this matter then we are in good company, because every other nation with an advanced civilization has spent much time and money in the fostering of this wonderful science which is well worthy of the attention of this young country. That part of the sky which is within our astronomical field is hidden from other parts of the world. Therefore, I hope that when the Leader of the Senate is replying he will indicate that it is the intention of the Government to equip cur observatory at Canberra in a way that will make it worthy of Australia, and that steps will be taken to get in touch with similar scientific institutions in other parts of the world. I have alluded to the fact that the money necessary for the purchase of the telescope need not be found all at once. Since it took three and a half years to grind the lens for the largest telescope in the world - a telescope with a reflector 108 inches in diameter - which, as honorable senators are aware, is in America, it is possible that it will take at least five or six years to properly equip the observatory at Canberra, if, as I hope, a telescope with a reflector 120 inches in diameter is erected there. The annual expenditure onthe observatory need not be very heavy, because once the instrument is in position the necessary staff to operate it should not be numerous. I hope that the Government will give earnest consideration to my request, and do all that is possible to make our national observatory at Canberra an institution of which we may be justly proud and from which we may expect marvellous scientific results.

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