Observations

A relaxed way of observing the Moon – Gil Miles an early president of the Sydney Amateur Astronomers uses video astronomy in 1961

Gil Miles observing the Moon from his backyard at Croydon, Sydney in about 1961. Picture courtesy of John Flavin

Gil Miles observing the Moon from his backyard at Croydon, Sydney in about 1961. Picture courtesy of John Flavin and the Astronomical Society of NSW

Today video cameras are everywhere, even on mobile phones and on compact digital cameras. Taking video footage of the Moon through a small telescope is easy to do and highly worthwhile as spectacular views can be obtained. More features can be seen than with the unaided eye and the features can be identified by comparison with a lunar atlas such as the free Virtual Moon program.

Video astronomy was much rarer back in 1961. Hence this image of Gil Miles, an early president of the Sydney Amateur Astronomers, observing from the backyard of his house in Croydon, a suburb of Sydney, is so intriguing. In his professional life Mr Miles worked for CSIRO’s Radiophysics and he is likely to have obtained his technical expertise through his work.

The back of this picture is inscribed:

Armchair Astronomy! A prominent member of the Belfield Observatory group allows his motor driven equatorially mounted telescope to follow the moon while he views the lunar landscape per closed circuit TV. It is assumed that the TV receiver is taken indoors on colder nights GIL MILES SYDNEY

With the compliments of Gil Miles. (21/7/61) Closed circuit T.V. attached to 10″ Cassegrain at Croydon, N.S.W.

The Sydney Amateur Astronomers was a breakaway group from the NSW Branch of the British Astronomical Association, now the Sydney City Skywatchers, the only amateur astronomy group in Sydney at the time. Gordon Patson set up the club on his large block of land at Belfield in Sydney. The club conducted its activities there from 1954 to 1970. Now called the Astronomical Society of NSW, it is a large thriving organization.

In his later years Gordon Patson moved to Tasmania and studied the astronomy of the Australian Aboriginal people. He published a number of pamphlets and, through the ABC, a star wheel showing the place of constellations from one group of Aboriginal people in the sky. The star wheel was very popular and sold out. However, with suitable permission, the information was used on a computer interactive at Sydney Observatory, where it can be viewed/used during opening hours, 10 am to 5 pm daily.

The clubhouse of the Sydney Amateur Astronomers in about 1961. Picture John Flavin

The clubhouse of the Sydney Amateur Astronomers in about 1961. Picture John Flavin

The picture above shows the clubhouse at Belfield in about 1961. As a child your blogger visited on an open night at about that time. What impressed most was the equipment visible in the picture in the right foreground for tracking artificial satellites. There was a row of telescopes, each with a seat behind it, all on a circular track. Presumably the telescopes were aligned at right angles to the expected path of a satellite before a pass while during the pass each telescope would have a person viewing it with it a narrow region of sky. Whoever saw the satellite would record the time it crossed their field of view and this information was sent to NASA to establish an accurate path for the satellite.

John Flavin, who sent both pictures above, is the archivist for the ASNSW. He says that Bart Bok, the famous astronomer and then director of Mt Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, opened the clubhouse on 18 September 1959. John has been unsuccessfully seeking pictures of the opening for a while. If any readers have one, whether taken by themselves or, more likely, by one of their parents he would be most grateful to receive a copy.

Acknowledgement: pictures and information supplied by John Flavin of the Astronomical Society of NSW

6 responses to “A relaxed way of observing the Moon – Gil Miles an early president of the Sydney Amateur Astronomers uses video astronomy in 1961

  • Hi Grant. Wow too – Gil Miles is my grand uncle!
    My daughter is in contact with a science historian who has heaps of info from his involvement in gliding, RAF, startup with QANTAS and developing radio vision (TV). Some of his manuscripts are with Scienceworks Museum in Melbourne, which I have seen. He was part of prototyping Australias first fax in the 1920’s, receiving a fax to his home in Glen Iris decades before the technology was popular We are also decended from one of Melbourne’s oldest colonial families. I’ll write to you. Kind regards, Siobhan Miles.

  • Hi. Wow. I am delighted to find this website
    My Name is Grant Michael Torrens. I am Gil Miles oldest Grandson. Born 19th October 1956. My Mum was Joan Edith Miles, married to Grev Torrens ….she passed away in June 1958. I was 18 mths old.
    Joan was Gil and Eslind Miles eldest daughter. They had 3 children being Joan , Geoff and Elaine. They lived at 190 Croydon Road Croydon.
    The photo above of the telescope and Baird TV brings back a lot of great childhood memories. That is my little chair that Grandpa Gil has his feet on !!!

    I would really appreciate any more info or photos of my Grandfather if available. Looking forward to hearing from you
    Best regards Grant Torrens. 3-5 Brittanic Cres. Sovereign Islands. Gold Coast. Qld. 4216.
    I

  • I remember visiting this place and looking through the scopes about the same time as the pic was taken, 1961. I was a member there, unoficially.  Amazing memories, I had to travel by train from Cabramatta as a kid. I met Gil Miles in 1978. He took me to his home and showed me the original (3 line) green scan video of Logie Baird’s hand moving across the screen – one of the FIRST demo’s of Television. It’s now in the British Museum.

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