Accessing the sky – building Sydney Observatory’s new dome – post 6

This has been the most exciting week in the life of Sydney Observatory for decades! The historic Astrograph dome arrived in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday 4 November, and was then seated on top of the new building  on Thursday 6 November.

Astrographic Dome returns
Dome lifted into the building site. Photo Geoff Wyatt.


This is the sixth post in a series which documents building a new dome for Sydney Observatory which is especially designed for people with disabilities and their carers. This project is important to our visitors. Thanks to funding from the NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care. The building was designed by NSW Government Architects and the dome will house a new accessible DFM telescope with the revolutionary Articulated Relay Eyepiece. It will also display the 1890 Melbourne Astrographic telescope designed and built by Howard Grubb. The dome was originally built by Morts Dock engineering under instruction from Harley Wood and was operational from 1952.

Inspecting the Astrographic Dome
Some might say ‘A Woman’s place is in the dome’. Author inspects the dome after delivery. Photo Catherine Rowe

In post 1 and post 2 of this series I provided information about why Sydney Observatory is building a new dome, where the dome came from and how the building program is progressing. In post 3 I explained Andrew James’s role advising on accessibility and his deep engagement with the research outcomes from the Astrographic Catalogue and the instruments which will feature in the display inside the new building. In post 4 I confirmed the name ‘East Dome’  and that the concrete pour had been successful and bricks and block-work walls were progressing. In post 5 I described the excitement with the arrival of the historic Astrographic telescope mount.

Astrographic Dome returns
Before the dome is lifted into place there are a few moments for Photographs. This view will not be possible again! Photo Marinco Kodjanovsky
Crane lifting the Astrographic dome
The crane lifts the dome up ready to be placed on the new building. Photo Marinco Kodjanovsky


The NSW Government Department of Public Works specialises in heritage restoration and over the past 6 months they have been restoring the heritage dome for a new building at Sydney Observatory. The dome had sat on the ground since 1986 and it needed parts replacing, specialist copper reconstruction and replacing or restoring rivets, pulleys and chains. The dome rotation mechanism has been completely refurbished. On Monday 3 November , at midnight, it was loaded onto a flatbed truck. Because it is a wide load, of around 6 metres, special permissions were sought and MAAS conservator and registrar, Carey Ward,  worked closely with Public Works to bring the dome back to Sydney Observatory. Danny Grant, Facilities Manager, was with it all the way through the wee small hours until it arrived. The dome was craned onto the ground at Sydney Observatory at 2am Tuesday morning.


Danny Grant, Rose Hiscock, Minister Troy Grant, Andrew James, Minister John Ajaka in front of the Astrographic Dome
(Left to right) Danny Grant, Rose Hiscock, Minister Troy Grant, Andrew James, Minister John Ajaka MP.              Photo Andrew Smith

D-Day: Thursday, 6 November. The usually calm Zadro Construction builders were looking anxious as they did a trial lift of the dome onto the recently completed brickwork. Would it fit? They had measured many times and felt confident but there is always a slight lingering doubt that a few millimetres either way were missed. Our project manager, Adam Adair from Pure Projects, had also checked the details several times, but he and Danny looked very relieved when the trial went well.

Minister for the Arts and Deputy Premier, Troy Grant, and Minister for Disability and Ageing John Akara MP arrived at 7:45am and were greeted by MAAS Director, Rose Hiscock and myself. Our special guest, Andrew James, discussed with the Ministers how his passion, astronomy, had included working with Sydney Observatory on this project. He has advised on accessibility, and also the telescope technology solution.

One of the key instigators of this project was Jim Longley, Chief Executive of Ageing Disability and Home Care, NSW Department of Family and Community Services and he was very interested to discuss with curator, Andrew Jacob, and Andrew James the technicalities of the dome and the history of the Astrographic Catalogue and Carte du Ciel projects in which Sydney Observatory had played such a vital part in cataloguing the stars in the southern sky.


Arial shot of the dome
A view of the dome in its final position and the new building structure. Photo Geoff Wyatt

At exactly 8am the crane driver began to lift the copper dome from the ground and swing it towards the new building. This really was exciting. We all breathed-in as the dome waivered and wobbled before it was lowered. This was a triumph! You can see for yourself on this short video made by Michael Parry, Director Programs and Engagement MAAS.

Minister Troy Grant and Minister John Ajaka
Minister Troy Grant and Minister John Ajaka shake on this partnership to create an accessible telescope dome experience.Photo Marinc0 Kodjanovsky

A big thank you to all who have been involved in this project, when it was first conceived in 2006 as part of the Master plan for Sydney Observatory, it was only a vision held by the staff at Sydney Observatory. The project has moved forward because of the funding for the accessibility attributes which will really increase peoples engagement with science. This past week was a major step in that vision becoming reality.


Andrew Jacob,discusses the Astrographic Catalogue with Rose Hiscock and Jim Longley
Curator of Astronomy, Andrew Jacob,discusses the Astrographic Catalogue with Rose Hiscock and Jim Longley.
The new building now has a heritage dome
The new building now has a heritage dome. Photo T.Stevenson

There is still some way to go with the roof, cladding of the building, interior linings and then the exhibition and interpretation. For me the next major challenge is the installation of the new telescope dome.















Stay tuned!





One response to “Accessing the sky – building Sydney Observatory’s new dome – post 6

  • Congratulations, Toner and team – great stuff! I know how monumental and historically important for Sydney Observatory this is. And how much work it has taken to get here. I look forward to visiting.

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