On Michael's 18th birthday, March 11, 2002, I took American Airlines to Los Angeles, then flew Qantas to Sydney, Australia. We crossed the equator and international date line at about the same place. I found my motel and took a train to Sydney Harbor. I saw the Opera House, Harbor Bridge & the Rocks (Old Town).
My purpose in going to Australia was to see the southern stars and constellations. Monte Wilson of the Astronomical Society of New South Wales picked me up at the motel. We rode through the Blue Mountains to Wiruna, the dark sky site 3 hours northwest of Sydney, to the South Pacific Star Party.
I was lucky! The weather was great all 3 nights, and I got to stay in the house, referred to as the "White House" because they let Americans stay there. There was a couple named Tom and Lucy from Texas who proved invaluable. Lucy had lived in Louisville in the Bardstown Road area.
I saw the southern stars! I saw Canopus, Alpha Centauri & Achernar. I saw the Southern Cross and the Coalsack next to it. I saw the Magellanic Clouds. They were fainter than I imagined.
Tom kept finding galaxies and nebulas in the 20 inch. We looked at Jupiter and Saturn. Scorpius was straight up in the sky. The Milky Way's hub in Sagittarius was high, and I looked into our galaxy's thickest part, something I saw along the horizon in my parents' yard.
Southern constellations are abstract. Tracing out Centaurus and Argo Navis would have taken more time. What stayed with me was seeing Scorpius overhead and seeing Scorpius and Orion in the sky at the same time. Orion was inverted!
I was impressed at how close Canopus was to Sirius and how the Southern Cross was not far below Scorpius.
I will not forget walking out of the house that night and seeing the southern sky for the first time. It was ablaze with stars! The southern sky is more spectacular than the northern sky because we also see the bright winter stars.
Treasurer Max Gardner drove me back to Sydney. He took me to his fabulous home and showed me some of the city. Sydney is beautiful! We crossed the Harbor Bridge, driving on the left side.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy. Max explained that it is part of the British Commonwealth and that the Queen is head of state.
I arrived back in Nashville on March 18, 2002. One week! Sydney is halfway between the equator and the South Pole.
I will fly to Australia on March 11, and be gone for a week. I found an astronomy club based in Sydney. They host an international event once a year, which I will attend. I will see stars and constellations that can only be seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
It hit me like a bolt from the blue, the way Sweden did. I drove to the airport and got a round-trip ticket for $1375. I found the Astronomical Society of New South Wales on the Internet. They have a dark sky site at Wiruna, a 3-hour drive northwest of Sydney. I began emailing guys in the group, and Tony Buckley recommended a motel in Sydney. He will find me a ride from Sydney to Wiruna. The star party lasts 3 nights. Last year, 300 astronomers showed up. I plan to learn everything the average person would want to know about the stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. The flight to Australia is a killer, and I will be exhausted when I arrive. I will seek out my motel and a long sleep. I will prowl the Sydney streets until it is time to head for Wiruna. I want to see the Sydney Opera House. ABBA stopped there when they toured Australia.
My first night at Wiruna was great! I walked out of the house and looked up. The stars were brilliant! The Milky Way blazed! I saw stars and constellations I had never seen because the tilt of the earth on its axis is such that the U.S. never dips low enough. We have to go to the Southern Hemisphere. I saw the bright stars Canopus, Alpha Centauri & Achernar, which I had known about since I was 16 but had never laid eyes on. I saw the Southern Cross. It is a symbol to Australians much like the kangaroo. The hub of the Milky Way got high overhead, and I looked straight into it, the center of our galaxy. It made me realize how insignificant we are. The Australians are great observers. They were calling me to the telescope every few minutes to see deep sky objects: galaxies and nebulas. We looked at Jupiter and Saturn. My interest was in having a naked-eye experience with part of the sky I had never seen. I went to the observing field on the second night. Telescopes littered the ground. People were camped out in tents. I mingled, talking to lots of people about lots of subjects. We drank wine (called port). It made me sleepy, and I napped in the back of Tom and Lucy's car.
I am back at the motel after the star party. Things have gone well. The Australians have treated me with hospitality. My plane leaves tomorrow. It will be March 18 here and March 17 in the States because of the International Date Line.
The spit roast was Saturday night. The food was good. My astronomy on the last night was a summary. I had done it! Sunday morning, I began looking for a ride back to Sydney. Max Gardner, the treasurer for the group, agreed to give me a lift. In Australia, they drive on the left side of the road like they do in England. I could never get used to that! Max and I talked on the return trip. I was told that Australia is part of the British Commonwealth. It is a constitutional monarchy with the queen as head of state. Max was 70-years-old and a retired businessman. He had an observatory. We went to his home for dinner, and I met his wife. He gave me a scenic tour of the best parts of Sydney before returning me to my motel. The setting sun across the Harbor was beautiful! I hated to leave and was grateful for the hospitality. The next morning, I took the shuttle to Sydney Airport. I had a long way to go. I got tired on the return flight but kept coming. It is 12 hours and 7500 miles from Sydney to L.A. This time, the airport in L.A. was crowded. It was on to Dallas/Fort Worth, where I caught a plane to Nashville. I took Grayline to West End and walked to my apartment at Vanderbilt.
Australia was a success! I did what I went to do. I saw what I went to see. I flew American Airlines out of Nashville to L.A. International, then flew Qantas down to Sydney. We crossed the equator and the International Date Line, and I was confused about what day it was. I arrived in Sydney in the morning, got my motel and took a train to the Harbor. The Sydney Opera House sits on the Harbor. I walked around it. I saw what they call the Rocks, which is the Old Town. Returning on the train, there was a man hit on the track. Everyone got off the train and walked to the next station. An Australian woman accompanied me through the crowded streets because she knew the way. Suddenly, she yelled! I looked, and a man had been hit by a car! We hurried to the accident. He was Oriental. He lay motionless. He was hurt, maybe dead! People gathered around, so we went on. "Is this how it is going to be?" I wondered. Back in my room, I phoned my contact at the Astronomical Society. The next day, Monte Wilson met me at the motel, and we drove through the Blue Mountains to a place called Wiruna. "Wiruna" is an aborigine word meaning sunset. It is the Society's dark site and the location of the star party. Monte saw that I got a bed in the house (called the "White House" because they let Americans stay there). They took care of me! I met a couple from Texas who had lived in Louisville. Tom was a dentist, and Lucy had gone to Atherton High School. We 3 and a couple from Hawaii were the only Americans among 300 stargazers.
I made it. It was a positive experience. The Australians were friendly. They gave me a bed to sleep in for 3 days at Wiruna. There was food, and the star party itself was gratifying. They said the weather was better than at anytime in its 10 year history. I saw the Southern Cross and the stars Canopus and Alpha Centauri, which never rise in the U.S. Scorpius got straight overhead, and I could see directly into the hub of the Milky Way. Scorpius and Orion were visible at the same time! I had come the fartherest of the 300 people who were there. These people are serious observers! They are interested in deep sky objects, and their telescopes covered the field. I was interested in a naked-eye experience in the Southern Hemisphere, and I am glad I went. Sydney is a beautiful city. I walked around the Opera House. The night before I left, an ASNSW member named Max took me to his home and fed me. He drove me around the scenic parts of Sydney. The Harbor was spectacular in the setting sun!
I did it. I had 3 wonderful nights viewing the stars of the Southern Hemisphere with some serious Australian astronomers. I was driven around Sydney by a 70-year-old businessman, who said he recalled Americans saving Australia from the Japanese. We crossed the Harbor Bridge.