|Patron 1996 – 2011.
Dr. Ragbir Bhathal
Western Sydney University
Prof. Bryan Gaensler
University of Sydney
University of Toronto Canada
|Patron since 2020
Prof. Geraint Lewis
University of Sydney
Macarthur Astronomical Society was formed under the leadership of Phillip Ainsworth.
Phillip was a resident of Ingleburn at the time and – recognising the lack of an organised astronomical Society in South Western Sydney – he decided to do something about it.
In December 1995, Phillip publicised a proposal to form a new astronomical organisation in the Campbelltown newspapers and invited anyone interested in amateur astronomy to attend a meeting at his home.
This initial meeting was held on Monday 15th January 1996 in Phillip’s garage due to the large attendance. The neighbours must have wondered what what was going on when over thirty people tried to park in his quiet back street. Phillip, his wife and family were surprised at the number who turned up as well but it backed his belief that the formation of a society of like-minded amateur astronomers was indeed feasible. It was a hot summer evening. Some stood, whilst others sat in as many chairs as the Ainsworth family could muster and it was moved and carried that Macarthur Astronomical Society be formed.
The second meeting (the first AGM) was held in February 1996, at the University of Western Sydney (now WSU). Phillip was elected President and he went on to hold the position until 2000, guiding the fledgling Society through it’s formative years, establishing it’s constitution and promoting it in the community. All subsequent monthly meetings were held at the University of Western Sydney (except for September 2011, held at Blair Athol Community Centre).
The Society was incorporated as an association by NSW Department of Fair trading in June 1996.
Very few of the early members possessed telescopes but this began to change as regular star nights were held in member’s back yards, including a member’s property near Wilton. A club telescope was purchased in June 1997, a 6” Dobsonian, assisted by a generous donation of $500.00 from the Campbelltown Branch of the Commonwealth Bank. This scope soon became known as “MacDob”. Later, two permanent homes were found for regular star nights, including the Forest with it’s spectacular dark skies.
The Society commenced community educational talks and regular public star nights, all free of entry fee to the public.
Several of the members who joined in 1996 remain current members, including two who were at that inaugural meeting (Phil. Ainsworth & Roger Powell).
In 2000, Phillip Ainsworth stood down from the Presidency and later moved away from the district. He was awarded honorary membership in recognition of his role in founding the Society and guiding it through it’s early years. Vice-President Noel Sharpe was elected to succeed Phillip as President and continued to lead the Society until 2007 when John Rombi took charge.
All MAS Presidents have promoted a friendly and informal club atmosphere and the Society has attracted an impressive list of talented monthly guest speakers, including distinguished professional astronomers and specialised amateurs.
During the second half of the decade, the Society introduced its own website and also began ‘branding’ its activities, introducing a new MAS logo in 2008; followed by the ‘Magnitude’ brand for DVD’s and Exhibitions. Membership awards were instigated in 2007. (See Awards Page).
Merchandising activities were increased and the position of Merchandise Officer was created in 2008 to manage purchasing and sales activities, including books, mugs, star wheels etc. Stewart Grainger was the first Merchandise Officer.
In February 2011, the General Monthly Meetings were rebranded as the “Macarthur Astronomy Forum” (also with its own logo). Professor Fred Watson AO was the inaugural guest speaker on that occasion.
Trevor Rhodes took over the Presidency in 2011 and in June 2011, a ‘milestone’ decision was made by the Management Committee:
“That this committee aspires to achieve the financial growth and scientific excellence that will empower the future acquisition of advanced astronomical equipment and the property in which to house it. To achieve this we resolve to increase our membership programme; improve our practical expertise; and institute a fund raising programme, whilst still giving value for money to our members and continuing with our outreach programme.”
The Society sought to strengthen its ties with Campbelltown, Camden & Wollondilly local Councils; local MPs; local media; and began the difficult task of seeking advertisers and sponsorships. It also began a series of fundraising barbecues at Bunnings (Narrellan) and organising Macastro-tours to observatories both in Australia and overseas.
Chris Malikoff became President in 2012 and a sub-committee was formed to investigate potential observatory locations; select a suitable site; and pursue authority approval to gain access to it. A suitable site was selected at Dharawal National Park and the sub-committee set about the task of seeking support from the community and approval from relevant authorities.
The Society’s printed monthly journal, which had been produced every month since 1996, ceased publication after the October 2012 edition.
The Society maintained a good working relationship with the University of Western Sydney (UWS), which became known as Western Sydney University (WSU) from 2015. In November 2014, the outreach work of the Society was recognised by the University with the “Excellence in Partnership Award for 2014”.
Tony Law was elected President in 2015 and regular public observing nights were resumed at the renamed Campbelltown Rotary Observatory following its recommissioning at Macarthur Heights, after being closed from 2013 during its relocation.
On 21st August 2015, we collaborated with the Australian National University and thirty-five other organisations to break the World Record for the most people “stargazing” at multiple venues at the same time, with 7,960 participants across Australia. MAS participated in this achievement with our own event at The Oaks.
In December 2015, the inaugural Students Night was held at the Macarthur Astronomy Forum. Two high school students were invited to make a presentation. They were Ms Vina Hing & Ms Linh Thuy Nguyen (Prairiewood H.S.), who had jointly researched the light curves of eclipsing binary stars. The Committee resolved that student presentations would become a regular December feature at the Forum.
In February 2016 a twentieth birthday party was held before the regular Forum, attended by members, former guest speakers, the Federal MPs for Werriwa & Macarthur and other friends of the Society. In April 2016, seven members toured telescope facilities in Chile.
In August 2016 a special Macarthur Astronomy Forum was held, bringing together five of Australia’s top astronomers as a panel, to discuss their latest research and to encourage young people – especially women – to enter the field of astronomy.
In 2018, a School Mentoring Programme was introduced under the leadership of Mike Nicholas.
In 2019, MAS members toured astronomy venues in China. A special day-long seminar was held at WSU, featuring talks by seven scientists and engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Allan Hobbs took over the presidency for one year before handing over to former president, John Rombi.
The decade began with the onset of the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, causing the Society to cease all normal activities from March 2020. The Macarthur Astronomy Forum moved to online Zoom meetings. All public outreach events ceased. Members field nights were curtailed for a while but resumed under social distancing guidelines. Committee meetings were held online. The twentieth anniversary of the Campbelltown Rotary Observatory in July 2020 passed without being marked. Prime Focus magazine made a brief reappearance in 2020 after eight years but ceased after four issues. Our Patron since 2009, Prof Bryan Gaensler, stood down. Prof Geraint Lewis, our most popular guest speaker, agreed to be our Patron.
The pandemic continued, with meetings continuing on line. We were unable to celebrate the January 2021 twenty-fifth anniversary of the Society.