A home on the hill

Mt Stromlo Observatory was not just place of work and study - but was, and still remains a home.

The domestic life of Mt Stromlo is a key part of its history and significance. At one time, there were more than 20 houses (built from the 1920s onwards) on the mountain and staff members, students and their families lived, worked and socialised here. There were many children on site, up to 40 at any one time, and with a whole mountain as their playground, it is no surprise that most have exceptionally fond memories of their time here.

Stromlo was quite remote from Canberra in its early days, and residents relied on milk, meat, bread and grocery deliveries. The milk and meat was brought up on the school bus, the bread was delivered with the daily mail and groceries were ordered through J.B Young in Kingston and delivered to the site weekly. Residents also kept gardens and vegetable patches, had horses, chickens, goats and even a dairy cow or two.

Renowned artist Rosalie Gascoigne lived in house 19 with her astronomer husband Ben and their three children. Rosalie took much inspiration for her work from her surroundings and out of the isolation she felt living at Stromlo. She created an enviable garden including a hand built rock wall and spent much of her time collecting objects from the nearby pine forest both to decorate her home, and use as part of her works.

In the winter time it was incredibly cold at Stromlo and many residents remember an endless battle to stay warm. The houses were mistakenly oriented south, meaning that they were unable to take full advantage of the sun and often the frost that greeted residents each morning remained all day.

Living in such close quarters, there was a strong bond between residents and there was a rich social life on the site with children playing together, social tennis and croquet matches, a monthly 'Ladies' Night' to sew, chat, share recipes and play cards and endless staff barbeques and parties, some of the most memorable being held at the Director's Residence.

With all but five of the original houses being destroyed in the January 2003 bushfires, Stromlo is now a much quieter place to live - however a strong sense of community remains here and there is still evidence of the larger village in the exotic plantings, driveways, gates and paths - see if you can spot these on your way back down the Mountain.

Stromlo was a village, very much a village

- Claire Wehner, Staff member and Resident

We built a children's playground at Mt Stromlo....the people, they all chipped in

- Hermann Wehner, Staff member and Resident