Back around July 1969, four Frankston residents got together following the Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon, and set about creating the Astronomical Society of Frankston (ASF). In January 2004, it changed its name to the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society (MPAS).
Now, more than 50 years later, the Society has about 300 members, making it the second-largest in Victoria.
Most of the members still come from Frankston or the Mornington Peninsula.
When the MPAS was formed, the members initially held the meetings in the Jubilee Park Hall. Not long after, the location moved to Frankston High School. In 1976, the meeting venue moved again, this time to the Teachers College (now the Frankston Campus of Monash Uni). Eventually, when Monash took over the College, the location for the meetings became the Peninsula School (now called Peninsula Grammar) at Mt Eliza. This continued until the demolition of the school buildings, when all meetings moved to the Briars instead.
Like the meeting venues, there have been a few observatories (located with our meeting sites), and that to be built at the Briars will be our fourth. The first was a fibreglass dome for the Frankston High School, around 1972, but this was burnt down. The second, a metal roll off roof observatory, containing the B.J.Smith 12.5-inch telescope, was built at the Teachers College, but was dismantled when Monash took over. The third was at the Peninsula School, but was later removed to make way for a footy oval. The result of all this was that we went into the “Astronomy on the Move” concept. The first astronomical society to go mobile in Australia.
Around the time that I joined in 1990, the Society began viewing from the Moorooduc Airfield (the result of an MPAS member also being in the Moorooduc Flying Club). However, the airfield was later closed, and about 1994 the MPAS started viewing at The Briars. Initially, we just observed from grass, and later, a gravel area. More recently, three concrete slabs were laid, with a storage shed being constructed on the smallest slab. Of the other two, one is used for observing, while the first stage of the observatory building has been constructed on the other. A number of native trees have also been planted around the site to act as windbreaks and block light. Both water and power have now been connected to the site. Plans have also been drawn up for extensions to the observatory building.
The 2001 Christmas BBQ also saw a time capsule being placed beneath the bottom slab, to be reopened in 50 years time. Who knows what the site will look like then?
The MPAS also has a long term commitment to the local education system, and public displays. This consists of an active program of holding viewing nights for both the public and schools.
Many of the public nights were originally at Ballam Park at Frankston, but they are now at The Briars. Others have also been held at Braeside Park in the north, and at Rosebud and Arthurs Seat in the south. The school nights have been held all around the Mornington Peninsula and Westernport region out to Phillip Island, north east to Dandenong and Doveton, and north to Melbourne, Carlton and Epping.
MPAS introduced an Australia/New Zealand aurora telephone alert network in 1997 in order to allow participating members who sight aurorae to pass the news on to others in the network for visual or photographic observations while the aurorae were in progress.
The Telescope Learning Days have proved quite successful at encouraging newer members to get to know their telescopes, and also increasing the number of members coming to the Briars site.
An auditorium and storage building was completed at the Briars in late 2005.
Over Easter 2006, the MPAS hosted NACAA again in Frankston, this time by itself (in 1990, it had hosted NACAA in conjunction with the ASV).
MPAS at The Briars
Over the years the Briars Observatory site has had a transformation. In 1996, this is how our Briars site looked facing north east.
Pictured are (from left) Peter Skilton, Don Leggett, Roger Cleverdon, Ken Bryant and Peter Lowe.
By 1999, the grass was down and two slabs were laid as viewing platforms. The old ASF caravan (visible in first image) found a new home as a storage shed, and working bees were arranged to develop the site. The Peter Norman 12″ reflector was brought out at this particular work day so a refurbished mirror could be installed.
Throughout the year, the MPAS holds a series of member education events, usually on a Saturday afternoon prior to observing later that night. Known as Telescope Learning Days or TLD’s, they are the brainchild of late past-President, David Girling. One of these has been set aside as the annual Ken Bryant Scope Day, in memory of a very active and much missed member of the then ASF. The picture on the left is from the Ken Bryant Scope Day of 2002.
The Mount Martha Observatory site has two viewing platforms, the main larger platform adjoining the Society’s public building that is primarily used for presentations to the public, and a second smaller platform, all with power supplies for members convenience.
Greg Walton proudly stands by the two deep sky viewing telescopes he built of a truss-tube construction, these are pictured on the lower, smaller viewing platform. Sky Dancer on the right is Greg’s own personal scope, while Sky Venturer is mechanically driven scope, it is for use by the MPAS.
The Briars site is officially registered with the ASA.