Colin and Helen Armstrong. Image Credit: Helen Armstrong
Jay: For our readers that don’t know you, would you mind telling us about yourself?

Colin: Some might say I’m an opsimath, a bit of a late developer. I’m the son of a Wheatbelt farmer, with a varied career culminating in academia after entering tertiary studies a few years before turning 50.

J: What can you tell us about your first few visits to Perth Observatory? What were your first impressions?

C: As an outsider, I’ve enjoyed a long association with Perth Observatory. As a child, I was a nuisance, running around the grounds at Kings Park after watching Sputnik orbiting above our farm. In 1981, I was visiting Bickley when the Premier, Carmen Lawrence, officially opened the Lowell telescope and later visiting to purchase Annual Almanacs and attend Summer Lectures. In 1996, Clifton Smith (the Curtin astrophysicist) and I were joking how, when we retired, we’d resume Mike Candy’s near asteroid research at the observatory. I’
ve recently retired, and I set out to join the observatory as a volunteer and fulfil that desire.

J: Tell me about the roles or responsibilities you’ve had here at the observatory?

C: I’m a new boy in town here, only becoming a volunteer in April 2019. I’m deeply passionate about this place, speaking out, and subsequently getting elected Chairman in November. This decision was as much of a surprise to me as it was to everyone else. Since that AGM, it’s been a steep learning curve as I try to understand how we might best realise the observatory’s extraordinary potential.

J: In what ways have you seen the observatory change?

C: I can only talk of months, rather than the years or decades that many volunteers have seen. It is, however, clear that in the few short years POVG has been responsible for managing the observatory the organisation has grown and developed into something we should all be very proud of.

J: Since you stepped into the Chairman role earlier this year, what are your ambitions and aspirations?

C: I’d be foolish to deny my grand aspirations for the observatory. POVG has completed much of the hard work of building solid foundations. Now our five-year strategic plan is nearly finished, and it allows us to write our business plan for achieving our ambitions and aspirations. We’re about to launch some exciting and rewarding ventures.

J: What can you tell me about some of the challenges the observatory currently faces?

C: I suspect the first challenge we face is overcoming being the “Best Secret in Town”. Many visitors, even Perth Hills residents, are amazed at what we have and do here, and a common comment is they had no idea we existed. As we launch new ventures, we risk becoming too successful, needing to increase our resources to cope: volunteers and facilities increasing to match demand.

J: What are you most proud of the POVG doing or achieving?

C: We should be proud that Perth Observatory has returned to active participation in astronomical research. Since January, we’ve performed scientific observations and we’re working collaboratively with international researchers. This collaboration makes me personally enormously proud to be a volunteer.

J:What do you think are some of the most exciting things happening in astronomy at the moment?

C: My suspicion is that while attention has focused on certain aspects of astronomy, including radio astronomy, a time will come soon when we’ll offer those listening to the universe the capacity to see what they hear. While that is happening, POVG continues to excite the interest of the broader public with School Day and Night Tours.

J. Aside from Perth Observatory, tell me about something else are passionate about?

C: I want to know. Everything. Then I want to understand. And then, as opportunities arise, I enjoy sharing information that helps us achieve a better understanding of the World and Universe we share.