Atop exposed Mt Stromlo on Wednesday for the launching of the Mt Stromlo Interactive Heritage Trail an icy breeze tousled this columnist's flaxen locks. One fell to wondering where and what is the coldest, bleakest place in our sometimes Siberian city?
Spots that leap to this columnist's mind include the wind tunnel/grandstand at Deakin Oval, where marrow in fans' bones gets frozen during Canberra FC's home matches. Then there is the plucky Margaret Whitlam Pavilion at the National Arboretum, standing on a bare knoll so that whatever goes on inside it (weddings, launches, anything) is accompanied by the song of a howling breeze.
But once upon a time, the city's Bleak Spot champion may have been the Mt Stromlo Observatory. In our 1940s photograph taken outside the Commonwealth Solar Observatory Building up on the mountain top we see staff members, risking hypothermia for the sake of a photograph, taking extreme steps (look at the blankets!) to keep warm.
"Stromlo was well known for its harsh winters due to its exposure, altitude and the incorrect orientation of the houses," Amy Jarvis, the ANU's Heritage Officer, explains.
"In an oral history we did with Toss Gascoigne (son of Ben Gascoigne, Astronomer and artist Rosalie Gascoigne) Toss remembers clearly the ‘constant battle’ to stay warm while living on the site."
Mt Stromlo, so ravaged by the fires of 2003, is famous for the work done there by cerebral European astronomers (the site was established in 1911 with the erection of the Oddie Dome) using sophisticated instrumentation. But of course there have been indigenous stargazers for tens of thousands of years and one of the 14 interpretative signs along the Trail celebrates Australia's First Astronomers.
Our region's Aboriginals saw (and some can still see) many, many things going on in the stars and so, for example, can pick out an emu in the Milky Way. A precis of the story of that emu and what it means is on the sign, and was given to the Trail's makers (the Australian National University spending shekels from the Your Community Heritage Grants program) by Ngunnawal man Tyrone Bell.
"It all came about," he explained after Wednesday's ribbon-cutting event, "many years ago when I was a child."
"My late father Don Bell senior explained the night sky to us. It began over at Yass one night when we were on a trampoline. Dad used to look up at the stars with us and interpret how Ngunnawal people would see the night sky, how our Dreamtime stories would be part of that sky.
"We also learned from dad that we don't have four seasons we have six seasons and that ties in as well with the movement of the stars.
"There's a lot of information that was passed on to us we're now looking [with things like the emu story told on the trail signage] at putting out to the wider community to educate people in relation to how Ngunnawal people relate to the star.
"He told us that of course different Aboriginal peoples in different parts of Australia all see the emu up there but tell different stories about it 'but to us down here it's the story of why the emu can't fly'.
"Dad used to talk about that story and go through it. And it's a spiritual connection that we still have today. To continue that and having that story out there is to get the wider community to think about the spiritual side of the stars and our people's connection with the stars. For sure now every time I look at the stars in the Milky Way where I can see what my father taught me from a young age."
Australia's First AstronomersWhy The Emu Can't Fly
The great spirit Ngadyund Burorage got to work creating the male and female emu. He made the male first and equipped it with long feathers and an ability to fly but try as he might he couldn't make enough feathers to upholster the naked, leathery-looking female to equip her, too, to take wing and soar.
Sportingly, chivalrously, the male donated some of his feathers to the female (which is why today she too is well feathered) but there weren't enough feathers between them to enable them both to fly. The great spirit, touched by their plight, grounded them both but gave them big strong legs so that while they couldn't fly they had the consolation of being almost the fastest-galloping of all land birds.
This story is impossibly ancient but the loop of Trail has its 21st-century state of the art aspects too because five of the 14 signs (with more to follow) are to be coded to trigger an "Augmented Reality App" which then, on your device of choice, will tell you even more about the site at which you've paused.
The creators say that when you follow the Trail from beginning to end (it is undemanding and can be done on foot or on a bicycle) you will notice it is giving a "flowing narrative" of Stromlo's scientific and human stories. The trail begins at the Mt Stromlo Visitors Centre.