Dover Heights, Sydney

Dover around the World by Lorraine Sencicle
by kind permission of the Dover Mercury, (KMG)
published: 16 and 23 December 2010

In these days of mass communication it goes without saying that the Dovers around the world have strong links by radio waves. However, we also have strong links with the development and the use of radio waves. In February 1899, at the South Foreland lighthouse, St Margaret's, Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), an Italian electrical engineer, demonstrated the first practical radio-signalling system by contacting the East Goodwin Lightship, 12 miles away.

The first Swingate radio-masts, near the Castle, were made of wood, erected prior to World War II and, at the time, experimental. It was at the Castle that Professor Donald Lynden-Bell - the world-renowned astrophysicist was born. He is internationally renowned for his contributions to the theories of star motions, the formation of the Galaxy, spiral structure in galaxies, chemical evolution of galaxies, and the distribution and motion of galaxies and quasars.

When Douvres-la-Délivrande, Calvados, France was occupied during World War II, the town became the site of an important German air-detection radar installation as part of the German Atlantic Wall defences. This was completed in the autumn of 1943 and is now a museum. Across the Atlantic at Dover Mills, Washtenaw County, Michigan at Peach Mountain is a 26-metre radio dish and 24-inch telescope with a 6-inch refractor and run by the University of Lowbrow Astronomers.

Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge

The next Dover in the series, Dover Heights, Sydney, Australia, also boasts its part it played in the use of radio waves. This smart suburb is about 9 kilometres east of central Sydney has brilliant views, not only of the stars, but the ocean on one side and the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge on the other.

The name, Dover Heights, is thought to have originated from the cliffs there, they resemble those of Dover, England. In 1830, the area was owned by a Daniel Cooper, (1785-1853), a partner in a major Sydney retail emporium. However, the name Dover did not enter the public records until 1886 by which time it was famed for its market gardens and affluent residential properties.

In 1901, Prince George and his wife, Princess Mary, the next in line to the throne after his father, Edward VII, made an official visit to Australia to open the country's first federal parliament in Melbourne. This was the same year as his grandmother, Queen Victoria died and his investiture as Prince of Wales had not taken place, thus his title was 'His Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall and York'. During their stay they visited an Ostrich farm at Dover Heights and Mary, Duchess of Cornwall, was presented with an Ostrich feather fan with a gold base.

By 1913 building speculators were recognising the potential of the location and grand, elegant houses were built. Dover Heights was the place to live! This has not changed; today envoys from overseas favour the suburb. It was here, on Wednesday 17 December 1980 that the first assassination in Australia of a diplomat took place. Just before 10am the Turkish Consul General, Sarik Ariyak and his bodyguard, Engin Sever, were shot outside the diplomat’s home. The 'Justice Commandos of Armenian Genocide' claimed responsibility but although substantial rewards were offered to date the killers have not been caught.

Returning to Dover Heights astronomical connections, it is easy for most of us to forget that Australia were seriously threatened with invasion by the Japanese during World War II. Coastal defence stations, similar to the one at Douvres-la-Délivrande, were built including one on Dover Heights. After the war this was developed as a field station for radio astronomy and operated by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Division of Radiophysics.

At the time very little was known about radio waves from space so from 1946 a team of scientists and engineers built a range of radio telescopes. The first was a simple Yagi radio telescope (similar to ones used for TV reception), using left over materials from World War II and mounted on the roof of the war time block house.

Sydney - Dover Heights the in the ground antenna courtesy of CSIRO

By 1951 requiring the more powerful dish style instrument but unable to secure funding the astronomers built one themselves! They excavated a 21.9-m diameter dish-shaped hole in the sand and covered it with metal strips from packing cases. In the centre a mast with a dipole was erected. The Yagi antenna was 8-element, making it, at the time, the second-largest radio telescope in the world. Using the rotation of the Earth and altering the positioning of the aerial mast it was possible to observe different regions of the sky.

Over the next few years, as the astronomers mapped the radio sources in the heavens, the 'hole in the ground' was extended. During this time they discovered more than 110 sources of radio emissions, and in some galaxies, they observed, the radio waves were generated by black holes that were hundreds of millions more massive than the Sun. The first extragalactic radio sources they identified as galaxies were Virgo A, Centaurus A and Cygnus A, all millions of light-years away. They also undertook a detailed study of a strong radio source that was detected in the constellation of Sagittarius. This they named Sagittarius A, and was located at the centre of our Galaxy!

The station closed in 1954 bringing what was thought to be the end of a decade of remarkable scientific breakthroughs and achievements. However, in 1958 the International Astronomical Union adopted the position of Sagittarius A as the co-ordinate centre for the system of galactic `latitude and longitude' that is still used today. This not only established Australia as a world leader in radio astronomy it revolutionised space exploration.

Sydney Dover Heights the Yagi arrays on the clifftop courtesy of CSIRO

To celebrate the history and achievements of Dover Heights, the Australia Telescope National Facility, with support from the Waverley Council, installed a scientific memorial on the Dover Heights site. Opened on 20 July 2003, it includes a full-size replica of the 8-element Yagi built in 1951.

Thanks to:
Helen Sim - Media Liaison and Public Relations CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science and Anglo-Australian Observatory

Kimberly O'Sullivan Steward - Local Studies Librarian Waverley Library, Sydney Australia

Robert Gescheit - Property and Business Consultant, Sydney