SSPM12. Starbecue Post Mortem

By Scott Mellish, 1998

Having been to many South Pacific Star Parties since they first began in 1993 and having met some interstate amateurs, mostly from Victoria with some from Queensland, I thought it may be a novel idea for some ASNSW members to attend an interstate Star Party to see how different or similar they are to our own event, not to mention getting to see some different and hopefully unique telescopes.

Roger Davis, who hails from Victoria and who has attended all the South Pacific Star Parties, suggested we attend the Astronomical Society of Victoria's Star Party which is held over the new Moon weekend before Christmas.

At first, I had intended to go down on my own, but fellow deep sky enthusiast Mick McCullagh decided he would not mind coming as well. Don Whiteman and Les Sara also decided to come, but their trip would be by plane.

Mick and I left his place on Tuesday 25I1 I /97 and headed out of Sydney via the Hume Highway. An extremely hot day made the drive oppressive and the heat did not let up until we arrived at Albury where thankfully Mick Laws had an inviting home for us to stay the night. Mick is a fellow ASNSW member and his hospitality was most appreciated, and believe me the shower I had that night was a quasi-religious experience.

After a comfy night at Mick Law's home we headed off again at around 9am and already the temperature was rising. Our destiny today was the Leon Mow Dark Sky Site owned by the ASV which is situated in a rural area just outside the town of Heathcote, Victoria. We arrived there at around 1pm Wednesday afternoon after driving in almost inhuman heat. The property has a winding road that leads straight to the observing field. We decided to set up the campsite further down the property under some good shade producing trees. The land is not too unlike Ilford but it is more rugged and at the time we arrived very hot and dry.

Putting up the tent was a chore in 41° heat and we both looked at each other wondering whose idea it was to come down here to Victoria. However, having finally got everything up and organised we decided to have a well-earned stress break.

Later on I found a nice tree limb to hang up the canvas shower, filled it up with water and we took turns at having a cool wash as a respite against the heat.

There was a bit of drama when we tried to fill the jerry can with water for some inexplicable reason there was no external tap to the concrete water tank, but some creative plumbing with a wash basin in the toilet produced an outlet for some much-needed water. Our first thoughts hinted that not too many people camp at the property for extended periods, like at "Wiruna".

The remainder of the day was spent inspecting the site and setting up the telescope for any observing, which looked possible during late afternoon.

Such was not to be though, as thick cloud cover prevailed until about 2.30am, when I woke up and had a look outside the tent. An almost clear sky was in the offering so I got up and roused Mick in his tent and soon we were out on the field to see if we could do some observing, alas though I dropped the fastening screw out of the focuser and some 30 minutes was wasted trying to find it in the dark. By the time we got things up and running it had clouded over so it was back to bed, thinking ourselves lucky there was no Victorians around to see such an embarrassing performance.

Thursday was spent wandering around the property again and the heat had eased of a bit, but it was still around 30°, so we headed off to Heathcote that afternoon to partake of a shower at the local caravan park. A modest charge of $2.00 each was all that was needed for a glorious wash that certainly reinvigorated us. Atter acquiring some ice for the eskies we headed back to the property for a quiet afternoon of relaxation.

The only person we had seen so far was the local builder who was completing the shower block near the bunkhouse. so we were starting to wonder when the Vic's would arrive.

A spectacular lightning storm put on a display late Thursday afternoon and quite a few bush fires were started judging by radio reports that evening, though thankfully none in the Heathcote area.

That Thursday night it was only Mick and myself again, plus some pretty thick cloud cover. We stayed up late in hope, but it didn't even look like shifting.

Friday soon arrived and it was pretty hot, but not too uncomfortable. Again, we wandered about the property wondering where everyone was, and it was late afternoon when the first people arrived. Lo and behold, it was Don Whiteman and Les Sara, fellow ASNSW members - we now outnumbered ASV members four to none. Les and Don livened things up a bit and we soon had a fairly noisy and crowded camp site.

At around 5pm the first ASV member arrived up at the bunkhouse so we all wandered up for a chinwag.

Most of Friday was beautifully clear and blue and I sort of imagined us having a lovely clear night and it almost happened. The clouds stayed away till around midnight, then they moved in en masse. Not all was lost however as the new Millennium Star Atlases got their first use at the eyepiece, and all of us were quite impressed. Most of us were in bed by 1am Saturday, after our first observing session since arriving.

Saturday was pretty quiet throughout the day, until around 5pm when the vast majority of ASV members began arriving. By 10pm there were some 125 people at the site with an assortment of telescopes from a 20" Dobsonian to a 6" refractor. A highlight of the parade of scopes was a hand-crafted Schmidt camera which was very beautiful indeed.

Most of the early part of the evening was spent talking and discussing the pros and cons of a lot of the telescopes, then, as the night finally settled in, we got some observing underway. A scan through the Small Magellanic Cloud was a good start. Then it was over to NGC 247 in Cetus to hunt down the Burbidges chain of galaxies, a group of some five objects quite close to the much larger and brighter NGC 247. This group of galaxies kept us entertained for a considerable time. The observing field was alive with people observing, talking and generally roaming around seeing what was happening.

Later that night, I checked out the area around Canopus that the Millennium Star Atlases show as a rather interesting area for galaxy clusters.

Situated within the vicinity of the second brightest star in the sky, is AS 580, AS584, A3391 and A3395. I managed to view all these clusters, some were exceedingly faint and difficult but not impossible, and scopes in the 10"-and-up range should give these interesting clusters a go.

Up until around 1am, the observing was quite good, with the Magellanic Clouds noticeably higher in the sky than they are at Ilford. But then the clouds rolled in. Les and Don had hit the sack earlier, to catch a plane flight out at 10am, so Mick and I sat back and relaxed, and watched a remarkable sight! Everyone began to pack up their telescopes and no sooner had they come, than they had gone leaving the observing field desolate with only the "coffin" as the only scope left. At about 2.30am with no sign of the could lifting, Mick and I were off to bed, bringing to an end, the observing at Starbecue.

Sunday was a slow and leisurely pack up of the well-used camp site and we left at 1pm having enjoyed an unusual four days at Starbecue, the ASV's annual pre-Christmas astronomy get-together.

Clear skies