The McNiven Medal

This article on the McNiven Medal was written by Andrew James in 1998.

Andrew has also provided some information about many of the early recipients: Edward Lumley, Kevin Cooper, John Gardner, Alan Yates, Ken Wallace, Cyril Brown, David Crump, Chris Kimpton, Andrew James, Nick Loveday, Glenn Dawes, Robert Price, Rev. Bob Evans, Robert McNaught and Gordon Garradd.

The McNiven Medal

What became the highest award for the Astronomical Society of New South Wales was named after a strong advocate of the Society, Mr R. J. McNiven, who was particularly active with the Society in the 1960's. Primarily an entrepreneur, who was the Managing Director of McNiven Ice Creams, which later became Streets Ice Cream. Similarly, he was also involved in many other business ventures. A long-term member of the Society, and part of the local community at Belfield from the earliest days, his business sense was eventually used regarding the Society from about 1965. This involved the formation of the now defunct “Research Fund”, which was set up for purchase and assistance for projects involving astronomy.43 One of its first purchases was the 6" Polax Refractor, in which, Mr McNiven donated $4 500 (The records do not say if this is the entire cost, but I assume that this is the full price. Incidentally, the purchase was first used in the observatory in Belfield, and eventually was to occupy the site at Bowen Mountain.) We awarded Mr.McNiven, Honorary Life Membership in November 1968 for his many generous donations and contributions to the Society. In February 1970, we then voted Mr.McNiven as the Trustee of the Society, followed in May 1973, as the Astronomical Society of New South Wales’ Patron.

Initially, the criterion for the McNiven was presented specifically to acknowledge our members’ contributions in the A.S.N.S.W. As Patron, McNiven had recommended to the Committee in mid-1973 - that an annual award be presented to the Society. The Committee decided to name it the McNiven Medal. Presenting a round 4cm bronze medal, and originally a small cash prize. The selection of the winner was originally made by the “Awards Sub-Committee”, and after 1986 or 1987, the “General Committee”.

The first medal was presented during the October General Meeting, and between 1973 and 1988, this award was always presented at the traditional month of the Society’s formation. Unfortunately, a significant gap lies between 1988 and 1996, where no medals were presented, and since 1996, we have now awarded the Medal at the Society’s Ilford, Star Party. Originally, the award was to be presented “To the amateur was had contributed significantly to the science of astronomy, or had made significant contributions to the Astronomical Society of New South Wales.”

In July 1974, the Committee decided the “Mc Niven Medal” was to be awarded no more than once each year and presented on the month of the Society’s founding. It was, as quoted in the minutes, to be given to the “... member who had done outstanding astronomical work or to the Society for that year.”

The interpretation of why the McNiven is awarded has changed significantly throughout the years, and it is unfortunate that this has not been written down or preserved, for example, in the Constitution of the ASNSW since Incorporation. To eliminate any influence by the Committee, an “Awards Sub-Committee” was set up in 1973. I can find no records of this, nor the original members who were on this subcommittee. However, sometime during 1975, it was chaired by the President, a Vice-President, the Editor, the Education Officer and one other, as nominated by the General Committee. This Sub-Committee continued to exist until 1986, when the Committee selected the nomination of those who receive the award. Between 1977 and 1983, Mr Derek Williamson took responsibility as chairman of the Sub-Committee, and the reports in the Journals are quite extensive about the winners.

In 1978, Derek Williamson said while presenting the 6th McNiven Medal to Mr. Chris Kimpton: “The recipients must have been a financial or honorary member for not less than 18 months prior to the Award and must have made, in the eyes of the [Sub-] Committee, an outstanding contribution to astronomy. Having won the award does not exclude the recipient from receiving it again in future years.”

In 1983, Mr. Derek Williamson said “For this award, it is presented to full members over the age of 18 for contributions to astronomy or the Society.”

In 1985, when the medal was not presented, Mr.Glenn Dawes said, when stating why the McNiven was not awarded that year: “The McNiven Medal is awarded to any full member, for outstanding contributions to Astronomy. This does not necessarily mean the recipient has to discover a comet or nova. It could be awarded for observational, photographic, educational or even promotional work in amateur astronomy. Historicaly, it has been awarded on a yearly basis. This year we wish to depart from tradition and a McNiven Medal will not be presented. We, the Committee, felt that it was of great importance that the integrity of this, our most prestigious award, be preserved.”

In February 1975, Mr McNiven, at the age of eighty-six, fell very ill. His health had deteriorated over the year, which forced him to decline to continue on the position of Patron, which was nominated only in the previous year. His last year of his life was unfortunately away from the Society, and on the 23rd of May 1977, Mr.R.J.McNiven passed away, at the age of 88 years. His reputation in life was as a knowledgeable and clever man who’s overall Nature, at least after talking from those who had meet him, regarded him as a true gentleman, in the traditional sense. After so much service to the Society, it is worthy that his name is recognized for the Society’s main Medal of Merit. Over the years it has been presented to the very best of our members, who often have unselfishly contribute much of their time an effort in promoting, maintaining, and giving some prestige to our Society. The medal can also mark a pinnace of achievement for the individual regarding the Science of astronomy as amateur. As we as an Astronomical Society continue to grow, age and change, it is important to acknowledge where we have been, where we are now, and those who have placed us here.

Our path keeps going - following our Society motto: “In Futurum Videre” - To the Future We Look.

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Edward (Ted) Lumley

The 1st (1973) and 17th (1986) McNiven Medals were presented to Mr. Edward (Ted) Lumley, who was most worthy to receive the first medal, which was mainly awarded for his significant contributions to Astronomy. His overall assistance to the Society cannot be understated, and his service to the Society is both long and distinguished. One of his serious pursuits was variable star observations, and he passed these on to the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) for more than three decades. Mr Lumley dabbled in many aspects of astronomy, and members and the community alike have exploited his expertise, with questions relating to astronomy, astronomical devices and telescope making. He was renown for the publication of an article in Sky and Telescope about his modification of the Ronchi method for Mirror Testing, which is still used today.

For the Society, he produced the “Yearbook of Astronomy” between 1963 and 1985. Copies of this publication exceed one thousand copies for many years, and the profits made from this significantly helped reduce the cost of membership and/or contribute to Society profits. During the early years of the construction of the Bowen Mountain Observatory, the monies thus raised help push along the project. His assistance to this Society overall was just extraordinary, and it is unlikely that we will ever see such dedication from any present or future committee or ordinary member.

Ted was a Life Member from the early 1960's, and was our longest serving Committee Member for 38 years (2000). He served admirably as Observations Officer (1962-1994) and Education Officer (1995-2000).

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Kevin Cooper

The 2nd McNiven Medal was awarded in 1974 to Mr. Kevin Cooper. Joining the Society in 1969, he is interested in photography, electronics (Ie. Auto-Guiders and Drive Correctors) and planetary observations. His awarded is listed for his “contributions to astrophotography”. Kevin had particular influences in several different directions for the Society, including introducing important skills for many members in astrophotography. He also encouraged many others to do so, some that have continued even twenty-five years later. By the end of the 1970's to early 1980's, many of the noted observers in the Society became astrophotographers, and in the amateur astronomical community.

From 1972 to August 1977 Kevin was President of the Society, retiring this position when he changed jobs to work on the AAO at Coonabarabran. Today, he still lives in Coonabarabran, and has visited the South Pacific Star Party in 1999 and 2000.

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John Gardner 

The 3rd McNiven Medal was awarded in 1975 to Mr. John Gardner who studied at Sydney University as an electrical engineer. Joining the Society in 1972, he was awarded the McNiven Medal for services to astrophotography, including being the Photographic Section Leader at the time. John never held a Committee position of the ASNSW.

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Alan Yates F.R.A.S 

The 4th McNiven Medal was presented to Mr. Alan Yates F.R.A.S., who had contributed to development the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA). In the early 1970's, the Society had gone through some difficult times, with financial problems and a declining membership. Alan was actively involved with the Society and the Journal. His contributions certainly helped the Society in difficult times.

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Ken Wallace

The 5th and 10th McNiven Medals were presented to Mr. Ken Wallace, who was at the time the Treasurer, for his significant contributions to the Society, holding this position between 1978 and 1988. Starting as a Junior member in the Society, Ken became a keen observer and astrophotographer. He specialised in Solar Observations, and his drawing and general techniques produced a significant record of the activity of the Sun for many years. He held the position of Solar Section Leader from 1980 to 1981 and 1982 to 1983.

After the decimation of funds that crippled the Society financially and the decline, during the early to mid-1970's, of membership numbers to less than fifty, Mr. Wallace played a central and active role in promoting the Society. Once a careful financial position was established, he helped, almost single handedly, to increase the membership to around 320. Furthermore, he often helped with the printing of the Journal and the annual ephemeris and filled in as Editor on a number of occasions. His dedicated hard work almost single-handedly got Bowen Mountain up and running, spending many hours on the initial project. His abilities in fund raising during this time pushed along the building of the construction of the observatory, and he was involved is much of the organisation of material requirements. For this dedication, we again rewarded him with the 10th McNiven in 1982, and awarded him Life Membership in July 1988. His individual efforts during this time contributed to the present strength of the Society.

On accepting the 1978 Award he said in a short speech; “I’d like to thank the Awards Committee; my wife however deserves most of the credit for her tolerance. Thanks very much.”

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Cyril Brown 

6th McNiven Medal was presented to Mr. Cyril Brown for contributions to amateur astronomy and the Society. Mr. Brown during this time was mechanically competent, and was involved in the construction of telescopes and similar equipment. He did much work in printing the Journal and advising the Committee of much building expertise among the dozen-odd members who volunteered their labour. Like Mr.Ken Wallace, Mr. Brown devoted many hours to the Society. He remains a significant influence regarding many aspects with the development in the Society.

Cyril Brown held the reins of the Society during the financial and membership difficulties in the early 1970's, taking over the Presidency between 1970 and until late 1972, Technical Officer in 1975, and Librarian between 1976 and 1982. He has been made a Life Member in 1979 at the 25th Anniversary Dinner of the Society.

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David Crump 

The 7th McNiven Medal was presented in 1979 to Mr. David Crump at the 25th Anniversary Dinner of the Society for his written work in Universe, in a series of articles entitled “Crump’s Corner.” For the first time, significant observations were written in the Journal on deep-sky objects. Observing from the dark skies in Picton, this monthly article influenced people to observe. As Bowen Mount had become a regular observing spot for Society members, and his descriptions enticed members to observe and submit observations for the Journal. During this time he was a keen astrophotographer.

With a purchase of a Hydrogen-Alpha filter, made observations of the Sun. This filter was made available for members to observe on Sunday mornings at the home of Danny Gooden. His drawings, photographs and observations made this filter were quite notable, and for this, he was awarded the McNiven Medal. He also made generous donations to the Bowen Mountain project.

He also holds the record for the shortest acceptance speech since it inception. He simply said; “Astronomy has given me some wonderful sights, from flares to double stars. Thank You!”

Never holding a Committee position, he was nominated as Solar Section Leader between 1979 and 1981. The Patron, Mr.Sam Russo pledged a prize of $50 to each future McNiven Medal winner, which continued until 1980, when Mr.Russo move permanently overseas.

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Chris Kimpton 

The 8th McNiven Medal was presented to Mr. Chris Kimpton in October 1980. Mr.Kimpton was interested in the History of Astronomy, and present a number of articles on subjects, including Parramatta Observatory and Double Stars. However, the most significant contributions was his efforts in the life of the great Australian astronomer John Tebbutt. Mr. Kimpton had presented and published several historical papers about Tebbutt’s astronomical discoveries. He also was interest in electronic and various astronomical devices, including an auto-guider and drive corrector.

On receiving his award, he was particularly stunned, as he was on the Awards Committee, and was unable to attend the meeting due to business commitments. In his short words of thanks, he said; “I remember looking at various people in the past knowing full well that their name would be read out in the next second and watching their reaction. Now I know how it feels.”

He was the Technical Officer of the ASNSW between 1977 and 1980, then Vice-President between 1981 and 1983. Chris contributed much in these years in promoting the Society, providing a long list of good speakers. This again helped the Society to grow.

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Andrew James 

The 9th McNiven Medal was presented to Mr. Andrew James in October 1981. He joined the Society in April 1979, and at this time, was interested in Double Stars and general observing. Elected as Education Officer in July 1979, he showed much interest in education, and often manned the Society’ portable planetarium during field nights. Forming the Double Star Section in 1980, he promoted the observation of these objects. One of the most successful programmes organised was the “Double Star Colour Estimates”, contributing to increased observation by ASNSW members.

Mr. James has also held the positions as President (1987-88), Vice-President (1980-1981 and Sept.1982 to 1984) and Secretary (1983-1984), Education Officer (1979-1981) and Observations Officer (2000). We awarded the medal to him for his general “contributions to the Society”. Like most of the active members during this time, each assisted to revitalise the Society.

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Nick Loveday

The 11th and 12th McNiven Medals in 1983 were for the first time to two members of the Society. These were presented at the October General Meeting to Mr. Nick Loveday and Mr Glenn Dawes.

Mr. Loveday, an Electrical Engineer by trade, was presented with the award for his contributions in the construction of the Observatory at Bowen Mountain. Mr. Loveday contributed much to the overall design of the observatory and its “Trojan Helmet” dome. His great intelligence and general expertise contributed much to the Society, and often gave information and time to telescope design and construction. He was also awarded for his contribution to the Society as Editor.

Elected to the Committee as Editor between 1982 and 1984, he transformed the general quality of the Journal. His own technical articles, appeared in the Journal between 1981 and 1987, and all were of the highest quality. He was elected President in 1984-1985.

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Glenn Dawes

The 11th and 12th McNiven Medals in 1983 were for the first time to two members of the Society. These were presented at the October General Meeting to Mr. Nick Loveday and Mr Glenn Dawes.

Mr. Glenn Dawes was presented with the McNiven Medal for his photographic/ observational supernova search programme. For three years before this he was in involved in the production of suitable supernova charts with Greg Thompson of the Astronomical Association of Queensland (AAQ).

Glenn’s contribution has also held sway in his work promoting the Society, especially the maintaining of the Astrocards, and in assisting with the construction of the Bowen Mt. Observatory. Glenn was elected as Education Officer in 1981 and 1988 and Vice-President in 1984. He became President between 1985 and 1987. During this time Mr.Dawes helped find the Society’s Wiruna site, and was highly influential in early development of this site.

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Robert Price 

The 13th McNiven Medal was present to Mr. Robert Price, our first country member to receive the award. Living in Cootamundra, he made a significant number of observations, mainly with variable stars and lunar occultations. Robert used the Society’s 6" Refractor, which he made a suitable dome to house it. A prolific observer, he became interested in photography, and presented these for inspection from time to time at meetings, when visiting Sydney. Mr. Price wrote many articles for the Journal, and often had a few ASNSW members staying at his home. He actively promoted the Society in his own township, and some of these also joined the Society.

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Rev. Robert Evans

The 15th McNiven Medal was presented in 1996 to the Rev. Robert Evans for his significant visual discoveries of supernovae within other galaxies. Recognised worldwide for his discovery, and holds the world record for the number discovered for an individual amateur. Many astronomical organisations have praised and awarded him for his efforts, including the Astronomical Society of Australia and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (A.A.V.S.O.). Rev. Evans holds particular pride to be one of our members, and certainly a very worthy recipient of the McNiven Medal.

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Robert McNaught 

The 16th McNiven Medal was presented in 1997 to Mr. Robert McNaught. Mr. McNaught has contributed significantly to astronomy, especially in the field of asteroid, supernova and nova discovery. Considered by some as an amateur/ professional astronomer, he is involved in the search of Near Earth Crossing asteroids and in the search for novae and supernova. His expertise has been recognised worldwide for their efforts.

He was first to photograph an image Supernova 1987A in the LMC and from his discoveries, both an asteroid and a comet also bears his name. His has had a close association with the ASNSW in recent years, and has addressed our South Pacific Star Party. His award was presented at the 5th South Pacific Star Party.

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Gordon Garradd 

17th McNiven Medal was awarded in 1998 to Mr. Gordon Garradd. Like Mr McNaught, he has contributed significantly to astronomy, especially in the field of asteroid, supernova and nova discovery. Mr. Garradd was recognised in 1998 with the presentation at the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) by the Astronomical Society of Australia with the prestigious Berenice Page Medal. This is for his outstanding contributions to Astronomy, namely the observation of comets and asteroids by finding astrometric positions, and for his search for Near Earth Crossing Asteroids using CCD imagery. Furthermore, discovered four novae in the LMC to date, and is a participant in the Photographic Fireball Patrol. Mr Garradd also has an asteroid named after him 5066 Garradd. He has been a member of the Society since 1974, and is likely the most successful of all the Society member. His award was presented at the 6th South Pacific Star Party.

He was described by the President of the Astronomical Society of Australia at the NACAA in 1998, as the “best amateur astronomer in the world!”

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