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Siding Spring Observatory Tours - the next chapter

Hundreds of businesses struggle to find employees. Regional areas in NSW and QLD worst-hit

Listening to ABC News radio as I worked today, the daily news bulletins cycled through, not once but a few times. The war in Ukraine, the floods in Wollongong and stagflation hit the headlines each time. But as a new newsworthy post diverted the afternoon's routine,it captured my attention:

Hundreds of businesses struggle to find employees. Regional areas in NSW and QLD worst-hit aff.

For the past 18 or so months, Dark Sky Traveller has been delivering tours at Siding Spring Observatory, on behalf of the Australian National University, on a trial basis. You may have been one of our guests who took the detour west, and found yourself in the crooked mountains.

Like all good research institutions, we were testing what could be implemented to draw tourists there, and what worked and what didn’t. Starting with occasional day tours and building to include school and group tour travel packages we were making progress with our TripAdvisor reviews reflecting the public’s thoughts in glowing terms; it all felt pretty good.

However, Siding Spring and Dark Sky Traveller were not immune to the complexities being faced by several other – and it seems, regionally based – businesses with staff. The already challenging and remote environment (400km from Sydney and ~150lm from Dubbo/Narrabri/Tamworth) made finding tour guides willing, able and available to deliver tours on what can be a daunting topic, impossible. Even tripling the hourly rates and offering accommodation, meals, and petrol money saw little traction.

What must be said is that ANU, and the RSAA (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics) has been exceptionally supportive of tourism and outreach. It was as much a blow to them as it was to me, when I advised, it was simply not possible to keep carrying on with the tours due to a shortage of staff and simply no one available to lead tours.

At least this was the situation for the time being.

For now, Siding Spring Observatory is open 8.30 am – 3 pm on weekdays (closed on weekends and public holidays) and everyone can drive up, see the views and walk into the Visitors’ Gallery in the Anglo Australian Telescope. There is no café, but you can still enjoy a guided tour and learn more about the telescopes and discoveries, by participating in one of our two apps:

· Walking tour of the Anglo Australian Telescope

Looking to the future, we are now keen to hear your thoughts and feedback about the tours (if you did them) and the venue generally. What did you like about it, what else does it need, who did you visit with, and would you recommend it, and why? All these questions are in our survey and will help us work out what next steps should be taken to make it a truly great asset to astronomy, tourism, and the local community.

Finally, to every one of our 4,500 or so guests who visited this year, learned about Australian astronomy, and now know what a dark sky place is, we are truly grateful. Thank you for visiting and thank you for being a part of what we love doing most - astrotourism.

We truly appreciate your support.



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