FROM the first bleat of Sputnik I in 1957, Australians have been obsessed with space and was, largely because of our geography, at the forefront of space investigation.
Now the National Archives of Australia have launched an historical exhibition drawing largely on their own extensive collection of memorabilia associated with space travel, including a little bit of moon rock and the very first “Mr Squiggle, the man from the moon”, invented by puppeteer Norman Hetherington in 1959.
The exhibition looks back at the nation’s response to space research and exploration from the 1950s to the 1970s, the show jets through mid-century fashion and flying saucer societies to early satellites and rocket playgrounds, as the space race captured the imagination of ordinary Aussies.
This is one show for which director-general of the archives, David Fricker, is prepared to wear his heart on his sleeve and as he and curator Catriona Donnelly showed press around yesterday (September 30) he was plainly thrilled to show off four tiny moon rocks, collected by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their Moonwalk in July 1969 and a Sputnik-inspired coffee machine made for roadhouses.
In celebrating Australia’s involvement in the space race, he said, the exhibition would have “something for everyone, from cutting edge scientific research to space-age toys, design, television and much more.”
The research, Donnelly said, had also thrown up stories of extraordinary individuals, like inventor Duan Philips, still going strong at 92 years of age, who started making a flying saucer in the 1960s and hasn’t given up.
There was also the involvement of nearby Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, which played such an important part in the success of the Apollo 11 mission, receiving the first eight minutes of live footage from the Moon before the video feed was transferred to Parkes radio telescope.
For the more fashion conscious visitors, there is a section on the pop culture representations of space, notably our first sci-fi TV series, “The Stranger” screened on the ABC in 1964 to 1965 and a space-age themed graduation parade at the June Dally-Watkins’ Deportment and Modelling school in 1969.
This is a mixed show which should appeal to both scientific curiosity and patriotism. And if the federal government has anything to do with it Australia might be entering a space renaissance.
“Out of This World: Australia in the space age”, National Archives National, Kings Avenue, Parkes, Canberra until March 14, then it will tour nationally. Free.