Geoff Wyatt is senior astronomy educator at Sydney Observatory. In this interview he talks about his childhood interest in planets and stars, the history of the Observatory, Indigenous astronomy, and many other aspects of his working life. In the excerpt below Geoff describes the cultural value of the night sky and laments the light pollution which renders the night sky increasingly invisible from Sydney.
I just adore Japan, but what breaks my heart every time I go there is their absolute passion for astronomy. You can walk down the street in Tokyo and see observatories on top of schools, on top of private buildings, that put many places in Australia to shame, but they don’t have the sky for it because it’s so horribly polluted. There are generations of people growing up there that don’t get to see the stars. I went to Uluru for quite some time and I can remember on many occasions young Japanese honeymoon couples crying, looking at the Milky Way for the first time. They could not believe that the sky could look like that and they were that overjoyed they would cry. Now, here in Sydney we’re not quite as bad as that. We can still see quite a few stars but it’s getting harder and harder. The Southern Cross is looking more like a southern triangle because the fifth brightest star is getting harder to see, and the fourth one is getting harder to see as well. Well, the night sky is just as important a resource as, in my opinion, Kakadu or any other natural resource that we have in this land. The stars, they’re useful. I mean, we’ve been using them for thousands of years to work out the length of the year; we’ve been using them to navigate by; but the indigenous people, again, of this land have been using them for far longer than anybody else to work out the changing of the seasons, when to look for particular stock that’s coming into breeding season, dingo pups, Malleefowl, whatever. So they’ve been using these as seasonal markers for thousands of years, so for us to come along and shine some stupidly bright light up into the night sky, it’s irresponsible; it’s wrong; it’s a waste of energy and it shouldn’t be done.