ANU mourns the death of Mount Stromlo treasure Joan Duffield

4 November 2014

The University community is mourning the death of Joan Duffield, a treasured member of the Mount Stromlo community and a long-time supporter of science and astronomy.

Miss Duffield died peacefully at her aged care home in Victoria. She was 104.

Miss Duffield was the daughter of Professor Walter Geoffrey Duffield, who lobbied for 18 years for Australia to build a solar observatory. In 1924, he was appointed the inaugural Director of the Solar Physics Observatory at Mount Stromlo and he held the position until his death in 1929.

After her family moved to Australia from England, Miss Duffield spent part of her childhood on the mountain, starting a life-long association with the Observatory.

In her later years, she recalled her early days in Canberra, remembering life in the Hotel Canberra, workers laying the foundations for Old Parliament House, and the building of the Director’s Residence at Mount Stromlo.

“The Director's Residence was finished towards the end of 1928 so we were at last able to move in. My parents gave a huge house‑warming party to celebrate the occasion, a large number of people descending on our doorstep to join us in merrymaking,” she wrote.

“On the 9th of May 1927, Canberra's provisional Parliament House was opened by the Duke of York, who later became King George VI.

“By this time politicians had arrived from all over the country taking up residence in either the Hotel Canberra or the Hotel Kurrajong. The Prime Minister's Lodge was finished in early May and was occupied by the then Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce.”

Professor Matthew Colless, Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA), paid tribute to Miss Duffield. He first met her in the 1990s when he arrived at Mount Stromlo as a Research Fellow.

“Joan had an indelible legacy at Mount Stromlo and maintained a keen interest in the people and events there throughout her life,” he said.

“I remember her vivid enjoyment in hearing about what was happening, her sharp questions, and her lovely stories about the earliest days of the Observatory. Her passing marks the end of an era at Mount Stromlo."

Joan’s support was very generous not only in the support she gave through her frequent visits to Mount Stromlo but also by establishing two endowments.

In 1996 the Joan Duffield Postgraduate Scholarship was established to encourage outstanding Australian students to pursue PhD degree courses in Astronomy and Astrophysics at ANU. Over 18 years, 21 students have been supported by these scholarships.

In 1999, Joan set up the Duffield Chair in Astronomy in honour of her father. The Duffield Chair has been occupied by Professor Kenneth Freeman, winner of the PM’s Prize for Science in 2013.

In 2003, the Canberra Bushfires gutted and damaged the Mount Stromlo Observatory’s old heliostat dome beyond repair. The precision re-engineering of the heliostat was funded by a generous donation from Miss Duffield.

In 2010, Miss Duffield celebrated her 100th birthday on Mount Stromlo.

The ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and future students will continue to benefit from her generous gifts.