A small observatory was established on Mount Stromlo in 1911, becoming the Commonwealth Solar Observatory (CSO) in 1924. At the suggestion of the observatory’s director, Dr Richard Woolley, the observatory ceased practically all peacetime activities in July 1940 and devoted its resources to making optical munitions, some of them destined for American forces.

A Munitions Annexe was established at Mount Stromlo to make prisms and optical lenses. All the grinding and polishing machines used were designed in the observatory and made either in its own workshop or in the Department of the Interior Workshop in Canberra. At the peak of its activity the observatory employed some 60 people, a big expansion of the small pre-war observatory community. By the end of the war, the observatory ranked alongside the University of Melbourne as a centre for pioneering optical techniques and for disseminating them into industry.

The Observatory, Mount Stromlo


The Observatory, Mount Stromlo The Observatory, Mount Stromlo ART21392

In May 1945 Curtis visited the CSO and commented on the international character of the “little community working on the mountain”. Local employees travelled by bus out to the CSO from Canberra each day, to work alongside some of the best young scientists from Australia, Europe, and Canada – including some who had been interned as enemy aliens.

Prisms for guns


Prisms for guns

Prisms were vital for the production of binoculars and periscopes. The artist has depicted them as gem like objects in the hands of Arthur Powell, an Australian employed by the Optical Lens Department at Mount Stromlo.

No. 9 Mk III Telescope and case

Manufactured at Mount Stromlo, this telescope is of the type used by long-range heavy artillery units of the Australian army and the RAN for coastal defence installations.


No 9 Mk III Telescope Storage Case No 9 Mk III Telescope Storage Case REL33897.002

No 9 Mk III Telescope No 9 Mk III Telescope REL33897.001