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Memento : Issue 35
14 NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA From Wallal, in Australia's far north-west, to Goondiwindi, near the New South Wales-- Queensland border, local and international scientists watched the sun and waited. A total solar eclipse was due on 21 September 1922. An eclipse always held scientific interest, but this one offered the chance to confirm one of the most revolutionary theories in science. Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity predicted that light passing near an object such as the sun would be bent by gravity. In 1919, Arthur Eddington's observations of a total solar eclipse lent support to Einstein's theory, but some challenged his results. The 1922 eclipse, best observed in Australia, promised to decide the matter. 'The occasion is unique', noted the Commonwealth Meteorologist, Henry Ambrose Hunt, 'and the observations are likely to be of much scientific value, and in the interests of and for the credit of the Commonwealth.' The Australian Government proudly played its part, with Hunt coordinating support for visiting scientists. Since 1920 he had been collecting data on possible observation sites and communicating with scientific institutions around the world. On his advice, the Lick Observatory in the United States mounted a major expedition to isolated Wallal. Transport was difficult and Hunt considered possibilities ranging from pearl- luggers to motor cars before recommending that the Navy provide the necessary logistical support. As the big day neared, Prime Minister Billy Hughes cabled the scientists his 'best wishes for a fine day and successful observations.' While the research seemed mainly of scientific interest, an eager public followed preparations for the eclipse. There were also hints that the study of the sun might have more practical consequences. Looking at the sun The sun has been an ambiguous presence in Australia's history. In the early 20th century, scientists, farmers, graziers and the government thought the sun might hold the key to understanding the weather, as Dr Tim Sherratt explains. [left] Goondiwindi was the observation site for expeditions from Melbourne Observatory, Sydney Observatory and the University of Sydney. Only identified as 'Wellish', this is probably Edward Wellish, a lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Sydney. [opposite page] Workmen constructing the solar tower at the Commonwealth Solar Observatory at Mount Stromlo, 1928. Russell Grimwade Collection, University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/3223