“What’s it doing in the middle of a sheep paddock?”

I like daisies. I like spaghetti bolognaise. I like romantic comedies, songs I can sing along to, red cars, books, trivia, road trips and Christmas festivities.

I do not like science.

Well, apart from an hilarious substitute teacher who made us float around the science lab “like particles” and the short period in my childhood, where I thought my collection of rocks qualified me to call myself a geologist, I don’t like science.

Until now…

Recently I took one of my beloved road trips west to Forbes. Favourite road tripping partner Ween by my side, we headed out to visit her man Millsy. Other than the lake and a strange car museum, there’s not a lot to see in Forbes (although the roses were in full bloom in most front gardens, which was pretty lovely), but down the road in neighbouring Parkes, stands a famous landmark from the history books.

The Parkes Radio Telescope. Or as it’s more affectionately (and famously) known, The Dish.

Ten years ago, I, like most Aussies, watched the hilarious movie depicting the story of this iconic piece of science history. From the team behind the The Panel (Rob Sitch, Tom Gleisner etc), The Dish was a feel-good movie with a twist – it shed light on the mostly untold story of the Australian involvement in bringing Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” into living rooms across the world, when the Parkes dish was used to transmit the images from the moon landing onto TV screens.

Ten years ago, I remember being awed by the significance of the Aussie involvement in such a momentous event and laughing at lines like “you treat us like a pack or galahs!” or “the arse falling out of me dacks” and of course the unforgettable line from the Prime Minister regarding The Dish’s location, “What’s it doing in the middle of a sheep paddock?”, but it wasn’t until I took a trip to see for myself, that I realised just how awesome the whole thing was.

As you drive out of town, you catch the odd glimpse in the distance, getting slightly bigger as it pops up between clumps of trees, til finally you round a bend and there it is. Magnificent in all it’s glory, a perfect white dish, staring up into the sun.

At the visitors centre, where all mobile phones must be switched off to avoid any crossed-radio-waves, there are all kinds of gadgety things and interesting tid-bits detailing the life of Australia’s largest radio telescope observatory. The Dish celebrated it’s 50th anniversary shortly after our visit, on 31st October 2011. Even Google paid homage with its image of the day:

As well as an explanation on how The Dish was built, how it came to be a part of the moon landing in 1969 (only 8 years after it’s completion), exactly what that involvement was and how to this day The Dish is still used in NASA missions, the visitors centre also has a couple of those stretchy/bendy, thin/fat, tall/short mirrors. You know the ones. Some make you feel like a supermodel, others like you belong in single file with a pick-axe and a friend called Snow White. Still, these mirrors were nearly the highlight of the trip. That was until we stepped outside to view The Dish in all its giant glory.

Though some of my dear readers might disagree, I don’t consider myself someone who suffers from instant-excitement-syndrome (do not quote this medical term…). At least not for anything unrelated to food… But when I stood at the base of The Dish and looked up, I became agitated with amazement. “It’s a… It’s… It’s a scientific, engineering, space-age thing of beauty!”. Ween and Millsy looked at me, looked at each other and back to me. Had I remembered to turn off my mobile phone or was I suffering some kind of crossed-radio-wave? No, no. I was experiencing my first nerdy science appreciation moment. I was truly awe-struck.

I mean seriously, how the hell does someone come up with such a beautiful looking piece of architecture and such a highly functioning piece of equipment, put them together, in the middle of a sheep paddock, in the middle of a huge southern hemisphere continent and make history happen. No wonder I was speechless.

And to top things off, it started moving. Yes, we saw The Dish make an almost 360 degree turn. We sat in silence, in the sunshine, with our Golden Gaytimes, and watched it worship the skies in a great big circle.

To be honest, I could have sat there staring at it for the entire afternoon, but instead I bought a postcard and as soon as I got back to Sydney, I hit the DVD store and rented The Dish. I have since watched it another 3 times…

So basically yes, I am now obsessed with The Dish and have no qualms in telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s well worth a trip to Parkes to check it out.

Who knew science could be so fascinating…



About Tablecloths & Talking

Food. Friends. Fun. Preferably together. I love to eat, drink & be merry. I love to write. Tablecloths & Talking is me writing about doing the things I love.
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