By Margaret Maccoll
Owen Bennedick’s 69th birthday last Sunday marked 60 years since his interest in astronomy began as a nine-year-old boy with a pair of binoculars and a cousin interested in chasing UFOs.
He now has a private observatory with 34 telescopes, six capable of safely viewing the sun and is raising money for his next acquisition, a radio-telescope.
Over the years his interest has only grown. Since giving up his day job as a sound and light technician for discos and concerts about five years ago he has thrown himself into sharing his passion and his knowledge of astronomy and earth gained over decades of learning.
Owen now hosts shows at his Wappa Falls Astronomical Observatory of up to 700 people and has a mobile show he takes to schools and other events.
Having spent so many years gazing into space led Owen to appreciate planet Earth so his focus now includes a message on the importance of protecting the environment.
His message begins with home with almost all of Owen’s telescopes, stages and displays made from recycled materials, while others have been donated to him.
“I do a lot of rebuilding. I try not to buy anything new,“ he said. “Planet Earth is copping a caning. We have to do what we can to look after life on planet earth. There’s no point stargazing if you don’t have a planet to look from.“
Through his many telescopes guests can observe the solar systems and discover facts about the elements viewed. You can find the nearest star to the earth, a mere 4.35 light years away or see the planet Venus 236 million km away.
Owen has seven different 90 minute programs he delivers to guests covering all aspects of astronomy, hoping to deliver them the ’wow factor’.
“I try to run shows at at a lower level everyone can understand,“ he said. “Hopefully the excitement will kick in and they’ll take it further.“
Over the years Owen’s shows have been seen by more than 120,000 people from central Queensland to New South Wales and attended by people from universities, schools, from small children to people in their 90s and those with disabilities. He feels he’s done his job if he leaves them wanting more.
“A young fellow came along recently with a scope telescope. He thought he knew everything. By the end of the night he found out he knew nothing,“ he said.
“I want them to get enthusiastic. There is no end to it. It’s one of the few hobbies you can start out with no knowledge or equipment and have a lifetime of enjoyment.“
Astronomy is a hobby that anyone can take on with virtually no money if they’re prepared to put in a bit of an effort to build their own equipment.
Owen is not formally trained but has built up his bank of knowledge through reading, research, talking to experts and visiting other observatories.
“It begins with a dream,“ he said.
Whatever funds Owen makes through his shows goes to his charities to support children in Tanzania and Peru and support the Rural Fire Service and the rest is invested in new equipment and improving his shows.
For more information visit http://www.wappafallsobservatory.com