My interest in astronomy and stargazing in WA began when I co-owned and operated the public observatory in the Shire of Gingin between 2007 and 2012. The interest grew and I founded Stargazers Club WA in 2013 to help beginners start a hobby in astronomy.
Over the years, I have come to understand regional WA’s unique strengths in space science and our spectacular dark night sky. I had been asking myself, “How can this incredible natural asset be protected and used to attract visitors from around the world?”
I founded Astrotourism WA in 2018. My background in marketing, experience in regional development and a passion for stargazing converged.
It’s been a remarkable journey under the stars so far. With each passing year my astronomical adventure gets bigger than I ever imagined.
My passion for stargazing and astronomy in Western Australia was ignited when I co-owned and operated the observatory in the Shire of Gingin. From 2007 to 2012 my business partner, Donna Vanzetti, and I ran public stargazing nights. During these years, we were proud to have employed over 10 people and increased the number of visitors to the observatory (predominantly on Friday and Saturday nights) from 1,000 to over 5,500 per year.
It was a joy to stand under the beautiful dark night sky and listen to amateur and professional astronomers recount the stories and science of the view above. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my passion for WA’s dark night sky would grow steadily over many years.
During this time, I was also fortunate to work in regional development with the Wheatbelt Development Commission. It was a privilege to travel the Wheatbelt and foster a regional economy built on collaboration.
After the business sold in 2012, the urge to continue engaging people with stargazing and astronomy was still strong. In 2013 I founded Stargazers Club WA, which is especially for beginners wanting to start out in the hobby of astronomy.
Much like when I first began in astronomy, I know what it feels like to be lost in a sea of technical terms and an abundance of information. Starting an astronomical hobby can certainly be quite daunting.
Stargazers Club WA has a great team and together we have taught hundreds of people how to use telescopes, start out in astrophotography and learn about astronomy and stargazing under the WA night sky.
All this time, from my home in Gingin two hours north of Perth, I could see the light pollution of the city getting closer and closer.
Protecting the Dark Night Sky
Recent analysis of advanced satellite images of Earth at night by GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences in Germany, indicates that the rate of light pollution across the globe is increasing by approximately 2% every year in area and 2% every year in brightness.
According to The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness, more than 80%of the world’s population lives under light polluted skies. In the United States and Europe, 99% experience skyglow at night. The Milky Way is hidden from more than one-third of humanity, including 60% of Europeans and nearly 80% of North Americans.
An idea to combine astronomy and tourism has slowly formed. In early 2018, I made the decision to pursue a vision for Astrotourism in WA while running Stargazers Club WA. I was honoured to be a finalist with the project in the 2018 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.
In March 2018, I visited communities in the Wheatbelt and Mid West regions to see if there was any interest to develop an Astrotourism sector of the Regional Tourism Industry and, at the same time, work to reduce artificial light pollution and protect the dark night sky.
The level of interest and enthusiasm from communities has been impressive.
In 2018/19, nine Local Governments engaged me to help them to become Astrotourism destinations with a project called Astrotourism Towns. These are the City of Greater Geraldton-Mullewa and the Shires of Carnamah, Dandaragan, Mingenew, Moora, Morawa, Perenjori, Three Springs and Wongan-Ballidu.
I have started listing towns and stargazing destinations on the Astrotourism WA map. Domestic and International promotion has begun. I foresee increased visitor numbers, more overnight stays and increased visitor expenditure in regional WA.
I’m working with these communities to roll out the “welcome mat” for visitors to experience world-class stargazing, Aboriginal Astronomy culture and heritage, and to use telescopes and cameras for astronomy-related activities.
At the same time, I’m helping the towns protect the dark-sky asset by advising on artificial light pollution and appropriate outdoor and street lighting for astronomical activities.
In an increasingly light polluted world, we’re working together to protect regional WA’s dark night sky, so that we’ll have a world-class tourism asset for decades to come!