The Old Observatory is the first-place colonists to Western Australia officially explored the stars.
When the foundation stone for Perth Observatory was laid in October 1896, almost every important person in the city was gathered at the site on Mount Eliza. Not only was the new residence and dome going to examine the night sky, it would also gather meteorological information such as temperature, wind speed and rainfall.
The residence for the Government Astronomer was designed by architect George Temple Poole in 1896, while the dome building to contain the telescope was designed by Sir Howard Grubb the following year. Once completed, astronomer William Earnest Cooke was appointed, and his family moved into the house.
Observatory staff had to climb the hill above St George’s Terrace every day to get to work, but the Cooke family was quite isolated living on Mount Eliza. Part of their responsibility was to look out for bushfires coming from Kings Park.
One additional function of the observatory was to help the residents accurately set their clocks. The observatory used sun-tracking equipment in the transit room, and to tell the people of Perth what the time was there was a canon fired daily at 1:00pm so people could set their watches.
During WW2 the Director General of Posts and Telegraphs made available Observation Centres across Australia for the monitoring of various frequency bands. These Observation Centres were fully manned by the Post Office with qualified Radio Operators who carried out radio surveillance work. These qualified radio operators formed what was known as the 1 Australian Discrimination Unit in the early years of WWII (from 1939 to about 1941/42) the Perth Observation Centre was located in the Old Observatory.
The observatory dome was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the building of Dumas House for government offices, but the former chief astronomer’s house remains, and is now occupied by the National Trust.