A new tourism trail is aiming to propel Tamworth and much of regional NSW into national stardom by linking every astronomical site in southeastern Australia.
Retired scholar and author Dr Merrill Findlay is designing an Inland Astro-Tour with the aim of convincing coastal city folk to trade the ocean for a sea of stars.
"We've got 'stargates' in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Adelaide to drag coastal people across the mountains. More than 85 per cent of the population live on that narrow coastal veranda and hardly come in here, so we've got to find cosmic ways to draw them inland," Dr Findlay said.
With help from her group the Big Skies Collaboration, the writer wants tens of thousands of visitors to travel inland to see a night sky free of air and light pollution, learning about arts and sciences and contributing to the economic development of regional areas along the way.
"This has always been bubbling away in our heads, and before COVID we attempted to get it together, but we've had three years of disruption so now we're back into trying to make it happen," Dr Findlay said.
"Amateur astronomers, as many of the people here are, have made enormous contributions to science. These guys are doing what you'd call citizen science, contributing to our wealth of knowledge about the universe," Dr Findlay said.
"What they've achieved is gobsmacking. This is a fabulous centre and it's still in the process of coming into its own, and of course we've got First Nations astronomy here too, more than 65,000 years of it."
Since opening, volunteers at the astronomy centre have been continuously working to grow and expand the tourist attraction with the help of generous donations from the local community.
The astronomy centre has experimented with small-scale astro-tourism before, but inclusion on an inter-state tourism trail would thrust Tamworth's science tourism into the stratosphere.
The trail is in the early stages of development, with Dr Findlay currently doing a one-woman trial run of the entire trail by herself.
"My skills are in literature, so I'm writing a travel log of the journey and that will be the platform from which we promote the trail. There's no authenticity unless you do it yourself," she said.
"The actual doing of the trail will be a huge collaboration, and very expensive, so we'll be doing lots of grant applications ... I'm seeing it as a five-year project."
The retired scholar said embarking on this endeavour is "the most challenging project" she's ever undertaken in her 70 years of life, but she's hopeful it'll all prove worthwhile.
Dr Findlay says her overarching goal is to inspire future generations to explore the nation's "big inland sky" in new and creative ways.
She said astronomy, which she calls humanity's "first science," encourages people to not only contribute to scientific research, but to create poetry, music, and many other forms of art.
"Astronomy's the oldest science. Every single culture has it in some form, whether it's astronomy or astrology or anything else. We've always found inspiration among the stars," Dr Findlay said.
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