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What's in a name? Ask Australia.

I have always loved this photo. It was taken in 1961, but feels like it could easily have been taken earlier than that. The juxtaposition of a man on horseback herding sheep against a large – and unusual - manmade structure is very striking. It elicits a sense of either tension or an harmony between the old and the new, or perhaps just the inevitability of change.

The man is AJ “Austie” Hem. It was AJ Helm who sold CSIRO 70 hectares of his 360-hectare property for the construction of a 64-metre radio telescope. 

I have drawn people’s attention to this photo many times over the years and usually mentioned “AJ Helm” or “Austie Helm”, without much more thought. A couple of weeks ago it suddenly struck me how odd the nickname “Austie” is. Was it just a twist of Austin or something less obvious. Delightfully, yes.

It turns out that AJ Helm was born on 30 July 1915, to James and Beatrice Helm. Australia was at war and the Gallipoli campaign was underway. There was the constant need to raise funds for the war effort and to try to keep spirits high when good news must have seemed very rare. A Sydney Morning Herald article describes the public meeting at which it was decided to coordinate “a ‘great Australia Day’” to raise funds to “provide comforts and nursing assistance for sick and injured Australian soldiers and sailors”. The day set aside for this ‘Australia Day’ was 30 July, AJ Helm’s birthday.

He was given his father’s name, James, as his second name. In the spirit of the day, however, his parents named him Australia. AJ Helm was in fact Australia James Helm and Austie is short for Australia. So when Australia was looking for a site for a radio telescope, they purchased one from Australia.   

I had the pleasure of visiting the Dish a few years ago and staying onsite while we performed a live web gig and recorded a music video. As you step outside and the kangaroos hop through the morning mist and the dish peers over the trees, there is a still a wonderful sense of calm and quiet achievement. I recommend it.

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