During my investigations I was struck by the many strong parallels between the events of the time and those that occurred in the amateur astronomical community up to a century later. I am constantly reminded of a quote often attributed to Mark Twain “History doesn’t repeat itselfbut it often rhymes.”

So these events which unfolded in the Brisbane Astronomical Society between 1896 and 1917 were destined in a large part to repeat themselves over the ensuing century.

One of the main issues is the propensity of certain strong personality types to become antagonistic towards each other. Perhaps each of these active and energetic parties has a different vision and a different manner of pursuing it, and trouble is to be expected if their paths cross.

Sometimes, once a pattern is established, it may cloud rational action. In scientific and other organisations, this has occurred since antiquity. For example the dispute between Newton and Hooke became very vindictive, certainly on Newton’s part.

I am reminded of Julius Caesar (I,ii,140-141), “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In this respect it can be interpreted that Fate is not what drives men to their decisions and actions, but rather the human condition. It is within us and not external.

Then, there is the lethargy of the members in failing to support even quite modest initiatives that would benefit the organisation. This lack of support by members of the Brisbane Astronomical Society after its formation in 1896 swiftly led to its effective collapse with a final coup de grace in 1917. This pattern has been repeated.

This may seem very pessimistic but there is also an upside. Often individual members will become very motivated and active. But equally as often they burn out after a few years when, either their interests change, or they realise that little lasting is being achieved. There are those of course who plod on in a steady fashion over decades, but the average membership lasts merely a few years.

About the author

Peter Anderson
Peter Anderson
Peter has been involved in practical amateur astronomy and involved with the local astronomical society since 1958. Has been a member of the AAQ since its inception in 1978, and is the Associations unofficial Historian.
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