HARLEY WOOD, Government Astronomer

Issued by








By Andrew James

The following web pages were reproduced from a small 40-page A5-sized booklet that was issued by Sydney Observatory and written by the then N.S.W. Government Astronomer, Dr. Harley Wood. A number of editions of this booklet were published during the Second World War (WWII), and this 4th version which happens to be the last edition to be made. The original document “was orginally produced for boy scouts with a supplement to make it more useful for miltary purposes.”. The later editions were greatly expanded. This whole booklet became the basis for training and teaching service personnel in the Australian army, navy and air force.
Dr. Harley Wood made significant contributions in New South Wales as an educator for The principals of astronomy and the use of stars for navigation during manouvers or in finding ones way when combating the enemy under the required camouflage of total darkness. During times of war the lives of you and your platoon or squadron relied on such knowledge for the survival countless lives. It also could be used for example, in positioning your forces at night on attacks on o the opposing forces.
This booklet had some real benefits. As said By Dr. Wood in his introduction; “...officers who had taken part in such campaigns seem impressed it which is increased by the present-day practices of performing many military movements at night.
This book was also usually taken by one of the unit’leaders, and could be practically used. Ie. The back cover with the attached text inside could be easily used for nighttime star navigation or find ones bearings. It is a tribute to its effectiveness in the easy and concise language style use. No doubt this vooklet savemany lives.
Of course, the real advantage other than finding direction was also in using the Sun, Moon and stars to get a rough idea of the time. Such advantages were applicable in knowing when twilight was up you. The advantages of soldiers having some astronomical knowledge had already been shown in the desert campaigns in North Africa. In Australia this was from the very real possibility during 1942-1943 of having to defend the comparatively uninhabited countryside of the northern part of the continent against a invading Japenese force.
I have reproduced the information as per the original document that I have in my possession. The page background colours are as identical to the document feasible. I would have produced the document pages as single images, however, the age and text font were difficult to reproduce accurately - so I just typed it all. The figures are also a little bit bigger than they should be, but I have reproduced them as close as I could to the original. Everything is as it appears, except for ‘Figure. III’ - on finding ‘Sunrise and Sunset’. The error seems to be more with the Government Printer Office who made the booklet. A poor copy unfortuneately has made the times written on the graph quite eligible.
The Star charts also attached from the last few pages of the booklet hasve been reproduced over the years in a dozen or so different books or publications. Ie. Harley Wood’ 1960’s popularised book. I am unsure if anyone has claimed copyright on them, however, the star charts here have been reproduced from the original document and background, whose copyright has long since lapsed. These charts do have some personal meaning to me. I can still recall many years ago using these star charts - in a separate booklet entitled ‘ STAR CHARTS’ (and the text of this appears as a seperate addundum) In my early teenage years it was made far more special in having Dr. Wood personally giving me my own copy on my first visit to Sydney Observatory! Thankfully these charts only going down to 4th magnitude was a true god-send, as the magnitude limit was just above the sky brightness from an inner suburbs of Sydney.
In all, much of the information presented is still quite relevant 60 years later (2005) though the written style is slightly antiquated. I am unsure who might like to read this booklet - but I’m sure it will remind those who were scouts or those who did military service. Perhaps if you read this, you perhaps send me a e-mail or two, reflecting upon the times this was written or even a short comment on the text.
Towards the beginner - as a comment - knowledge of the sky is these days rarely, if ever, needed. These days using the stars to find you way is requires a general available GPS satellite navigation device and/or a mobile phone, and you can never be lost or not know where you are. The art of navigating using the stars seems almost redundant. However, although the spread of urban environments encroach upon us even seeing the stars, nevertheless, if you do know the sky, then during fine weather you will never find yourself in completely unfamiliar surroundings. The best part is you will be always in familiar and friendly enviroment and this will enable you to orientate yourself regardless of where you are. As reflected in the contents of this booklet, such knowledge will be easy to grasp as while you read it and see the stars for yourself.

Andrew James : 29th April 2005.

NOTE: Text written as [*NN] is the page number in the original document.

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