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Published September 11th 2012
There are certain films we should all, as Aussies, see and enjoy.
High on this list should be the classic made in the year 2000, The Dish. Amongst the stellar cast, the movie stars Sam Neil, Roy Billing and Patrick Warburton and gives an amusing (if not a little embellished) account of the Australian role in televising the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969.
The quirky thing about this movie is that you can actually drive out to Parkes, in rural New South Wales, and have a free look at the most famous character of the movie, the dish itself.
It just sits there in a perfectly natural rural setting, looking rather odd in amongst sheep and swaying grasses.
The CSIRO Parkes radio telescope – to give the full title – is open to the general public every day of the year, except Christmas and Boxing Days, from 8:30am to 4:15pm.
There's a great visitors centre with displays of old photos and machinery from days gone by and they have two great little theatres showing really interesting short movies about the universe and the dish itself. These theatres operate on demand and cost around $20 each for a family ticket with a 10% discount if you view both theatres.
But the best thing to do is wander around the grounds and just be in awe of the dish itself. 64 metres across, turning with a subtlety and grace of a ballet dancer, it really is an amazing sight to see.
To visit the actual dish you might have to wait for an open day. Being such a unique piece of machinery in pretty much constant use, they have to schedule open days when they can conduct tours of the observatory. In 2011 the dish celebrated its 50th anniversary and a special open day was held to celebrate that.
But even just to walk around the visitors centre and the grounds, looking at this wonderfully precise instrument, makes you wonder what's out there in space. The huge open country around you, field upon field upon field stretching out in a never ending yellow blanket is but a minuscule dot in the universe around us. Kind of puts your problems into perspective!
The CSIRO Parkes radio telescope is 20 km north of Parkes on the Newell Highway. Parkes is a 360km drive from Sydney, with plenty of places to stop, revive and survive on the way.
When you get to the dish, remember to switch off mobile phones, radio transmitters, video cameras and other electronic and computer devices a kilometre from the telescope so you don't interfere with the astronomy. It's a real working dish!
If you're taking the trip out this far, there are heaps of other places to visit in Parkes, including the Peak Hill Open Cut Mine and Tyndalls Lavendar Farm to name a couple.
Of course there's always the Parkes Elvis Festival held on the second week in January every year. Nearby Dubbo has great places to visit, including the Western Plains Zoo and an awesome public pool if you go there in the summer!