This quirky little statue outside the Brisbane Planetarium has both a Russian and a Scottish connection.
It’s of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), a Russian scientist and founder of cosmonautics.
The Scottish connection is that Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane (1773-1860), who gives his name to both the city and the planetarium, was also looking to the skies.
He was an astronomer, hailing from Largs, not so far from Glasgow on the west coast of Scotland.
The statue, by Sergei Bychkov, was donated to Queensland during Russia Week in Australia in 2007, the 150th anniversary of the birth of Tsiolkovsky.
As it suggests, the Russian provincial teacher and scientist was ever looking upwards to the universe and a future not even he could have imagined.
The bronze statue (which like all good bronze statues everywhere bears the polish of being rubbed for good luck) weighs 600kg and has the diminutive, bespectacled scientist wearing his big winter boots and trench coat with his hands plunged deep in his pockets.
His attire is at odds with his tropical location outside the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium in the Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, a setting wildly different to his home of Kaluga in frigid Russia.
Meanwhile in Largs, the remains of Sir Thomas Brisbane’s early observatories are much harder to find so it’s just as well Brisbane has the planetarium in his memory.
The concrete columns “meridian pillars” he built to align the telescopes at his observatory in his work to accurately map the position of the stars are on top of a hill hidden among overgrown bush not farm from the centre of Largs.
John Bonsor, in his book The Observatory in Brisbane Glen says: “Sir Thomas Brisbane has been called the Johnny Appleseed of astronomy because wherever he resided, he planted an observatory, the scientific fruits of which were much appreciated by his contemporaries.”
Brisbane served as governor of the colony of New South Wales 1821-25 and while he was there, established an observatory at Parramatta for mapping the southern skies.
It was the former that led to the name of the city and the latter that led to naming the planetarium, which was opened in May 1978.
After wandering the spectacular botanic gardens (and that’s another story), enter the planetarium where there are extensive space exploration and astronomy displays, a gallery with a replica of Neil Armstrong’s space suit from the 1969 moon landing and a mini theatre featuring a regularly updated Space Telescope Science Institute web feed.
At this point, there’s a day’s entertainment without even putting your hand in your pocket.
The observatory has a Zeiss 15cm refractor and a Meade 25.4cm Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (my eyes glaze over but I’m sure that means something to the astronomy savvy). There’s an admission fee for the 12.5 Cosmic Skydome, a hemispherical planetarium theatre.
And of course, there’s Tsiolkovsky sitting in the garden for a photo op or to rub his knee for good luck.