Mount Stromlo Director's Residence opens to public after being destroyed in 2003 Canberra bushfires

One of the most recognisable ruins of the 2003 Canberra bushfires has opened to the public as a poignant memorial more than 12 years after being destroyed.

The historic Mount Stromlo Observatory Director's Residence was gutted when the fire swept through the Brindabella mountains and into Canberra on January 18, 2003, destroying about 500 homes.

Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics director Matthew Colless said visitors can again appreciate the historic significance of the building.

"I hope they get a sense of the long history of Stromlo and the very varied purposes its been put to," Professor Colless told 666 ABC Canberra.

"A feeling of the national capital, the lovely architecture of the federation period.

"I hope they also feel some of the scientific activity that is still very much alive and ongoing here today."

The observatory was decimated as the fires, fanned by winds of up to 200 kilometres an hour, tore through the surrounding area, west of Canberra.

"It was just a sad and sorry object and, of course, it's one of the few buildings on Stromlo that you can see from down in Canberra," Professor Colless said.

"So one of my first objectives when I came back as director was to try and find a way to fix it up.

"I am delighted that after a lot of hard work ... we've got this remarkably changed vista in front of us."

Rich history of a grand residence

The Director's Residence, originally known as Observatory House, was completed in 1928 as a home for the founding director Walter Geoffrey Duffield and his family.

It was designed by the Federal Capital Commission and was regarded as one of the grandest homes in Canberra, complete with a Steinway grand piano, an elaborate jarrah staircase and individually designed fireplaces and sinks in the bedrooms.

The garden included fruit trees, rosebushes and a croquet lawn.

Walter Duffield and his wife Doris were closely involved in the home's design.

ANU heritage officer Amy Jarvis said they also contributed some of their own money to add additional features to the house.

"It really showed the grandeur of the director here and, I guess, the prominence of the observatory at that time in Canberra's history," she said.

The residence was a key social venue in the early days of Canberra playing host to prime ministers, politicians, industry chiefs and even international royalty, including the Prince of Siam.

Over the years it was home to seven other observatory directors and several other families, including the Braddick family, who occupied the home when the 2003 firestorm hit.

Though the facade of the house has been restored to its former glory, the inside remains a shell showing the fire's scars, including bare brickwork now stabilised by steel beams, scraps of tiles and remnant plasterwork.

A young grapevine grows from the dirt in the former living room while a series of audio-visual displays recounts the building's role and history, including oral history recordings of former residents.

"It's very evocative because it's still in its post-fire condition," explained Ms Jarvis.

"What you see is quite a stark contrast to the outside but I think it's important that it tells the story of the fire as a layer of the site's history and doesn't try and hide that that happened."

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