Penny and Professor Dick Hunstead

“We are morning and evening sky watchers. We live right on the sea front and see the most superb skies with all the constellations. We have wonderful views of the moon over the sea and every sunrise,” says Penny Hunstead.

Penny and Professor Dick Hunstead

Penny and Richard Hunstead met on Newport Beach and watched its changing skies together for 50 years until Richard’s sad passing on 30 January 2020 after a sudden illness

For six decades Professor Hunstead, or Dick as he was known to his colleagues, was part of the University of Sydney, sky-watching professionally as a researcher in astronomy and lecturer and tutor to physics students at the University.

He commented “I was lucky to join the University just at the time radio astronomy was an up-and-coming science, which offered a different way of viewing the cosmos. It was a thrill during my PhD to work with the Mills Cross radio telescope, then one of the newest instruments to change the face of the discipline.”

Professor Hunstead went on to make several important discoveries and published over 200 articles, with quasars, black holes, galaxy formation and evolution just some of his areas of interest.

In 2014 Penny and Dick endowed $1.4 million to the University. For his contribution and dedication, especially to his students, Penny decided that any money they gave to the University should be in Dick’s name.

 The Hunstead Fund for Astrophysics now supports the Sydney Institute for Astronomy (SIfA) based in the School of Physics. The Institute is one of the most diverse astrophysics groupings within Australia, spanning optical, radio, infrared, X-ray, theoretical and computational astrophysics.

“This was a chance to give this crucial institute the support it deserves. The money will help current students and encourage more to take up study in this area.” – Professor Hunstead.

There has been a substantial growth in astrophysics internationally, driven largely by the developments of new observational facilities.

SIfA’s most valuable instrument is the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope, a forerunner of the international Square Kilometre Array project.

“It is crucial that the institute positions itself to make the most of opportunities. As part of lifting its profile I want prominent astronomers such as Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at Cambridge, to visit.”

Astronomers sleeping

“Whenever Dick took students out to Siding Spring Observatory they were transfixed, astronomers and non-astronomers alike, by the beauty of its night sky.

At the time of making their donation Dick commented – “That wonder and fascination is what I still feel for astronomy. The field is on the cusp of a new era of discoveries across the whole electromagnetic spectrum. But of course the most exciting discoveries are the ones we cannot yet name or even imagine.”

Dick and Penny shared many interests, including a love of native plants (Penny is a trained botanist) and a shared a life-long commitment to philanthropy, including volunteering.

A favourite saying of Penny’s is one of Mahatma Gandhi’s: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’

The gift celebrates Professor Hunstead’s service to the University and the couple’s shared philosophy as embodied in Gandhi’s quote.

Gifts to the University contribute to INSPIRED – the campaign to support the University of Sydney which has raised over $1 billion from more than 64,000 donors to fund the pursuit of ideas that will shape the world in which we live.