Old photos of various people in suits standing beside one another at the opening of a building. Text reads Questacon-Japan Relationship 1988.

Gifts from Japan

In 1982, the Australian Bicentennial Authority (ABA) proposed that, as a lasting memorial to the 1988 Australian Bicentenary, a national science centre be established. In 1983, an Australian Government committee advised the ABA on options for a national science centre. In 1986, the Australian Parliament approved the construction of the National Science and Technology Centre and construction commenced later that year.

The Government of Japan, in seeking to contribute to the Australian Bicentenary, established an Australian National 200 Years Forum, consisting of business, academic and government representatives. In 1986, the Forum Chairman, Mr Eishiro Saito (who was soon to become President of Keidanren, the Japan Federation of Economic Organisations) recommended to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that the Japanese Government and business community support half the cost of building Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre. One billion yen (equivalent to ten million Australian dollars) was approved as a Bicentennial gift to the Government and people of Australia.

The Questacon Building

Outside photo of a large white building with lots of windows and stairs in front of it.

The home of Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre was designed by Lawrence Nield & Partners Australia. As a bicentennial gift to Australia, the government and business community of Japan donated half the construction costs, one billion Yen. The new Questacon building had to serve several functions. Internally the design needed to deal with exhibits, visitors to the centre and the various technical requirements of a Science Centre. Externally the building was to present itself as a public place and was to acknowledge its prestigious position in the Parliamentary Triangle. Questacon’s home had to have a sense of place and be a place of fascination, pleasure and excitement, which would draw people in and encourage them to explore the world of science and technology.

At the time of Questacon’s design, few precedents existed as most science centres had been fitted into existing buildings. The architectural design of the Questacon building takes visitors on a voyage of discovery. The distinctive feature of the building is a huge rotunda or central drum. Visitors spiral up the massive ramp past the seven exhibition galleries with the option to alight at any level and explore the interactive exhibits. The success and constant growth of Questacon has stretched the 9280 square metres of floor space (with an additional 4260 square metres in the basement) to its limits. In 2003, Questacon’s design and development team moved to new premises expanding our exhibition building capacity and freeing up space for more exhibits.

Karakuri Dolls

Two glass cabinets, each of which is about two cubic metres in size, stand side by side in the Questacon foyer. The right-hand cabinet contains a 1-metre-high Japanese Karakuri doll in traditional Japanese dress. The left-hand cabinet contains a similar doll, but with the lower garments removed, revealing the underlying articulated structural elements' levers and struts' that are responsible for the dolls' movements.

In 1988, two "Karakuri ningyo" - Japanese mechanised dolls / puppets - were presented to the Australian Government by the Japanese business community for display at Questacon, to introduce Australian people to the culture and technology of Japan.

The dolls are modelled after those from the city of Nagoya, Japan, and have been made to 1.5 times the traditional size to allow better observation by crowds at Questacon. The dolls are a hybrid of traditional Karakuri dolls with modern electronic pneumatically controlled mechanisms. They perform a traditional Japanese dance "Autumn Leaves" and as part of the dance, the face of Princess Sarashina "magically" changes to that of the demon Hannya.

Kokoro Co. Ltd. and it's then president, Mineo Akiyama, designed and produced the exhibit, with construction of the dolls themselves by the Shobei VIII, Karakuri Master. While the dolls performed at Questacon for many years, they are currently non-animated.

IK6 telescope

The central image is a large cylindrical white telescope. The base of the telescope is in the lower left, the open end of the telescope is pointing to the upper right. An observer looks into the eyepiece at the base of the telescope. In the background is the inside of the domed roof of the observatory in which the telescope sits.

The "IK6" (Ishikawa) telescope, installed July 1991, was a joint personal donation by Mr Katsuya Kitada, Second Secretary of the Embassy of Japan, and Mr Isamu Ishikawa. Mr Ishikawa designs and manufactures complete telescopes, the gift being the sixth such telescope he produced, and was valued at over A$250 000 at the time of its installation.

As Questacon's location in Canberra is not conducive to telescopic viewing, the gift was installed at the former Canberra Planetarium and Observatory and was operated by Observatory staff.

The IK6 is a professional 41 cm Newtonian-Cassegrain telescope. It is computer driven, includes electronic accessories such as a CCD camera and high resolution monitor, and can capture distant galaxies on video tape. The IK6 was accessible to the general public and used for research in the fields of photometry and astrophotography.