- Australian Aboriginal astronomy
Australian Aboriginal astronomy is a name given to the
indigenous Australiancultural traditions of astronomical study. There is a diversity of traditions in Australia, each with its own particular expression of cosmology. However, there appear to be common themes and systems between the groups.
Many have stories of a female
Sunwho warmed the land, and a male Moonwho was once a young slim man (the waxing crescent Moon), but grew fat and lazy (the full Moon). But then he broke the law, and was attacked by his people, resulting in his death (the New Moon). After remaining dead for three days, he rose again to repeat the cycle, and continues doing so till this day. The Kuwemapeople in the Northern Territorysay that he grows fat at each full moonby devouring the spirits of those who disobey the tribal laws.
Aboriginal Australiansuse the sky as a calendar to tell them when it's time to move to a new place and a new food supply. The Boorongpeople in Victoria know that when the Mallee-fowl constellation ( Lyra) disappears in October, to "sit with the Sun", it's time to start gathering her eggs on Earth. Other groups know that when Orion first appears in the sky, the Dingopuppies are about to be born.
The stars are also law-books, telling people how to live on Earth. The
Yolngupeople of Arnhem Landsay that the constellation of Orion, which they call Julpan, is a canoe. They tell the story of two brothers who went fishing, and caught and ate a fish that was forbidden under their law. Seeing this, the Sunsent a waterspout that carried the two brothers and their canoe up into the sky where you can still see them.
Yolngupeople die, they are taken by a mystical canoe, "Larrpan", to the spirit-island Baralkuin the sky, where you can see their camp-fires burning along the edge of the great river of the Milky Way. The canoe is sent back to earth as a shooting star, letting their family on Earth know that they have arrived safely in the spirit-land. At a beautiful and important ceremony, the Yolngupeople gather after sunset to await the rising of Barnumbirr, or Morning Star, which Europeans call Venus. As she approaches, in the early hours before dawn, she draws behind her a rope of light attached to Earth, and along this rope, with the aid of a richly decorated "Morning Star Pole", the people are able to communicate with their dead loved ones, showing that they still love and remember them.
The Pleiades also figures in the
Dreamings of several language groups. For example, in the central desert region, they are said to be seven sisters fleeing from the unwelcome attentions of a man represented by some of the stars in Orion. The close resemblance of this to Greek mythologyis believed to be coincidental - there is no evidence of any cultural connection.
Two contemporary painters from the Western Desert, daughters of the late
Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, have the seven sisters as one of their Dreamings. Gabriella Possum and Michelle Possum paint the Seven Sisters Dreaming in their paintings. They inherited this Dreaming through their maternal line.
Another astronomical story which is widespread in Australia is that of the "
Emuin the Sky", which has a black head (the Coalsack, next to the Southern Cross), and a body and dark legs trailing our along the Milky Wayto Scorpius. Unlike European constellations, this constellation consists mainly of Dark Clouds of dust in the Milky Way.
Just North of
Sydney, in the Kuringai National Park, are extensive rock engravings of the Guringaipeople who used to live there, including representations of the creator-hero Daramulanand his emu-wife. On autumn evenings, the emuin the sky stands directly over her portrait, just at the time when it's time to gather emueggs.
Many other stories exist where the
heliacal risingor setting of stars or constellations are used to tell Aboriginal Australianswhen it's time to move to a new ground in time for a new food source.
An interesting question is to what extent Aboriginal people were interested in the precise motion of the Sun, Moon, planets or stars. While there is not yet a definitive answer, it has been suggested that some of the
stone arrangementsin Victoria may have been used to track the equinoxes and/or solstices.
Indigenous Australian art
Pleiades %28star cluster%29
* [http://www.atnf.csiro.au/research/AboriginalAstronomy/ Australian Aboriginal Astronomy]
* [http://www.darksparklers.com/ Dark Sparklers] Cairns, H., & Yidumduma Harney, B., 2003. Privately published.
* [http://www.questacon.edu.au/html/the_emu.html The Emu in the Sky] story at
* Johnson, D., 1998, “Night skies of Aboriginal Australia : a Noctuary”. Sydney, N.S.W., University of Sydney.
* Haynes, R.F., et al., 1996, “Explorers of the Southern Sky”, CUP.
* [http://bdas.fastmail.fm/astronomers/JohnMorieson/documents/World_Archaeological_Congress.pdf The Astronomy of the Boorong] , Morieson, J., World Archaeological Congress, June 2003 (PDF)
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