Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Aboriginal Astronomy & the Natural World

Credit: Barnaby Norris

An “Emu in the Sky” is formed by the dark spaces between stars in the Milky Way. In April and May, when emus lay their eggs, this perfectly aligns with an image engraved in the rock at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, north of Sydney. The emu’s folded legs signify that it is sitting on its nest.

By Carl Williams

Australia’s magnificent night sky is a fresco of narratives that has inspired and informed Aboriginal peoples’ exploration and understanding of the natural world.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The Milky Way arcs across the vast Australian night sky, a disk-shaped, spiral galaxy containing billions of stars and planets. For Australia’s Aboriginal peoples it is a fresco abounding with images, portents and narratives that chronicles the creation of the universe, lays down laws and moral codes, stipulates kinships and societal relationships, and possesses a wealth of information on the natural world.

It’s hardly surprising then, that traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, living under a dazzling canopy of constellations, would have absorbed the night skies into their cultural, social and spiritual life. The position of the stars, the motion of the planets, and astronomical events such as comets, meteorites and eclipses have informed their cosmology and traditions – known as the “Dreaming”.

Closer examination of Aboriginal legends and narratives, which have been developed, refined and promulgated since the arrival of the “first people” as long as 50,000 years ago – is uncovering the extent and complexity of interconnections between the celestial and terrestrial spheres observed by Aboriginal peoples.

Research is revealing that within these ancient customs and traditions, which have been passed down through the generations for millennia, is a complex and functional astronomical knowledge used by Aboriginal people to navigate...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.