Aboriginal Astronomy: The Science of Mapping the Sky and the Seasons

The First Nations peoples have read the sky for over 65,000 years, making them one of the world’s first astronomers.

This ancient science has been passed on from generation to generation and woven into dreamtime stories.

When Wiradjuri wife Kirsten Banks, an astrophysicist at the Sydney Observatory, began studying astronomy at the university, she quickly realized how much knowledge was in those stories.

“Our ancestors’ astronomy was an integral part of their lives. We needed it to find food and learn laws [and] You know how to steer yourself at night, ”Ms. Banks told The Point.

Determined to validate Aboriginal astronomy as a legitimate science, she has recently released research into the role of planets in Aboriginal histories.

“We actually found that you can navigate the path of the planets in the sky because at the moment all the planets appear … to fall into a line called the ecliptic, which is the apparent path of the sky,” she said.

“There is the Wardaman tradition which says that the planets are the elders, the spirits who go back and forth on the path: that is a retrograde movement.”

Astrophysicist Kirsten Banks studies the relationship between Dreamtime stories and astronomy.
Source: Supplied

She also studies how Aboriginal astronomy was used to determine what to eat and when.

“Our dark constellations come from the Milky Way. For example, my absolute favorite is Gugurmin, the heavenly emu,” said Ms. Banks.

“When we see this emu in the sky, we know when is the right time to look for emu eggs based on their location in the sky. It’s like a seasonal menu.”

Bundjulung man and storyteller Drew Roberts says reading the stars helped his ancestors survive.

Indigenous storyteller Drew Roberts gives cultural tours of Sydney’s Centennial Park.
Source: Supplied

“I come from a saltwater nation, which means we don’t actually eat fish mostly from a river,” he told The Point.

“So a certain tree will actually connect to a certain thing in the sky and tell me that the fish actually came out of the river and pulled the black weeds and dirt out of them so that they no longer taste like mud.”

Mr. Roberts believes Aboriginal astronomy can also be used to help the planet in the future.

“I was taught that you are a grain of sand in the universe and that you should have as much influence as any other grain of sand – minimal or as the Australian government calls sustainability, but our cultures have practiced that for generations and generations. “

“You only take what you need and Mother Nature will have it ready for you when she is ready.”

The Point will be broadcast on Thursdays at 8.30 p.m. on NITV (chap. 34) or made up for on SBS On Demand. Join the conversation #ThePoint

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