With the total solar eclipse rapidly approaching, magic and mystery surrounding the moon, the sun, and the stars are the flavour of the month. Australia’s Aboriginal culture dates back over 60,000 years with many language groups, stories and traditions still practiced today. With such rich history and traditions, it is not surprising that the Aboriginal people also rank as the world’s first astronomers – and this knowledge is linked to some fascinating ancient stories.
Astronomical stories and traditions vary largely across the country, especially between different language groups - but a common feature across all groups is that the stars are the homes of ancestors, animals, plants, and spirits. They serve as calendars, seasonal food source indicators, and guidance for other aspects of daily life and culture
Walu the Sun is a woman who lights her fire every morning and scatters red ochre across the clouds, creating dawn. She then carries her torch across the sky, creating daylight. At the end of the day, she descends, puts out her fire, and travels underground through the night, back to her morning camp.
Meeuk the Moon - during the cold months of the year, the Noongar people of Western Australia would shiver as Meeuk watched down on them. He held the fire, and he wouldn’t share it with anyone. The Eaglehawk and Pigeon (uncle and nephew) decided to steal it. They braved the challenging journey through the sky, and arrived whilst Meeuk was asleep, snoring loudly. They crept up behind him, stole the fire, and took off immediately, carrying it home where they shared it with all their people. When Meeuk awoke, he was very angry, and demanded the fire be returned, but it was too late. The fire had been shared with all the Noongar people, and they used it for food, ceremonies and for medicine. Due to his selfishness, Meeuk remains cold and distant, having had his fire taken from him.
Source: Walter McGuire from Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences, Perth - at his event called Djindoon Djenung (Look to the Stars), a guided experience through traditional dreamtime stories of the night sky, songs accompanied by ceremonial boomerangs and the Noongar language.
More info about Go Cultural Tours in Perth here
One of the most widespread cultural star stories is
The Emu in the Sky - across Australia, there are many variations to this story but for all of the cultural groups, this constellation was an indicator of nature’s state of play in their local environment. The Emu is depicted within the dark patches of the Milky Way, rather than in the stars. To find it, you need to look for the Southern Cross constellation, where the dark spaces between these stars form its head. The body is embedded in the dust lanes stretching throughout the Milky Way.
The Autumn and winter months (April – September), when the emu is most clearly visible, align with the mating, nesting and egg laying season. During this time, depending on the month, Emu in the Sky appears either sitting or running, and these positions indicate whether it was time to go hunting for emu, or collecting their eggs, and even the time to stop collecting, as the eggs were now in incubation.