Aboriginal calendars tend to be more complex than European calendars, and those in the north of Australia are often based on six seasons. Some Aboriginal groups mark them in terms of the stars which appear during these seasons. For example, the Pitjantjatjara people say that the rising of the Pleiades in the dawn sky in May heralds the start of winter (Clarke, 2003).   Perhaps even more importantly, the heliacal rising of a star or constellation can tell people when it's time to move to a new food source. For example, when the Mallee-fowl constellation (Lyra) appears in March, the Boorong people of Victoria know that the Mallee-fowl are about to build their nests, and when Lyra disappears in October, the eggs are laid and are ready to be collected (Stanbridge, 1857). Similarly, the appearance of Scorpius told Yolngu people that the Macassan (Indonesian) fisherman would soon arrive to fish for Trepang.

At the Wurdi Youang stone arrangement (shown above), it has even been suggested that the positions of the Sun were marked at the solstices and the the equinoxes.
Close to the Southern Cross (a possum in a tree, according to the Boorong people) is a dark cloud of interstellar dust, called the Coalsack by astronomers. To the Wardaman people, it's the head of a lawman (Yidumduma Harney, 2005), but to many others, it's the head of the Emu in the Sky. The emu's body stretches down to the left towards Scorpius, dominating the southern Milky Way. In Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is an engraving of an emu, which appears to be oriented (Cairns, 1996) to line up with the Emu in the Sky, in the correct orientation, at just the time of year when real-life emus are laying their eggs.

See the Emu in the Sky for more information.




All material on this page © Ray Norris 2007 except where otherwise indicated.