The Canoe in Orion

The image above shows the constellation Orion, which is also known in Australia as "The saucepan". The Yolngu people of the Northern territory know it as Djulpan.

Notice the three stars in a row above, which in classical Greek mythology represent Orion's belt. Above them is the famous Orion nebula, only 1000 light-years away from us, where new stars are being born. Greek mythology says this is Orion's sword, which is above his belt because he is standing on his head when seen from Australia! To the bottom right (the bow of the canoe) is the red giant star Betelgeuse, and to the top left (the stern of the canoe) is the star Rigel. these are Orion's hand and feet respectively.

A traditional Yolngu story tells how three brothers of the King-fish (Nulkal) clan went fishing, but all they could catch were king-fish. Because they were in the king-fish clan, traditonal lore forbade them to eat these fish, and so they had to throw them back into the water. Eventually, one of the brothers became so hungry that he decided to break the law, and caught and ate a king-fish. The Sun-woman (Walu) saw this, and was so angry at him for breaking the law that she created a waterspout that lifted them right up into the sky, where you can still see them. The three brothers are the three stars across the centre of the canoe, and the Orion nebula is the fish trailing on its line in the water. Thus this constellation is a reminder that you'd better not break the law!

The Kuwema people, near Katherine in the Northern territory, knew that when Orion rose in the early morning in winter, then the Dingoes would start mating, producing puppies which were an important source of livelihood for the Kuwema people.


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