First Nation’s Storytellers


It is only over recent months that I became aware of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy after having listened to Astrophysicist and Science Communicator, Kirsten Banks, on of all things, a home renovation show.

Of Wiradjuri descent Kirsten has a particular interest in how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have used the stars for over 65,000 years for navigation purposes, predicting weather seasons, and for determining when the best time is to hunt for certain foods such as emu eggs. “ Aboriginal Astronomy can teach us about the link between the sky and the land”, she said.

My interest was further piqued on my recent outback Queensland travels and in particular Winton. Winton’s small population, low humidity, and low light pollution make it the ideal location to stargaze and the area around the Australian Age of Dinosaurs is now one of only ten internationally recognised areas certified as a Dark Sky Sanctuary.


Since then I have been receiving social media alerts regarding Aboriginal artwork related to the skies. ( see Aboriginal Skies)

With a daughter in Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory – which I grew up calling Gove – an area in East Arnham land populated for some 40,000 years by the Yolgnu people, we all have a new appreciation for the story tellers from our First Nation. Contemporary Australian Indigenous art often references astronomical subjects and their related lore such as the Seven Sisters.

Here are examples of some of the art works:

This fabulous artwork was submitted by Annette Joy. Annette is a Gourmanjanyuk/Wergaia artist and the painting represents Yerrerdetkurrk, which is the star Achernar. Yerrerdetkurrk is the ‘Nalwinkurrk’, or mother of Totyarguil’s wives. The ‘Nalwinkurrk’ never allows’ her son-in law to see her. Achernar is a bright, binary star system located in the constellation Eridanus, and is the ninth-brightest star in the night sky.

“Hydra the Water Serpent” from the ‘Shared Sky Exhibition’. This exhibition highlighted the connections between Aboriginal & contemporary astronomy. This artwork is acrylic on linen (70cm x 52cm) and the artist is Nerolie Blurton. “The Water Serpent, stretched across the sky with its many heads, was a monster until it was cut and killed. The red blood drips down from the clot. The browns and orange show that the Hydra can be seen best in autumn.”

If Aboriginal Astronomy intrigues you I recommend reading the story of The Emu In The Sky by Ray and Cilla Norris. Fascinating and guaranteed to give you a brand new perspective.

Dark Sky and Dinosaur Country at Winton overlooking Banjo’s “plains extended” and “vision splendid”.

Isn’t it bizarre how watching something on TV simply to learn how to stop bugs eating young eggplants can take you on such a convoluted journey ? * shaking head and muttering.

Winton, Outback Queensland.

Winton is over 1450 kilometres northwest of Brisbane. It has three major attractions that draw travellers from all across the country:

  • The Waltzing Matilda Centre, the only museum in the world built around a song.
  • Dinosaur bones. I cannot tell you how many professional and amateur palaeontologists I came across.( And I thought I was eccentric!)
  • Black Opals. 

Because I’m skipping the tourist brochure bits here are my personal highlights of Winton :

  1. O’kay, we can’t completely bypass Banjo Paterson, (Andrew Barton Paterson 1864 – 1941), journalist, author, and the bush poet who wrote Australia’s unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda – whilst visiting Winton. Indeed, the North Gregory Hotel is the venue where it was first performed in 1895.

         This was a beaut find (as was the steak sanger) but not what excited me. No, it was the Daphne Mayo glass etchings of the jolly swagman in the dining room named in her honour. Who was Daphne Mayo, you ask ? Mayo was a significant 20th-century artist, most prominently known for her work in sculpture.

           I also saw my very first Coolibah Tree. I honestly thought they were like Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree…….and unicorns.

        2. The Royal Theatre, established in 1918, is one of only two remaining open-air picture theatres in Australia still in operation.  

Wednesday Night is Nostalgia Night which is a guided presentation that recreates the experience of going to the movies during the 1960s.  

Many movies have been filmed in the area including The Proposition and Mystery Road, and the Royal Theatre now hosts the annual Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival in June (following on from the Writer’s Festival).

          3.  The Age Of Dinosaurs is well worth a visit and not only is the area a veritable garden of fossilised dinosaur bones that keep popping up on cattle stations, but this venue makes the Top Ten Dark Skies in the world. So not only is this place jumping with mega fauna freaks but stargazers as well.

This photo looks down on Channel Country, where water run off after big rains channels into a basin: 

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him

In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,

And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,

And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

                       From Banjo’s Clancy of the Overflow.