Astronomy is almost always conceived as a practice that studies celestial objects and phenomena to better understand their inception and evolution. However, as researchers Dr. Duane Hamacher and Krystal De Napoli explained at the inaugural address of the Monash STEM network, this is just one way of organising knowledge about the sky. During the lecture, Australian Indigenous Astronomy: 65,000 Years of Science, the duo described how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been using the stars, sun, moon, and planets to encode important information required for daily life. The lecture was hosted by Monash University, and conceived in conjunction with Monash Tech School and The Royal Society of Victoria.
Ms. de Napoli, a Kamilaroi woman from Wangaratta, shared the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples use the stars to navigate land. As opposed to cultures that share information by writing it down, she explained how Indigenous Australians record aspects of daily life in the dark constellations of the sky. This information is unpacked orally and shared among community members. For example, The Emu in the Sky, which can be found in the dark patches of the Milky Way, alerts inhabitants when emu eggs are ready for harvest. Torres Strait Islanders, as Dr. Hamacher added, observe a Shark (Baidam) in the stars of the Big Dipper. When the shark starts to appear over the horizon, Islanders know shark mating season is about to begin and it’s time to plant certain vegetation. When the shark begins to touch the horizon, they know to stay out of the water, as they will be infested.
The lecture examined the intersection of science and culture, and highlighted the importance of acknowledging knowledge is stored in different ways. Such themes are emblematic of the work The Monash STEM network aims to do. By bringing scientists and non-scientist together to share their interest in knowledge generation and human endeavor, the network brings everyday life into STEM studies.
If you want to know more, follow @AboriginalAstro and @RoyalSocietyVic on twitter, or tune in to Stargazing Live on the ABC, 8pm on Tuesday 22nd May.