Aboriginal Astronomy

CSIRO astronomer Ray Norris. Image Credit: Bec Allen

Ray Norris is an astrophysicist and science communicator based at the CSIRO, as well as an adjunct professor in the dept of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie Uni.

Norris has also researched and reported extensively on Aboriginal Australian culture relating to astronomical subjects. There is evidence that traditional Aboriginal Australians made careful records and measurements of phenomena such as meteorite impacts, and could determine the cardinal points to an accuracy of a few degrees.

In the paper Dawes Review 5: Australian Aboriginal Astronomy and Navigation, Norris recounts stories and beliefs associated with meteors in Aboriginal Australian Astronomy. We excerpt a small portion below.

“Hamacher & Norris (2010) report many… associated with death, although some have positive connotations and some negative… Harney et al. (2009) tells how, after someone dies, and their body is placed in a forked stick to decay, a meteor will shoot from their body back to his country, so people there know that he has died.

Meteors can also cause death: Allen (1975 ) report a Yolngu story of a lonely fire spirit who came to earth as a meteorite to bring fire to the people, but accidentally caused massive fires and destruction to the people when he accidentally touched the Earth. Even now, to touch or smell the hot ashes from a recently-fallen meteorite will cause death (Wells 1971). The Tangani people (SA) believed that a devastating smallpox epidemic had been brought by a meteor-man from crux (Clarke 2003a; Tindale 1933 ).

Meteors can also signify the creation of a new life. In Kimberley and Kamilaroi cultures, the same meteor that signifies death can also bring a new baby (Akerman 2014; Fuller et al. 2014a).

In the Wardaman reincarnation cycle (Harney & Norris 2009), dead spirits go up to the Milky Way through the star Vega, which functions as a gateway, and then go through a series of ceremonies in Sagittarius, led by the star Altair (identified by the Wardaman as a wedge tailed eagle), in which they are mentored by the star Arcturus (identified as a rock cod).

After completing the ceremonies, they fall to the Earth as a meteorite, and make their way to a creek, where they are fed algae by the rock cod while they wait for their mother to pass by.”