To the Aborigines, the sky was an integral part of their culture. For us Westerners, we might it difficult to conceive of this concept, but for many native peoples around the world the sky and earth were an intricately connected circle. In fact, they did not regard the darkness with the mixture of fear and repulsion that many of us feel towards it--it was not something dangerous, but, at least within their local realms, something huge, comforting, and familiar. As astronomer Chet Raymo says, "Perhaps it is only in the dark that the eye and the mind, turning to each other, can cooperate in the delicate and impassioned art of seeing." Much Aboriginal travel and trade was done at night, both on sea and in on land, for the people developed a highly tuned sense of the sky and its movements. Entire journeys were conducted just by the light of the stars.
With all this time spent under the celestial sphere, removed from any sources of bright light that today fog our sky even in rural areas, the Aboriginal people did what all other peoples around the world did: categorized and named the stars and constellations. Some of these constellations are common among the Aboriginal groups, such as the Seven Sisters (the Pleiades), and the Southern Cross in various manifestations. Others are as seperate as the languages of the people who created them.
One interesting example of a constellation is the dual one shown above. Coming from the Boorung of Victoria, it represents an emu, Tchingal, and a possum, Bunya, who escaped from a band of hunters by hiding in the sky. Since Bunya hid first, possums always hide.
Compared to our conception of constellations as being interconnected geometric figures, many Aboriginal constellations were more like amorphous shapes--perhaps formed from the clouds of the Milky Way, or perhaps just more abstract conceptions.
More coming soon!