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Preface

With the 1986 apparition of Halley’s Comet, I ventured out with a mild curiosity and discovered the night sky. Being in Australia, my night sky is the southern hemisphere, and, as I slowly learned the major southern sky constellations, I found myself becoming increasingly fascinated by the names and their associated stories. Star-hopping around the backdrop of the heavens, I traced out their patterns and, on the way, made up a few of my own! The fact that they’d been named from the perspective of northern hemisphere viewers many centuries before, escaped me for a while, until, belatedly, I found that I had mistakenly set quite a few of them the right way up. So, for example, the constellation of the lion, Leo, I made with paws down, head erect and his tail (to make sense of the stars in that area), I placed at the end of his body, but standing straight upward, as though he was permanently in a state of sheer terror. As this exercise was carried out in the privacy of my own head, I did not worry too much about small odd details such as this. That is, until it slowly dawned that all the so-named northern hemisphere constellations were drawn to make sense to northern hemisphere dwellers, with the result that many appear upside down to us southerners. The apparent arbitrary nature of the star groupings, those which the Ancients had designated ‘belonged’ together, began to interest me greatly. I took to wondering how other peoples had patterned their skies, in particular, the first Australians. Beyond the cities, Australian nightscapes are renowned for their brilliance and grandness, and it made sense that they must have played a significant role in the cultural life of Australian Aboriginal people. I subsequently combed the anthropological literature and read hundreds of myths. This then, is a composite of non-Aboriginal versions of Aboriginal astronomical ideas. It represents an attempt to rescue from esoteric texts, some of the rich and fabulous stories and ideas which constitute Aboriginal astronomy. It is an appreciation.4