Aboriginal Australians have many stories about the stars, planets and constellations in the night sky.
Many of these stories were told by elders to remind people about when to hunt for food, prepare for the wet season, or why you should obey your elders.
Tagai the warrior
This story is from the Torres Strait Islands, which are between the northern point of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Once there was a warrior named Tagai. He and his crew were fishing in a boat. They didn’t catch any fish, so Tagai decided to look at a nearby reef, while his crew continued fishing.
After many hours of sitting in the Sun they became hot. They swam in the sea, but soon became thirsty. The only water on the boat belonged to Tagai. They waited and waited, but eventually decided to drink Tagai’s water.
When Tagai returned he was very mad. He threw them into the sky and they became two groups of stars called Usal and Utimal. These groups are also known as Pleaides and Orion.
Because Tagai was mad with his crew, he travelled to the southern sky and warned them never to annoy him again.
This is why when Usal and Utimal appear in the evening sky (during late Spring), Tagai’s hand (the Southern Cross) dips below the horizon.
The people of the Torres Strait also know that this is the time for the wet season to begin, heavy rain throughout summer in Northern Australia.
Alakitja the fish
This story, also about the Southern Cross, is from the River Murray district of south-eastern Australia.
There was once a large fish named Alakitja. It spent its time swimming up and down a large river (the Milky Way), avoiding traps and people fishing (stars).
One day, two brothers spotted Alakitja resting under a rock in a large waterhole. They slowly walked up to the waterhole and speared Alakitja. The fish was so large that they built two fires to cook it. These two fires and the two brothers make up the four stars of the Southern Cross, and the dark patch next to them is Alakitja.
Emu in the sky
One of the largest, and most well known, objects in the sky above Australia is the Emu. Unlike many shapes in the night sky, the Emu is not made up of stars. Instead it is a large dust cloud, which blocks out light from stars behind it.
The head of the Emu sits between the Southern Cross and the ‘Pointers’. It body stretches across the sky and covers the tail of Scorpio.
Male emus play an important role in hatching emu eggs. Therefore the emu’s shape appears on rock art and places where ceremonies occur.
Winter is the best time to see the Emu standing upright in the southern sky.
Maroeankurri and the wood ants
Marpeankurric lived in the mallee forests of western Victoria, thousands of years ago.
Once there was a drought and there was no food to be found. She searched for food under logs and trees, but could not find a thing.
Eventually she found a wood ant’s nest. She used a stick to dig into the nest and found thousands of larvae (baby wood ants). She put one in her mouth and ate it. It tasted delicious.
The rest of her tribe ate the wood ants and were no longer hungry.
When Marpeankurric died, she became a star. This star, also known as Arcturus appears in the night sky during April and May. Aborigines from the Mallee knew that this was the best time to look for their favourite food – the larvae of the wood ant.