Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Aboriginal Astronomy – Reconstructing the Star Knowledge of Aboriginal Tasmanians

For the Aboriginal people of Tasmania the stars had a central presence in their daily and spiritual lives. Tasmanian knowledge and traditions were interrupted and dispersed when the European colonists arrived. Scattered throughout the ethnographic and historical records of the 19th century there are fragments of astronomical knowledge of the Aboriginal people of Tasmania. Gantevoort et al. have drawn on the ethno-historical documents to analyse and reconstruct Aboriginal astronomical knowledge in Tasmania. This analysis has demonstrated that stars, the Milky Way, constellations, dark nebula, the Sun, Moon, meteors, and aurorae held cultural, spiritual, and subsistence significance to the Aboriginal culture of Tasmania. In this study Gantevoort et al. have moved beyond a monolithic view of Aboriginal astronomical knowledge in Tasmania, which has commonly been portrayed in previous research, laying the groundwork for ethnographic and archaeological fieldwork with Aboriginal elders and communities of the future.

There is a wealth of information about the way in which scientific information is encoded in oral tradition and material culture (Agrawal, 1995), in particular with astronomical knowledge (Cairns & Harney, 2003; Hamacher, 2012; Fuller et al., 2014; Norris, 2016). A more detailed understanding of how the sun, moon and stars aided in navigation, seasonal calendars, food economies, animal behaviour, social structure, sacred law, and relationships between the land and the sky has resulted from continued study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander astronomical knowledge, and the traditions by which this knowledge is passed on to successive generations (Johnson, 1998). This is achieved by the various methodologies and theoretical frameworks of cultural astronomy, an interdisciplinary academic field that aims to understand the role of and use of astronomy in culture (Ruggles, 2015).

One of the primary sources for the study and reconstruction of Indigenous astronomical knowledge is ethnographical literature (Hamacher, 2012). It is considered that Australian Aboriginals are among the oldest continuous cultures in the world, and the most researched Indigenous people, on Earth (Smith, 1999: 3), with records of language, customs and traditions that extend back to before the first colonisation in 1788. According to Gantevoort et al. these records are, however, highly biased, as the colonists considered the Aboriginal people to be among the lowest rung of human cultures. The practice of “salvage anthropology” was the result of this false position, as well as the rapid decimation of the Aboriginal people and their culture following British colonisation, in which ethnographers sought to record Aboriginal traditions before the people and cultures “disappeared”. The result of this was a rather large body of published information about Aboriginal cultures. It is unfortunate that much of the astronomical knowledge from these records is highly fragmented and incomplete. Much of the recorded information is filled with conflated terminology, misidentifications, incorrect assumptions, and transcription errors, because of a lack of formal training and understanding of astronomy by these ethnographers.

Aboriginal Tasmania has for a long time been a land of contrasts, contention, and devastation (Ryan, 1996). The Tasmanian Aboriginal people were almost wiped out by colonialism, genocide, and disease. It is believed Aboriginal people arrived in Tasmania (Troweena) more than 40,000 years ago (Pope & Terrell, 2007; Lourandos, 1997) when the region was connected to mainland Australia by a land bridge (Orchiston, 1979a, b; Murray-Wallace, 2002). Tasmania was converted to an island about 8,000 years ago by rising sea levels, which separated the Tasmanian Aboriginal people from those on the mainland. It was believed that the Aboriginal people on Tasmania have remained relatively isolated until the arrival of Europeans and subsequent colonisation (Johnson et al., 2015: 16). There are roughly 9 territories across Tasmania which are occupied by Aboriginal groups (ibid. 36): Northeast, Ben Lomond, North Midlands, Oyster Bay, Southeast, Big River, North, Northwest, and Southwest. There were smaller groups that were tied through marriage, kinship, and language and that were led by a respected male elder (ibid), within each of these territories.

There was a split in 1996 among the Tasmanian Aboriginal people into 2 major groups: the Palawa and the Lia Pootah. The name of the Palawa was derived from the first man to be made from a kangaroo by a creator spirit. It is claimed by the Palawa that they descended from 2 people

1)         Dolly Dalrymple (about 1808-1864), an Aboriginal woman who was born on the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait, whose parents were a sealer, George Briggs, and an Aboriginal woman, Woretemoeteyenner (who Briggs had abducted; McFarlane, 2005), and

2)         Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834-1905), a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman who was believed to be the last fluent speaker of a Tasmanian language, was born on Flinders Island to Tasmanian Aboriginal parents (Clark, 1988). According to the Lia Pootah not all Tasmanian Aboriginals people were removed from the island or died-off, stated that they descended from the Aboriginal women of the Big Rivers and Huon regions of Tasmania and European men from the early days of colonisation (from 1803 onwards). It is claimed by some of the Lia Pootah that their ancestry is from Bruny Island and east coast regions and the central highlands (Anonymous, 1996). There is contention regarding surrounding recognition of the Lia Pootah (e.g. Anonymous, 2000; Denholm, 2007). In this paper Gantevoort et al. utilise the term “Palawa”, though they say this is not a reflection or position on the debate between the 2 groups.

Regarding the culture prior to the colonisation, not much is known. There were limited ethnographic studies, and the focus of the colonial presence in Tasmania was one of complete removal of Aboriginal people from the island. After a series of conflicts between colonists and Tasmanian Aboriginal people in the early 19th century, a period that came to be known as the Black War, George Augustus Robinson, a builder and religious man, was hired from 1829-1834 to find the remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal people living in Tasmania, facilitate their “peaceful surrender”, then relocate them to Flinders Island. This “Friendly Mission” was completed in 1835, following which many of the 200 Palawa that were relocated died from poor health and the prison-like conditions in which they were held . The devastating impact of this resulted in the near decimation of the Palawa culture, traditions, and languages. Since then there has been a cultural revival and a resurgence of Palawa language, archaeology, history and culture is growing rapidly.

Relatively little is known of the astronomical knowledge of the Palawa, as a result of colonisation, disease, dispossession, and genocide. The archival information is mostly of ethnographic nature, being recorded by colonists and missionaries from their Aboriginal contacts, much of which is fragmented and incomplete, sometimes ambiguous, and always recorded through the lens of the coloniser. Some traditional knowledge has survived with the Aboriginal people, who have continued to pass their traditions to successive generations.

In this paper Gantevoort et al. have attempted to sort through the astronomical knowledge from Tasmanian Aboriginal people scattered through the ethnographical literature and archives, and use established and emerging methodologies from cultural astronomy, and attempt to reconstruct the knowledge as best they can, while acknowledging their limitations in this work. They suggest this will serve as a base for future archaeological and ethnographic studies, with application to education and cultural revival.

Results and analysis

Based on a review of the archival documentation there are 42 accounts of Aboriginal astronomy tied to a physical location in Tasmania. Included among the astronomical traditions are stars, constellations, and celestial objects (14), the Moon (5), the Sun (1), planets (2), and ancestral spirits that are connected to the stars (8). These are divided between Bruny Island (13), the northwest (8), Cape Portland and Swan Island (7), Oyster Bay (5), the Northeast (5), Port Sorell (1), the Big River (1), and Ben Lomond (1).

The results are presented in the following themes:

A)    Cosmology. Palawa traditions describing the formation of the land and creation of the first people;

B)    Stingray in the Sky. A Palawa constellation, attempting to identify the celestial objects involved in the tradition, as their counterparts in Western astronomy are not named specifically;

C)    Time and Astronomy. Different concepts of time and the ways in which astronomical objects were used to denote the reckoning of time and seasonal change;

D)    Lunar Traditions. Palawa views of the Moon;

E)     Transient Phenomena. Palawa traditions of aurorae, meteors, and eclipses.


The sky, land, and people are intricately linked in the cultures of the Palawa, and the basis of the Palawa cosmogony (the formation of the world) is formed by the stars. It is indicated in Robinson’s journals that among the Palawa “star gods” are the basis for spirituality, with the day ruled over by a good spirit (Noiheener [or Parledee (William Price, 2013)1]) and the night by an evil spirit (Wrageoraper) (Ryan, 1996: 10). In the traditions of Australian Aboriginal people the world was created when the landscapes were formed by ancestral spirits, and they also formed animals, vegetation and the sea. Across Tasmania the traditions differ slightly, which includes the pronunciation of the names and details of the story (1979, Cotton, 2013; McKay, 2001; Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 406-410), though they are generally similar.

Leigh Maynard, a Nuenonne man from Bruny Island, details the story of the creation of Tasmania (Thompson and Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, 2011). It is not made clear if this knowledge was passed to Maynard or if he was drawing from earlier written sources. Maynard describes the tradition as a circular story, like the cycles of the moon and the sun.  In this tradition, “a long time ago, Tasmania (Troweena) was a small sandbank in the southern seas. Ice came and went and the sea rose, the sun flashed fire. Punywin, the Sun man, and his wife Venna, the Moon, moved from horizon to horizon together, creating life and sinking into the seas each evening. But Venna could not travel as fast as Punywin, so he reflected light on her to encourage her move across the sky. During this time the Sun and Moon were together in the sky. As Venna struggled to keep up with Punywin, he allowed her to rest on ice bergs. One day the moon seemed to be permanently on the horizon. The day after, their first son, Moinee, was born. The next day came the second son, gentle Droemerdeene. Punywin and Venna placed him in the sky themselves as the star Canopus. The day after Droemerdeene was born, the sun and moon rose together above the sandbank that was Tasmania. They dropped seeds for the trees and plants. The next day shellfish appeared in the water and were plentiful. Troweena [Trowenna] rose gradually from the sea and icebergs rubbed against Troweena, pushing it from the great south land (mainland Australia) to the island we see today as Tasmania.”

On the Robinson expedition the Palawa guides provide the first records of the creation traditions (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 406). As in the account by Maynard, the Sun and Moon are regarded as a man and woman, respectively. They had 2 sons: Moinee (the elder) and Droemerdeene (the younger). They came together to create the first man, Palawa or Parlevar (now the name of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Moinee first crated Palawa with a tail like a kangaroo and no knee joints, which prevented him from sitting or lying down. When Droemerdeene saw the problems Palawa had he cut off the tail and rubbed animal fat on the wound and gave him knee joints (ibid: 406). Droemerdeene had a fight in the sky and Droemerdeene was thrown to Earth where he lived, his wife followed him, going into the sea, and his children came down as rain and fell into his wife’s womb (ibid: 409). On his death, Moinee was transformed into a stone found at Cox Bight. A similar tradition was recounted by a Toogee elder (Cotton, 1979).

It is said that Moinee made the first man, the rivers and the islands – attributes also given to Laller, a small ant. It has been suggested that the interchangeability of the 2 creator spirits could indicate they are one and the same: a totemic relationship which is similar to some that are practiced in mainland traditions (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 406; Witzel, 2013: 11). It is not known which star was identified with Moinee. He is called the “Great South Star” who “comes out of the sea” (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 406). Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky, has been identified as Droemerdeene by Plomley. As seen from Tasmania Canopus is circumpolar and can appear to “come out of the sea” as it reaches its lowest altitude (about 5.5o from southern Tasmania, close to the extinction angle) and begins its climb back up into the sky. Droemerdeene was placed between Moinee and their parents, the Sun and Moon. It is suggested by this that Droemerdeene is between Moinee and the ecliptic.

It is not clear what the identity of Moinee is, as the Western counterpart of the star is not named and the definition of “southern” is not explicit. Gantevoort et al. presumed that Moinee is a bright star “in the south” means southerly declination; Droemerdeene is a bright star that is positioned between Moinee and the Sun and Moon, presumably the ecliptic. This leads to a number of options. If it is assumed that the brothers are represented by the brightest stars in the night sky, then Moinee is Canopus and Droemerdeene is Sirius. These 2 stars are of similar right ascension. If a straight line is connected between Canopus, Sirius and the ecliptic, then Sirius is almost half way between Canopus and the ecliptic: Δα (Canopus-Sirius) = 36o, Δα (Sirius-Ecliptic) = 39o. There are also other combinations that are possible, such as Achernar and Fomalhaut, though these stars are not as bright.

There is another clue found in Robinson & Plomley (2008: 425). It was written by Robinson that Droemerdeene’s brothers are 2 stars to the south and east of the belt in Orion:

“Tonight the Brune (Bruny Island) natives pointed out 2 stars to the southward, laying eastward on Orion’s belt, which they said was Droemerdeene and his brother, i.e. Beegerer and Pimerner. They were brilliant stars and appear to move towards the observer, rising as it were in the southern horizon and setting in the north.

These 2 stars are identified by Plomley as Betelgeuse and Sirius. It is suggested by Plomley that the text may be in error, possibly should read “Droemerdeene’s brothers, i.e. Beegerer and Pimerner”, and not “Droemerdeene and his brother” (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 500). Additional brothers of Moinee and Droemerdeene are not mentioned in the recorded traditions. It is indicated by Robinson’s journal that there is a single brother with 2 variants in his name: Beegerer and Pimerner. The passage is confusing. Did he mean Beegerer or Pimerner”? If small long term changes due to proper motion are neglected, the declination of stars is constant, which means that a star that arises in the southeast will set in the southwest, never the northwest. What does he mean? Are the names Beegerer and Pimerner some variation of Moinee?

If it is assumed Robinson is recording different names of a single brother or Droemerdeene, whom is identified as Moinee, then his description of the 2 stars “lying eastward of Orion’s Belt“ and rising in southward (?southeast), best fits with Canopus and Sirius. On the day that Robinson wrote in his journal (1 August), Orion was not visible until the early morning. When it did rise, Canopus and Sirius were clearly visible in the southeastern sky, with Canopus rising at almost the same time as Orion’s belt and Sirius already 16o above the horizon. Until sunrise and the stars disappear both stars move in a northerly direction. Sirius would be in the northeastern sky by this time with Canopus remaining in the southeast.

It is suggested by Gantevoort et al. that the evidence best fits the star brothers as Canopus (Moinee) and Sirius (Droemerdeene). They believe it is a better fit than with Droemerdeene as Canopus and Moinee as a star that has not been identified, though this remains uncertain. 

According to Gantevoort et al. on a final note the idea that a bright star was present in the sky but is no longer in that position hints at a possible supernova event, though there is no supporting evidence at present for this interpretation (Hamacher, 2014).

The Gemini Twins and the Origin of Fire

There are traditions that tend to focus on a description of how the actions of 2 ancestor spirits brought fire to the Palawa, and these ancestor spirits can now be seen as 2 stars near the Milky Way. Among the stories from Oyster Bay there is a tradition that tells how the 2 men stood on a mountaintop and threw fire, “like a star” that “fell among the blackmen” (Milligan, 1859: 274). The 2 men live in the clouds and can be seen in the night sky as Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins in Greek traditions. Robinson discussed religion with Mannalargenna on 14 August 1831. Mannalargenna said that fire was created by 2 men who now live in the skyworld. His [sic] foot was Mars and his [sic] road was the Milky Way. The Cape Portland people believed fire was first made by Pormpenner, according to Mannalargenna. This name was mentioned twice more in relation to fire but each time was spelt differently as it was recorded: Pardedar (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 872) and Parpedder (ibid: 577). Robinson wrote on 15 August 1831 that Palawa from Bruny Island said 2 men were represented by 2 stars in the Milky Way (ibid: 433). Parpedder was attributed by Woorrady as being the one who gave fire to the people of Bruny Island. According to Gantevoort et al. it is not clear why 2 men are identified, but are then referred to in the singular.

Mannalargenna called the 2 stars Pumpermehowlle and Pineterrinnar on 16 August 1831. He described them as 2 spiritual ancestors who created people and fire, though the stars’ Western counterparts were not named. Milligan (1859: 274) later recorded a tradition from an unknown person from Oyster Bay, who identified Castor and Pollux (the Gemini twins) as the 2 men who created fire. In western Victoria the traditions of the Boorong (Stanbridge, 1858: 140), 2 young male hunters are represented by Castor (Yuree) and Pollux (Wanjel) who pursue a kangaroo and kill him at the commencement of the “great heat” (summer).

Setting a planet as the body part of a celestial ancestor is a problem as planets move constantly. Gantevoort et al. ask if the foot of the man (men?) was actually Mars, or a red star of similar brightness? Castor and Pollux rose helically during 14-16 August 1831. Mars was in near conjunction with Saturn (and <2o distant) at very low altitudes at dawn, and Venus and Mercury above them in the western sky. It is not known how Robinson identified Mars as the foot of the man as stars were not in the sky at the time Robinson was told about them.

Castor and Pollux are northerly stars, and from Tasmania they only reach an altitude of ⁓16o and ⁓20o, respectively. Between the Gemini twins and the Milky Way there are no first magnitude red stars. The ecliptic passes between Orion and the Milky Way, as Orion is on the other side of the Milky Way. Mars could appear as the “foot” of the hunters walking on the Milky Way, though this would be (relatively) sporadic. Mars would be visible between the Gemini twins and the Milky Way earlier than May 1831. This is possibly the reason Mars was recorded in this way. This is the only written record of the hunters’ identity, though their stellar counterparts have remained unclear.

If the information recorded is from Robinson’s informant, then it is not known who Milligan got his information from. After the Robinson expedition Milligan was a doctor on Flinders Island and would have formed relationships with some of the Aboriginal people who accompanied Robinson. Robinson’s informant died in 1835, 9 years earlier. Milligan recorded Legend of the Origin of Fire sometime between 1843 and 1855. Milligan does not specify the gender of the narrator. Still, in 1836 Robinson performed a census and renamed the Aboriginal people with English names (Plomley & Robinson, 1987: 878). According to Gantevoort et al. it is probable this list contains the name of the person who told this tradition. It is important to note on this roll-call are Waperty, Calamarowenye, Truganni and Bullrer – all of whom were on the Robinson expedition and came from the Oyster Bay region (Gough, 2014: 33). Milligan could have been told this story by any of these people.

The Coalsack Nebula and the Celestial Stingray

 A record of a stingray in the sky by Robinson was made on 13 March 1834 at 23:00 (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 895). A black spot in the Milky Way (Orion’s Belt) represents the stingray that people are spearing. In the south it is called Larder and Larner by people on the east coast. In 1831 Robinson uses Larder to identify the “dark area” in the Milky Way (ibid: 497). Larner is also used in relation to Mars, and the translation of Lawway Larner is “Milky way/road – Stingaree” (ibid: 895). It may have been incorrect to link Larner with Mars, or possibly this word takes on other meanings. ‘Lerunner’ is another version of this word for fish that was recorded by Milligan (1890: 28) as “Flat Fish or Flounder.”

Robinson identified the location of the “Black Spot” as being in the Milky Way or Orion’s Belt. Gantevoort et al. suggest it is probably the Coalsack, a dark absorption nebula that can be seen clearly with the naked eye, appearing as a dark hole against the backdrop of the otherwise bright Milky Way. The Western constellations of Centaurus, Musca, and Crux are bordered by the Coalsack, but Orion isn’t (which is 90o on the other side of the sky). Orion would have been seen to be prominently above the horizon at 23:00 on 13 March 1834, and it does not contain any obviously dark nebula that can be seen. It is stated in Robinson’s entry that a stingray is being speared by the men. It is suggested by Gantevoort et al. that the spears may be the pointer stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri. The Coalsack is an emu, Tchingal in the Wergaia language in northwestern Victoria. The pointy end of the spears of the 2 warriors who speared the emu through the neck and rump are the eastern stars of the Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta Crucis (Stanbridge, 1858: 139). .

A retelling of the story of the Legend of the Origin of Fire has been provided (Cotton, 2013), in which the men and their wives are the stars of the Crux, the Southern Cross. The original account of the story was recording by Isobel and Joseph Cotton from Timler, an east coast Palawa storyteller, in the 1830s, though the records were lost in a house fire in 1959 (Stephens, 2013). William Jackson Cotton (1909-1981), a descendant, rewrote the stories from memory and published them as Touch the Morning years later (Cotton, 1979). Jane Cooper, William Cotton’s daughter, published his recollected stories (Cotton, 2013), though she didn’t get the permission of the local Aboriginal community (Johnson et al., 2015: 14). Cross of Fire, the republished version of the story, evokes substantial Christian imagery, but does identify the mountain in the story, Meledna Lopatin (Mountain of Fire), as Mount Amos in eastern Tasmania (Cotton, 2013: 62). It also gives the names of the men who bring fire as Una and Bura. The names of the men are found in the consolidated vocabulary of Roth (1890). Una or Une translates as fire. When the 2 words are joined Une Bura it translates as lightning and Bura alone translates as thunder (ibid: xiv). Une and Bura, which differ from the names given to these 2 stars in the recordings of Robinson, give a literal and direct translation to the meanings that were intended: fire, lightning and thunder. This story, as with the Legend of the Origin of Fire, ends with the 2 men and the 2 women returning to the sky. Cross of Fire, however, identifies the 4 stars as the brightest 4 stars in Crux (the Southern Cross), called Urapane Lopatin (Cross of Fire) in the language of the eastern Palawa (Roth, 1890: xxiii, xi, respectively). The stingray joins them in the sky in this account. Conversely, the Coalsack or any dark patches in the sky are not identified in the Cross of Fire story (see Cotton, 2013: 71). Given that they were retold from memory long after they were recorded and contain heavy Christian imagery, it is difficult to ascertain the accuracy of these records.

Robinson identifies a particular star as being female in his journals between April and July 1831. The Oyster Bay word Lorenepenner translates as wife (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 497). The women are identified as Lowanna; which is a common word for women in Milligan’s collected vocabulary (Milligan, 1890: 51). The idea that a version of the legend of the Origin of Fire could have been relayed to Robinson during his mission, with the names of the stars representing the names of the ancestral protagonists that are featured in this tradition is supported by the presence of a female-star in the notes of Robinson.

Robinson wrote on 27 June 1831 (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 487):

“In conversation with the natives respecting the stars. These people, like the ancients, have described constellations in their heavens as resembling men and women, men fighting, animals and limbs of men; together with names of stars. The Aborigines pointed them out.”

As is the case with many of the entries by Robinson, it is condensed and short on detail. A summary of features of Aboriginal interpretations of the stars, many of which are identifiable (Milligan, 1890), is provided by the excerpt. A member of the Oyster Bay group shared this tradition, which can be unpacked beyond that of labels and languages. Potentially, oral traditions could be passed on for thousands of years. These traditions are encoded with information that is significant to the survival and navigation of the physical and social landscape. By reading the canopy of stars as a form of traditional text, the Aboriginal people were enabled to carry on practices that allowed their continued survival in such a land which is so hostile to those without this traditional knowledge, which is exemplified by the Legend of the Origin of Fire. This tradition explains how fire came to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. It also contains information about seasonal indicators, fishing customs, burial and healing practices, as well as the attainment of fire.

In coastal environments such as Oyster Bay Palawa women spent many hours in the water. From a young age they were taught their role as the primary hunters of shellfish, and could dive to considerable depths on a single breath (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 66-88; Johnson et al., 2015: 39). The oral tradition and the night sky were used to inform cultural practices in regard to how to safely navigate the oceanic environment. In the oral tradition 2 women diving for crayfish were ‘sulky’ because of their unfaithful husbands. As a consequence the stingray speared them and they died. In an earlier recording made in Robinson’s journal the same wording was used. Robinson described the women returning from driving for crayfish off Swan Island on 4 November 1830, when they were chased by a shark (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 302). Because the women were sulky it made the sharks come. Also described in the Legend of the Origin of Fire was the women being “sulky” when they were speared and killed by the stingray. Later, the 2 star men arrived and killed the stingray with their spears (Milligan, 1890: 13). This reflects the culture as it was practiced on the ground. A personal observation was recorded (Lloyd, 1862: 52) from an Aboriginal hunting trip on the morning following a significant corroboree that was held at full moon. Stingrays were surrounded in a semicircle by up to 300 people and speared by the men.

In the final section of this tradition (Milligan, 1890: 13) it is explained how the 2 women who had been speared by the stingray were revived. The dead women were placed on either side of a fire and “blue ants” were placed on the women’s breasts. When the women had been bitten severely they revived. The traditions of Aboriginal people describe the importance of fire in Aboriginal culture and its connection to rejuvenation and healing. Meteors signal the end of a healing process on the Wellesley Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria (Cawte, 1974: 110). The treatment of a disease which is known to the Aboriginals as Malgri is lighting a fire next to the affected person, encouraging them to sweat. A similar practice was described among the Palawa people in which the patient drinks a lot of cold water then lies next to the fire to encourage perspiration.

The blue ant (Diamma bicolor) is a parasitic wasp that is present throughout southeast Australia. The female of this species has the appearance of an ant and when disturbed uses her stinger to cause burning pain and swelling. There are early recording which describe large ants or the eggs of Diamma bicolor being a delicacy among the Palawa (Noetling, 1910: 281). Blue ants play an important part in pollinating native plants when they are active in mid- to late summer, which is a possible timing component that indicates seasonal change within the tradition (ibid).

Time, Navigation and Astronomy

In regard to food economics, development of a calendar, and ceremony, time-keeping was important to the Aboriginal people. Words that were used to indicate time of day (e.g. sunrise, midday, twilight), astronomical presence, such as starlight and moonlight,  were reflected in the consolidated vocabularies of the language groups of Tasmania (Milligan, 1890, Plomley, 1976) It was observed that the Aboriginals had no word for time itself (Stanner, 20112).

A fleeting comment was made about the understanding of time and astronomy among the Aboriginal people (Roth, 1890: 146). He noted that the use hand signals, such as pointing out the diurnal motion of the Sun with their hands, and to denote 2 days they hold up 2 fingers. Roth also claimed that this is the only reference to knowledge of the heavenly bodies. Robinson, on the other hand, wrote on 13 March 1834 that the Palawa were quite familiar with the stars, having names for all of them, and are also aware of the movements of them (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 302). Knowledge of the movements of the heavenly bodies is demonstrated by this record.

It was noted by Robinson on 25 December 1830 that the Palawa had such a “considerable knowledge” on meteorology, so much that he prises them, saying that they had “attained to such celebrity.” As a result of this knowledge Robinson and white men generally, consulted them on the subject and were pleased by the information as they “seldom found them to err” (ibid: 334). The stars and clouds were used by the Palawa to determine when to fish, build huts, and to travel.

Though not as obvious as a direct comment, astronomical knowledge is embedded through Aboriginal traditions. A song from the northwest, north coast, and the interior Palawa, that was possibly used for navigation and travel, was described in Robinson’s manuscripts (Plomley, 1976: 51). According to this the Palawa “repeat the words tonener (sun) and point the way the sun is travelling in her course, and point to where they are stopping for the sun to be there.” Tonner also refers to “West” (ibid: 205) and is a part of the word for the Black Milky Way; tonnermuckkellenner (ibid: 408). This song is indicated to have been sung to aid with timing and navigation on the journey by the description of the actions accompanying the repetition of tonner, serving as an insight into a songline of Tasmania. Gantevoort et al. suggest the songline that describes “the way the sun is travelling”, which indicates “where they are stopping” in relation to the sun, demonstrates a form of navigation.

Seasonal change and Astronomy

There are 3 unidentified stars that relate to seasonal change that are mentioned 3 times in the literature. There are 2 unidentified stars mentioned in Robinson’s journals: on 20 June 1832 and 30 June 1834, and again in interviews that were conducted by Ernest Westlake between 1908 and 1910. The stars are used to track time seasonally in all instances. The dark phases of the moon are used in conjunction with stars to indicate shorter intervals of time in the 1832 account. It remains unknown what the identities of these stars are.

The positions and magnitudes of the mystery stars and their use as a seasonal indicator are provided in the entry in Robinson’s journal for 30 June 1834 (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 111):

“AM, calm and clear, fine weather, sun hot. The natives showed me the 3 stars which they say is a sign that the fine weather is coming and when those stars are vertical the fine weather is come. They appeared in the heavens to the eastward. No. 1 was large and was called the mother, No. 2 the husband is of lesser magnitude and No. 3 the offspring is hardly visible. They are called by the Brune natives PUR, by the western natives LONE.ER.TEN, by the northern natives NOE.GO, and by the natives of Oyster Bay PARNG.ER.LIN.NER.”

The word Pur from Bruny Island is similar to Purrar, a Bruny word for white edible berries (Plomley, 1976: 340). It is suggested by this association that the star would appear white, which would rule out red stars. The word Loneerten of the western group has connections with Looner, or “Wife” across many of the Palawa language groups (ibid: 471). The word Noego from the northern group is quite close to Nongor, which is the Palawa name for West Point in northern Tasmania. Gantevoort et al suggest Parnggerlinner from the Oyster Bay, may be related to the word Parnuneninger for “wife” given by some eastern groups (ibid: 321).

This journal provided key information which aided in the identification of the stars as follows:

1)      The date visible was 30 June 1834 at dawn,

2)      The stars appeared eastward (azimuth between 0o and 180 o)

3)      The stars differ in magnitudes: a large (bright) star (which was presumably 1st magnitude), a lesser bright star (presumably of 2nd or 3rd magnitude, and a star that is hardly visible (presumably 5th or fainter magnitude).

In his drawing the orientation of the 3 stars is illegible. It was interpreted by Plomley to be 30, presumable from looking at Robinson’s drawing. It is written by Robinson that the stars indicate fine weather is coming. When they are vertical, fine weather has come. By identifying a period of “fine weather” in the calendar year will approximate a date that can be tested for stars that are vertical at that time. The clan territories naming the stars are from the North, East, West and South of the island, which indicated that fine ‘weather’ would, on average, be experienced across Tasmania. It is shown by meteorological data that there is constant rainfall through the year, with most occurring in the winter, and can experience multiple seasons in a single day. “Fine weather” could be considered the “summer” month, most likely in January. The least amount of rain falls, since climate records have been kept, in January.

The Pointer stars appear in the southwest (Az = 185o-190o), not the east, on the morning of 30 June 1834 (when the sun is 10o below the horizon: see Hamacher, 2015). The 3rd star that is barely visible is in line with the Pointer stars that are both of similar brightness to each other in brightness. As seen from Tasmania the Pointer stars are circumpolar, therefore they can appear to be horizontal in the morning on some occasions and vertical on others.

Also, the Pointer stars are of similar brightness (Vmag = +1.33 and +0.61 for Alpha and Beta, respectively). In the morning sky in mid-January the Pointers are vertical (with the same azimuth) and a month later in mid-February are horizontal (having the same altitude) high in the sky, or horizontal low in the sky in late July/early August.

The identification by Plomley is not consistent with the information from the journal. Alpha and Beta Centauri encircle the celestial south pole, in spite of lining up vertically at certain times in the year. It is stated by Robinson that the 3 stars lie to the east. Plomley’s hypothesis has been mis-transcribed by researchers in subsequent publications by claiming the stars in question are Alpha and Beta Crucis, which are 2 brightest stars of the Southern Cross, thereby causing confusion (Coo, 1972: 288).

There are a number of stars that would have been located on the eastern horizon on that morning, but it is difficult to label accurately the stars based on the descriptions that were given. On a mid-January morning there are many that move to the vertical position on the western horizon. At dawn on the morning of 30 June 1834 the following stars/star groups which would have appeared prominently in the east:

·         The Pleiades star cluster (Messier 45)

·         Sirius (Canis Major)

·         Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri)

·         Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis)

·         Orion’s Belt (Mintaka, Alnilam, Alnitak).

The stars are the most prominent in the sky. Canopus is excluded from the list because it sits closer to the southeast, and never sets below the horizon (circumpolar), and has been identified previously as the creator ancestor Droemerdeene (though Gantevoort et al. question this identification). A suitable list of candidates was examined by Gantevoort et al., and used the magnitudes of the stars, relative positions, and colours, and then comparing them with the information that had been provided in the record by Robinson  in an attempt to identify the stars that were recorded by Robinson.

The stars are not shown in a linear pattern in the sketch by Robinson. The 3rd star was described by Robinson as being “barely visible”. There are multiple candidates for the 3rd star as a result of its faint magnitude. When Gantevoort et al. grouped the 3 stars they took into consideration the orientation of the 3rd star as well as its magnitude; only picking stars that were of 5th magnitude or brighter.

The groups of Sirius, Adhara and Wezen, and Bellatrix, Saiph, and Gamma Monocerotis, are the only groups of 3 to meet the criteria. Sirius, Adhara and Wezen match the description reasonably well. Of the 3 stars, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, located to the east at dawn. The orientation of Sirius with Adhara and Wezen is similar to the sketch that was drawn by Robinson. Sirius is the most northerly of these stares, exceeding an altitude of 5o (the extinction angle) when the sun is at an altitude of -10o on 15 June 1832. This is considered to be the first day the 3 stars, Sirius, Adhara and Wezen, are unambiguously visible at dawn in the east. According to Gantevoort et al. the relative brightnesses are roughly consistent, though Wezen has a Vmag of 1.2, meaning that is isn’t “Hardly Visible”. When the 3 stars are very low on the horizon at dawn, however, there is sufficient background light to obscure it, which would make it appear to be much fainter.

Though the group of Bellatrix, Saiph and Gamma Monocerotis meet all of the criteria, seem to be less likely because they straddle Orion’s Belt. Robinson mentioned Orion’s Belt in early entries, which indicate that he knew the asterism and was likely to have located them when describing the 3 stars. There is a problem, if Plomley is correct in identifying Betelgeuse and Sirius as Droemerdeene’s brothers, would he not recognise Sirius – the brightest star in the sky – and realise it had been identified already in the traditions of the Palawa?

There was an altercation between the Tarkiner group from Northwest Tasmania and Robinson’s party and a fight had been scheduled to take place at Nongor (West Point). The 2 entries below, that were dated 19 and 20 June, were made by Robinson regarding the timing of this fight (Robinson & Plomley, 2008, 652):

19 June 1832: I learnt that the TAEKINER Natives were to come and fight them when the rest came back from Robbins Island – the TARKINER would come two dark nights after the moon was gone (it was now moonlight).”

20 June 1832: “Learnt that the greater part of the natives had gone to Robbins Island and were engaged in getting spears, that they would return again when two darks or when the three stars come.

The new moon, the days in which less than 3 % of the moon is facing the earth is illuminated, occurred from 26-28 June 1832.The fight with the Tarkiner was scheduled for 29 June 1832 – 2 nights after the “disappearance” of the moon. This allowed them 9 days to prepare. Also, Gantevoort et al. suggest the appearance of the stars may signify the time of day not the time of month. “2 dark nights” (date) may have indicated this, and “when the 3 stars come” (time), translating to Friday, 29 June 1832 at approximately 05:45.

Gantevoort et al. suggest “when the 3 stars come” seems to describe the 3 stars they are trying to identify. Robinson was shown, coincidently, the 3 stars indicating seasonal change on 30 June 1834, exactly 2 years later, which suggests the same 3 stars are being described in both accounts. When he mentioned the 3 stars in 1832 indicates that they were yet to appear in the sky.

August Smith, Fanny Cochrane Smith’s grandson, spoke of 3 stars in an interview with Earnest Westlake, noted under the heading “Springtime” (Plomley et al., 1991: 63).

“The 3 little stars in the east on a level only once in a year. Thought a lot of them, just to see them blinking. FS thought it a terrible thing if didn’t welcome these little stars. Would sprinkle the ashes from the hearth very early in the morning before the sun had risen, when the stars are bright.”

Smith describes the 3 stars to the east in the early morning ‘on a level’, and associated them with seasonal change (springtime), as did the 2 previous entries in Robinson’s journal. Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka, the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt, are seen in the early morning sky rising ‘on a level’ during June, July and August, the winter months. The stars of Orion’s Belt rise helically (at dawn) about 8 June each year, and set helically (at dusk) around 19 July. It appears the heliacal rise is premature for a welcoming of spring, yet the Orion asterism is visible in the sky, just as it was describe in the 3 entries in the literature.

Timing components (dates, 2 dark nights, and indication of moonlight) is given in the earliest recording of 3 stars in June 1832, to cross check. The emergence of the 3 stars of Orion’s belt is in line with the description. Early in the morning from 05:30 Orion’s Belt appears in the sky, and then sets with the sun at 07:00.

Robinson wrote about the 3 stars again 2 years later, almost to the day. The sketch accompanying the entry places the stars as ‘eastward’ at dawn’. At this time the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt are clearly visible on the horizon in the east. The idea that the 3 stars of Orion’s Belt could be the stars in Robinson’s journal is supported by the repetition of the position of the 3 stars at the similar time of year. During summer nights the constellation of Orion is visible above the horizon, which supports the idea that the first appearance of the 3 stars would be welcomed after a cold Tasmanian winter. This is not certain, but is the topic of future ethnographic work.

Lunar Traditions

As has been noted (Cotton. 1979; 2013) in the recording of the tradition of Timler, a Toogee elder, the parents of the creation ancestors that became the first stars were the Sun and Moon. There are similar traditions across Tasmania. Robinson was told by the Palawa of Bruny Island, of similar traditions, told how the moon-woman, Vetea, got her dark patches (mare on the Moon; Robinson, 1831: 412).

The Aboriginal people from Bruny Island affirmed to Robinson that the moon, Vetea, came from England and that she stopped at the (as Robinson recorded it), i.e., the country of Oyster Bay, and that the kangaroo and the mutton fish asked the moon to stop there, and that the moon was Looner, woman, that she was roasting mutton fish when the sun, Parnuen, came and swept her away, and she tumbled into the fire and was hurt on her side and then rolled into the sea, after which she went up into the sky (Warrangerly) and stopped there with her husband the sun. They say the rainbow is the sun’s children. [Woorady] told [Timler] if he looked he would see it black where she had been burnt.

In the Flinders Rangers, South Australia, the Adnyamatana have a tradition in a similar vein. In this tradition Vira, the moon man, falls off his stick ladder as he is trying to punish his nephew for stealiong food (Tunbridge, 1988: 68-69). He burst open on impact, which left marks on his belly.

The Palawa people used the Moon to tell the time (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 652) and count (ibid: 267). A change in the weather could also be signalled by the Moon (ibid: 334).

The weather signals included such things, according to the Aboriginal people, the Palawa, if there was a halo around the moon it warned of bad weather. According to Robinson they had many signs by which they could judge the weather, and he says they were rarely wrong. Because of this knowledge of the weather to expect they knew when to do such things as build huts, go to the coast for fishing, travel etc. They also used the stars and gave the ones that were significant in the weather forecasting names in order to distinguish them.

Cultures around the world have folklore in which halos around the moon have long been used to predict the weather (e.g. Guiley, 1991: 22). The halo is caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere refracting the moonlight. Cirrus clouds are forms by these, and these are often present before a low pressure system, a frequent result of which is rain.

In lunar traditions there is a constant theme of disruption and restoration. Gantevoort et al. argue that the moon is a symbolic cycle of pain and healing that the bodies of the Palawa reflect. It was first believed that scarring was unique to each group, as distinguishing features between the nations. However, often when there is mention of cicatrices (scarring), Robinson offers an astronomical motive in partnership, which indicates meaning beyond the cosmetic (Johnson et al., 2015: 35). Moon or crescent-shaped markings were seen on bodies, though they are not limited to the Tasmanian east coast. A member of the expedition of the French explorer Marc-Joseph Marion Dufresne in 1772, noticed “several little scars or black marks in a crescent shape” on the chest of a young man when they landed on the east coast of Tasmania (Duyker, 1955: 33). Most of the people from the eastern groups observed by Robinson on 1 November 1830 “had the form of the moon cut into their flesh” Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 297). Robinson carries on this thought, writing in a note written on the end pages of his journal (ibid):

“[T]he Aboriginal females on the islands have round circles cut in their flesh in imitation of the sun or moon. I have seen a woman with four of them on her body; others I have seen with two or three. They are very fond of them, are generally placed on either side of the backbone and about the hips…The cicatrices of the sun and moon is intended to remove inflammation and having the power of those luminaries they imagine it will have the same influence on the part infected.” Similar circular images are reproduced in rock engravings, drawings, huts, stone arrangements (Bonwick, 1870: 192), and on bodies, often beholding more than a single meaning. Robinson wrote about a surveyor, “Mr Hellyer”, on seeing a circular charcoal drawing and believing it represented the sun. Robinson corrects him in his journal where he states” Those circles are emblematical devices of men and women”(ibid): 575). In regard to this entry, Plomley addresses the conflicting meanings, though does not mention the possibility that the circles may be a polysemous symbol. The moon was previously identified as a woman named Vetea, which indicates a circle can mean both woman and moon. According to Gantevoort et al. the multilayered meanings of man, woman, moon, and sun are interchangeable and complex. The power of each is not confined to a singularity, rather to an indigenous view of wellbeing, traversing body, environment, and spirit in an ebb and flow of meaning and balance.

Women are identified specifically by Robinson in the above passage, where he notes that cicatrices are localised around the hips and on either side of the spine. These are the areas on the body of a woman that are affected by strain during childbirth and menstruation. The cyclical flow of menstruation is often linked to the waxing and waning of the moon (Berndt & Berndt, 1993). In Aboriginal communities across Australia the moon is recorded as male by some and as female by others, though usually male, and is often related to fertility, whichever the gender. In some traditions the moon man can impregnate young women if they looked directly at the moon (Haynes, 1997: 107) or among other groups, they can be rendered infertile (Bayes, 1872).

The location of cicatrices could be used as a healing agent in response to back pain and curing issues connected with fertility. Much of the labour was carried out by the women, including such things as hunting for crayfish, seals, climbing trees for possums, ochre mining, and Robinson observed them carrying the bulk of the load while travelling. The lager game, such as kangaroos, was hunted by the men and they also guarded the group, an activity that would require vigilance and the ability to react quickly if needed (Johnson et al., 2015; Robinson & Plomley, 2008).

The origin story that had been related by Leigh Maynard (Thompson and Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, 2011) described the phases of the moon. In the beginning, the Sun and the Moon rose together (New Moon). The Moon woman gradually fell behind the Sun man as they journeyed. His response was to encourage her by lighting more of her each day, which explains the waxing of the moon. She was eventually on the opposite side of the sky to the Sun (Full Moon). According to Gantevoort et al. this is one of the rare accounts to acknowledge explicitly that the light of the Moon is sunlight that has been reflected by the Moon (A point noted by R. S. Fuller, pers. Comm. to Gantevoort et al.).

Transient Phenomena

Aboriginal traditions from across Australia feature prominently transient phenomena, such as meteors, eclipses, and aurorae (Hamacher, 2012). There also are traditions among Palawa from across Tasmania.


There are not many records among the Palawa regarding how they viewed meteors in their traditions. A meteor is called Pachereah in southern Tasmania and it is mentioned (Milligan, 1866: 43; Coon, 1972: 288) that a falling meteor at night startled some Palawa, who shrieked and hid their heads. In the traditions of the Plangermairrener (Noonuccal, 1990: 115-119), a woman described as cheeky, Puggareetya, tormented and fought a snake. The ground was upheaved by their wrestling to form the hills and mountains of the landscape. The woman was cast into the sky by the snake where she was held there by Mienteina a sky spirit. Because she continues to play tricks on the sky deities, Puggareetya is occasionally thrown across the sky when the sky spirits occasionally grow frustrated by her antics. When this occurs she is seen as a meteor (Hamacher & Norris, 2010).

When the sky spirits Moinee and Droemerdeene battled each other and Moinee fell to earth at Cox Bight, where is presently seen as a large standing stone (Coon, 1972: 288). It is assumed that Moinee took a symbolic form as a meteor (“falling star”), but this is inferred, though never stated.


Cultural traditions connected with the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights, which are commonly visible to cultures at high northern latitudes, have a tendency to be associated with positive omens (Hamacher, 2013). Where aurorae are not as common, such as the Southern Hemisphere Aurora Australis, the traditions associated with them tend to be more cautious, they act as a warning. As Australia is positioned on the northern edge of the southern auroral zone means it is relatively rare to see the Aurora Australis, compared to areas in the peak of the auroral zones. Aboriginal traditions often associate aurorae with blood, fire, and death due to its appearance sometimes being reddish (ibid). The island of Tasmania lies at the upper edge of the southern auroral zone, therefore the Aurora Australia is well known to the Palawa of Tasmania. The Palawa have a few different names for the aurorae, as was noted in Robinson’s journal. Robinson recorded 2 names on 19 October 1837 from Rolepa, a leader of the Ben Lomond group, as Nohoiner and Purnenyer, and 2 names from the Western Palawa: Genner and Nummergen.

Nohoiner is almost identical to the name Noiheener from Cape Portland, which was attributed to an “electric spark” that was recorded in an entry by Robinson 6 years earlier. The Palawa from Ben Lomond were believed to be linked by trade agreements with the Palawa from Cape Portland. It was suggested it is possible they shared language and it is also possible both words mean the same thing with respect to random light phenomena (Ryan, 2012: 32).

On 12 August 1832 Robinson recorded the earlier use of Cape Portland Noiheener and parallels the sentiments of Aboriginals from mainland Australia, feelings of apprehension at an aurora (Robinson & Plomley, 2008: 430):

The natives last night saw an electric spark in the atmosphere, at which they appeared frightened, and one of them told them not to mention it as they would all be sick if they did – the native of Cape Portland call in NOI.HEE.NER and the Port Sorell natives call it NAR.NO.BUN.NER.”

It is not clear if the “electric spark” was in reference to aurora. Similar words with similar, slightly different varieties in spelling are applied to various forms of light phenomena, including aurorae, lightning and thunder. The Aboriginal people from West Point and Cape Grimm in northwest Tasmania use a word Nowhummer for an evil spirit (Plomley, 2008: 650}. It has also been recorded that people from Bruny Island believed that thunder and lightning is an evil spirit (ibid: 321). Noiheenner is a name in various language groups to represent “God”, a good spirit, Sun, Moon, thunder, and lightning. These words all share attributes of ancestral deities, yet at first seem to be different. Robinson, as a religious man, may have translated meanings of thunder and lightning to God or spirits, all of which are taught to be respected and feared.

In Tasmanian languages records of auroral traditions provide an insight into how Palawa pay close attention to properties of natural phenomena. According to Anonymous (1877):

“There was a splendid Aurora in 1847, grand in its-effects at Hobart Town; and an interim one September 4, 1851, at the same place where the vividly shooting streamers of violet, red and other colours, where somewhat marred by the bright moonlight. The Aborigines of Tasmania compared the cracking noise of the curruscation to the snapping of their fingers.”

It was not believed aurora could produce these sounds as they were too far away, in spite of reports of sound associated with aurora. Finnish researchers found a direct link between aurorae and sound in 2012 (Laine, 2012). They found that the auroral sounds are actually born close to the ground.

Confirmed accounts of solar eclipses have not been recorded in Palawa traditions, though there is a record of a lunar eclipse. 11 lunar eclipses were visible from Tasmania during the Robinson expedition from 1829-1834, including 2 total eclipses that both occurred in 18302. Though only 1 of these was mentioned in Robinson’s journals and none have been identified in the remaining literature sources.

Robinson wrote on 24 August 1831 that Mannalargenna, Kickerterpoller, and 3 women left to make contact with other people in the area. For 5 days they were away from Robinson’s party. Robinson and the guides saw the moon move into the shadow of the Earth while they were away. They took this as an ominous warning that harm had come to Kickerterpoller and he had ascended to the moon. The lunar eclipse was seen by Truganini and Woorrady from Waterhouse Point which they read as a bad sign that Robinson had been speared (Cameron, 2015). Gantevoort et al. identified this as a reference to a partial eclipse that was visible on 23 August 1831 that attained mid-eclipse at 22:00. The perception of the eclipse by Truganini, Woorrady, and the guides with Robinson is roughly consistent with views by other Aboriginal people from across Australia of eclipses (Hamacher & Norris, 2011).

Summary and Conclusion

Fragments of Palawa astronomy that are recorded in the literature and archival documents that date back to the early 19th century for which a partial reconstruction has been attempted are explored in this paper. There is continuity with many traditions, which include those related to the Sun, Moon, the creation brothers, the stingray, calendars, time keeping, and views of transient phenomena, though in some cases variations of knowledge are evident. It is suggested by this that Palawa use the Sun to navigate and for developing songlines.

Aboriginal traditions from the mainland share fundamental similarities with those of Tasmanian Aboriginals. The astronomical traditions from across Australia are affected by locality, as the natural world where the community lives is reflected by the adaptive nature of traditions. Astronomical objects that are commonly associated with the traditions of the Aboriginal people on the Australian mainland are the Milky Way, Orion, the Pleiades, the Magellanic Clouds, dark nebula (Coalsack), the Sun, and Moon. The Tasmanian traditions record all except the Pleiades and Magellanic Clouds. It is thought to be peculiar that these objects are absent. Almost all Aboriginal groups across Australia have incorporated them. It is believed (Johnson, 2011: 295) it is unlikely there are not in Tasmanian traditions about the Pleiades, but for some reason they were simply not recorded.

This paper is a preliminary study of how the Palawa constructed and used the connection between the landscape and the skyscape. Included in this is the diurnal motion of the sun as well as its application to navigation, and how the movement of the stars, seasonal change and timekeeping, and the nature of the association between transient astronomical phenomena and death or bad omens. The importance of the Moon as a symbol of restoration and healing may have symbolic representations on cicatrising marks that are present on the bodies of the people and explained through oral traditions. It is shown by this research how the night sky is a blackboard on which traditions are drawn with stars, retold in the education of generations about moral code and law. Though it only a rudimentary starting point for research in the future.


Sources & Further reading

  1. Gantevoort, M., Hamacher, D. W. & Lischick, S., 2016, Reconstructing Star knowledge of Aboriginal Tasmanians, Journal of Astronomical History,  and Heritage, Vol 193).



Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 24/08/2013
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