Go to page Content

7 — Australia’s first astronomers

In this sequence the focus will shift from the scientific understanding of night and day to exploring how different cultures and people from around the world have explained the phenomena of night and day through folktales and Dreaming stories.

Image of a star-forming cloud of dust and gas

Above: Dark reflections in the Southern Cross, NASA image, public domain, no copyright

Indigenous Australians have a rich and intricate understanding of the night sky. This sequence seeks to explore some of this knowledge and to provide links to resources that you may explore with the students.

When introducing students to the cultural beliefs and understandings of Indigenous Australians it is vital that you attempt to contact local Indigenous community groups for support and guidance. You should also access school-based personnel for support, where possible, and check school and jurisdiction policy guidelines when planning for this aspect of the unit. It would be most culturally appropriate to share the stories and traditions of Indigenous people from the local area, especially if these can be accessed through local community groups.

When dealing with stories and beliefs relating to the Dreaming it is also important that you demonstrate and model respect and understanding, as the Dreaming has deep spiritual and cultural significance to Indigenous Australians and should not be dealt with as simply stories or tales. The Dare to Lead website has an approach for discussion at a school staff level, regarding the available resources and their quality. The Australian Museum website also has some worthwhile information on Indigenous Australian spirituality.

Activity 1: Ancient astronomers

Use the following website links and school-based resources to explore Indigenous Australian understandings and explanations of the constellations in the night sky:

Discuss with the students their own knowledge and understanding of constellations in the night sky. Link these understandings to the knowledge and traditions of Indigenous Australians.

Create a class chart that parallels Indigenous Australians’ knowledge and understanding of constellations in the night sky to that of western knowledge and understanding.

Activity 2: Descriptive language

Discuss the imagery of the rising and setting sun. The students then identify examples of descriptive language that allow them to visualise the sunrise and sunset (for example, blazing torch, musical calls and smothers) and relate these to their personal experiences.

Using the class experience of a sunset or a suitable stimulus, have the students orally describe what they saw in visualising a sunrise or sunset and how it made them feel. Record some of the vocabulary (words and phrases) provided by the students in a word bank, then jointly construct a description of a sunset, using a sharing-the-pen strategy. Focus on the use of effective descriptive language that enables the reader to visualise the scene and share the feelings of the writer. Display some images of sunrises or draw on the experiences of students who have seen a sunrise to add to the word bank. Display the word bank and encourage students to add to it from their reading.

Have the students write their own descriptions of the rising or setting sun. The focus of this activity is to use the word banks developed earlier in the sequence and for the students to practise writing with descriptive language. Students who require additional support could continue to work with you in a small group to jointly construct another text.

Tell the students that their descriptions should focus on their physical (sights, sounds and smells) and emotional responses to sunrise and sunset. When the descriptions are complete, have the students present them in small groups, with group members providing feedback in the form of ‘two stars and a wish’ (two parts or pieces of the story that they liked and one thing about the story that they think could be improved). ACELY1792