First in Space: Lessons from Aboriginal Astronomy

Moderator: Adjunct Associate Professor Roslynn Haynes

Roslynn Haynes is Adjunct Associate Professor in Arts and Media Studies at UNSW and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She completed a science degree before turning to humanities and continues to find most interest in interdisciplinary research. Her publications involve literature, science, cultural studies, art, and film. Since 1988 she has been fascinated by Aboriginal astronomy and particularly its similarities and differences from Western science. She is currently completing a multi-disciplinary book on the Australian desert.

Michael Ghillar Anderson

Ghillar Anderson is Senior Euahlayi Law Man from Goodooga, New South Wales, and an Aboriginal rights activist. In recognition of his contribution to astronomy, an asteroid has been named 10040 Ghillar in his honour. He has been giving oral presentations of First Nations stories of the universe, and recently reached a wider audience in the film Star Stories of The Dreaming. In these Star Stories he has revealed ancient stories of the stars, blackholes and the creation of the natural world.

Dr. Philip Clarke

Philip Clarke is a Consultant Anthropologist based in Adelaide, and in this capacity is currently working on land rights and native title claims, as well investigating Indigenous heritage issues. He has conducted fieldwork for over 40 years with a wide range of Aboriginal communities and provided advice to government agencies, universities, corporations and Indigenous representative bodies. He specialises in the ethnosciences as a means of illustrating how culture determines and shapes the many ways that people perceive the universe.

Professor Ray Norris

Ray Norris is a Research Professor at Western Sydney University and Emeritus Fellow at CSIRO Space & Astronomy. Previous career highlights include Director of the Australian Astronomy Major National Research Facility. He now studies the distant Universe, including initiating the Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) project on Australia’s newest major telescope. He also studies the astronomy of Indigenous Australians and is fascinated by their many intellectual achievements as they sought to understand their Universe.

Session 2. Australia: First in Space, Lessons from Aboriginal Astronomy

Australia’s First Nations are widely held to have been the world’s first astronomers. In their history and experience, we find many reasons for better understanding their observations and the purposes of their astronomical knowledge, which both challenge and confirm basic assumptions of Western science. In this history, and in a growing understanding and respect for these traditions, we also find important new possibilities of collaboration and enterprise, and ways of thinking about Space.

This session invited discussion on a range of issues. How do we recognise and draw upon First Nations heritage in our conversations about Space? How do we ensure that Indigenous Australian people benefits from emerging Space industries? What can First Nations traditions, ideas and ethical systems contribute to living respectfully with each other and with Nature in Space?

In their contributions, Ghillar Anderson detailed ancient First Nations stories of astronomical events; Philip Clarke explained Indigenous Australian concepts of time and space and the dynamic nature of Indigenous mythologies; and Ray Norris explored Indigenous Australian peoples’ contributions to our understanding of planetary motion, tides, seasons, and eclipses. Together, they argued the importance of recognising the depth of Indigenous Australian learning about the past, as we move into the interplanetary future.

Moderator: Adjunct Associate Prof. Roslynn Haynes, UNSW


  • Michael Ghillar Anderson
  • Dr Philip Clarke, Griffith University and SA Museum
  • Professor Ray Norris UWS and CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science

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