“What can I do, when the night comes and I break into stars? Nayyirah Waheed
Standing under the vastness a clear, star-filled sky can be profound and moving. Our desires, concerns, activities; our perspectives about human existence suddenly shifts and most of us are filled with nothing less than awe.
For centuries humans have studied, charted and tried to understand the vast and dark mystery that is the night sky. Perhaps that is why throughout the ages so many tales and myths have been created about it. One celestial body in particular has been a great source of inspiration: The Milky Way.
Ancient astronomers from the Greeks to the Chinese, from the Navajo & Apache First Nations to the Armenians and Turks, have created stories to help us understand the patterns of the stars.
Passed down through the centuries are stories about the god Zeus tricking his wife Hera into breastfeeding his son Heracles who suckled on her breast so forcefully she pulled him off and spilled milk across the heavens. We have stories of a king creating a fast, flowing and untraversable river of stars to keep young lovers apart; stories of a war god who left a trail of hay while escaping the wrath of the Assyrian king; and stories of a road used to traverse between the realms of life and death.
However, some of the most ancient stories about the night sky hail from right here at home. Regarded by many as the first astronomers, Aboriginal Australians have been sharing stories about the night sky for over 50,000 years.
While other ancient astronomers saw patterns in the stars, the rich and varied cosmology of Aboriginal people also saw meaning in the dark patches. Stretching from horizon to horizon, the Milky Way takes centre stage in the dark Australian winter sky. Dreamtime stories about the Milky Way are numerous and vary from region to region, but the story about the Emu, found in the dark & dense interstellar dust, with its head high near the Southern Cross and its legs stretching towards the horizon, has featured in songs and stories throughout Australia for thousands of years... but this is not my story to tell.
Troy Bennell, Noongar artist, cultural performer and storyteller will be sharing this and other Noongar night sky stories during Edgewalkers’ Night Photography Retreat in Margaret River 11 – 13 May.
 Norris, R & Norris C. 2009. Emu Dreaming; An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Astronomy. Emu Dreaming: Sydney