About this site


The web site

This web site, together with its partner site on Sydney Rock Engravings, was created as a spin-off from the Aboriginal Astronomy Project (see below). It is privately funded, with help from sales of the book.

Please note that this web site is a living, growing thing, and is permanently under construction. The "Examples" pages are particularly thin, and I will continue to add content over the next few months. So please visit us again!

The project

The Aboriginal Astronomy Project is a research project led by Ray Norris to explore the extent to which astronomy permeates Australian Aboriginal cultures. It is mainly privately funded, with help from sales of the book.

This site is a result of a project which essentially asks the question: How important are the stars and sky in Australian indigenous cultures? We know that many traditional Australian Aboriginal cultures feature stories and songs about the sky, and that many groups had an extensive knowledge of the sky. We also know that the appearance of a star or constellation (e.g. the Emu in the Sky) was used to mark particular times of year when a food would be available, when it was time for a particular rite or ceremony, or when it was time to move to another ground.but are these key parts of the culture or just a peripheral add-on? Building on some of the excellent but varied studies in the past, Ray and Cilla Norris have started a project, which we expect to run for several years, which has two main threads:

1) Studying artefacts of indigenous groups whose cultures have been severely damaged by European settlement (e.g. Sydney Rock Engravings, Victorian Stone Arrangements), to see whether there is evidence that these had an astronomical connection. For example, some of the Sydney Rock Engravings may be oriented so that they mirror the corresponding figures in the sky, and some of the Victorian stone arrangements seem to be carefully aligned to the cardinal points of the compass, and perhaps to rising and setting positions of the Sun. We hope that we may even be able to help in the quest by some indigenous groups to rebuild their culture.

2) Working with communities (e.g. the Yolngu people at Yirrkala) whose culture is very much alive, to record their stories and ceremonies (or at least, those that they are comfortable sharing with uninitiated people) which have an astronomical connection. For example, the important Morning-Star ceremony and associated stories seem almost unknown outside Arnhem Land.

In both these threads, we are guided by the need to respect and support the cultures of those people with whom we are working, and ensure that the indigenous communities retain ownership and control of the information. To this end, we try to have Indigenous co-authors on our journal publications where possible.


This project aims to answer the questions:

  • Are there cultures in which the astronomy is a central feature rather than lying on the periphery?

  • Is there evidence that the complex motions of the sky have been recorded either verbally or in rock art or stone arrangements?

  • Is there evidence that transient phenomena such as supernovae, comets, meteors were recorded?

In addition, an important underlying goal is to record the rock art and verbal traditions and make them available (where appropriate) both now and in the future.


There are two main threads to the project:

  1. Studies of rock art, stone arrangements, and artefacts in South-East Australia

  2. Discussions with traditional Aboriginal groups living in Arnhem land, Central Australia, and elsewhere, recording their songs, stories, and art.

These are accompanied by two guiding principles: to respect the culture of the people that we are working with, and ensure they maintain ownership. We will respect the sanctity of traditional secrets, and will not publish anything without approval by relevant Aboriginal groups. Where possible, we will have Aboriginal co-authors on our publications.

We also recognise that this project is trying to understand a traditional culture in Western, analytical terms. This approach has a negative that traditional knowledge is being studied out of context. It has two positives in that (a) any significant results will be more accessible to the Western public than more traditional approaches, and may perhaps help build better appreciation of aboriginal cultures, and (b) all such studies are filtered and shaped by the culture of the researcher, and it may be better to recognise this explicitly.

The motivation

So why are we interested in exploring Aboriginal Astronomy?

To be honest, one answer is personal curiosity. Many years ago we worked on Bronze-Age archeoastronomy in Britain, and we arefascinated to find out if Aboriginal Australians shared the same love of the sky as we Brits. Furthermore, Ray's day-job is as an astronomer, and a legitimate part of astronomical research is to understand how people of different cultures perceive the Universe.

Another answer is that we see the enormous gulf of misunderstanding between white Australians and Aboriginal Australians. We are appalled by the insensitive and self-serving comments made by some of the leaders of our society, and we are rendered speechless by the equally insensitive and plain stupid comments made by a good bloke named Dave over a beer at a barbecue. Please understand: Dave is not an evil person. He just doesn't have much understanding of the cultures of Aboriginal Australians, and the complex issues now facing them. His attitudes, frankly, aren't that much different from the early British settlers who shot Indigenous Australians for sport.

How can we help poor Dave to understand Indigenous Australian people? Many of the esoteric Indigenous stories and tales, let alone complex kinship systems, are just too different, and therefore difficult, for Dave to understand. Dave sniggers at "secret women's business", not understanding that this is something real, and sacred, and important to many of his fellow-Australians.

On the other hand, Dave loves the bark paintings that he sees in the tourist shops, the Digeridoo music he hears on Circular Quay, and he is spellbound by the intricate traditional dances and songs. All these art forms have successfully forged a bridge of understanding, because they are understandable, and accessible, even by Dave.

We hope that, like music and art, astronomy can build an important bridge of understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, because we all share the same sky, and even Dave is entranced by the sight of the majestic Milky Way stretching across the unknowable black sky in outback Australia.

We all live under the same sky, we are all intrigued by its beauty and mystery, and we all love to swap stories about it. By doing so, this project aims to promote a greater appreciation of the depth and richness of Indigenous Australian cultures.


About us

Ray Norris is an astrophysicist at the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility. Born in England, he obtained an MA in theoretical physics at Cambridge, followed by a PhD and postdoc in radioastronomy at Manchester, while also studying the astronomy of ancient standing stones. In 1983, Ray and his family moved to Australia where he joined CSIRO, and now researches the formation and evolution of the first galaxies in the Universe, and also the astronomy of Aboriginal Australians. He was appointed as an Adjunct Professor at the Macquarie University Dept. of Indigenous Studies (Warawara) in 2008. You can find out more about Ray on his home page.

Cilla Norris has been an artist, high school teacher, veterinary nurse, wildlife sanctuary guide, and wild-life carer. As well as working with Ray on Aboriginal Astronomy, she is known as an authority on the care and rehabilitation of possums, and writes and teaches about possums to the NSW Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES) and other groups.

This site has used material from numerous field trips by Ray and Cilla, and their son and photographic guru, Barnaby Norris.

Ray & Cilla Norris. Incredibly corny photo courtesy of Seth Shostak.

Any comments, suggestions, or corrections for this site would be very welcome. Please email them to us at Cilla@emudreaming.com.

All material on this page © Ray Norris 2007 except where otherwise indicated.