Teacher background information


Year 10 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Earth and space sciences

The universe contains features including galaxies, stars and solar systems, and the Big Bang theory can be used to explain the origin of the universe (ACSSU188 - Scootle )

  • researching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ knowledge of celestial bodies and explanations of the origin of the universe (OI.3, OI.5)

This elaboration describes opportunities to learn about the rich body of knowledge including stars, planets, galaxies and other features of the universe, that forms an integral part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultures. Investigations into the astronomical knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as evidenced in histories inscribed in bark, rock and sand painting set the context for students to study traditional and modern understandings about the structure and origin of the universe. Students learn about the exceptional observation skills of First Australians, investigate how observations are embedded in histories and handed down through generations, and research how this knowledge was, and is used, to aid navigation and to construct seasonal calendars. Such investigations also provide opportunities for students to consider different perspectives about the nature of astronomical knowledge and the role it plays in traditional and modern societies.

Pre-contact First Australians had a deep understanding of the positions and movements of celestial bodies and are sometimes referred to as the ‘world’s first astronomers’. It is well-documented that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples not only knew every star visible to the naked eye, but also had intimate knowledge of the precession of the planets, the apparent movement of the stars through the night sky, and the shift that the whole pattern of stars undergoes over the course of a year. This knowledge played, and continues to play, an essential role in the prediction and timing of seasonally recurring events, as well as in the highly developed navigational abilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Many constellations are associated with histories, some of which are strikingly similar to those from European and other cultures. Contrary to many other traditions, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander astronomy, the identity of stars and constellations is not only determined by the brightness and patterns of the observed light, but also takes into account the patterns originating from the dark clouds within the Milky Way and the colour of light emitted by certain stars. 

Students may research stories associated with well-known Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal constellations, such as 'Tagai' and 'Emu in the Sky', while learning how to locate them in the night sky and considering the astronomical features they contain. Through the use of paper-based planispheres or star chart apps, students become familiar with important geometric features inherent in star observation, such as the ecliptic, and contemplate traditional and modern understandings of the nature and origin of stars.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Cairns, H., Harney, Y. B., & Wortelhock, S. (2004). Dark sparklers: Yidumduma's Wardaman Aboriginal astronomy night skies northern Australia. Merimbula, NSW: H.C. Cairns.

Fuller, R., Trudgett, M., Norris, R., & Anderson, M. (2014). Star maps and travelling to ceremonies: The Euahlayi People and their use of the night sky. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 17(2), 149–160.

Hamacher, D. W. (2018). The stories behind Aboriginal star names now recognised by the world. The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/the-stories-behind-aboriginal-star-names-now-recognised-by-the-worlds-astronomical-body-87617

Haynes, R., Malin, D., & McGee, R. (1996). Dreaming the stars: Aboriginal astronomy and the southern sky. Explorers of the Southern Sky: A History of Australian Astronomy (pp. 1-14). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Norris, R. (2016). Dawes Review 5: Australian Aboriginal astronomy and navigation. Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 35.  DOI:  10.1017/pasa.2016.25

Schaefer, B. E. (2018). Yes, Aboriginal Australians can and did discover the variability of Betelgeuse. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 21(1), 7-12.

Scienceworks. (2005). Stories in the stars: The night sky of the Boorong People [Teacher notes]. Melbourne: Museum Victoria.