International Space Station (ISS) - A Link With Aboriginal History
I am fortunate to be living in a region of Australia with one of the
richest Aboriginal cultures and a living history. North East Arnhem land
in the Northern Territory is located at the confluence of the Arafura Sea
and the Gulf of Carpenteria. As an Avid Astronomer I am always on the
lookout for an opportunity to share the night sky with others. This day
the two came together in a beautiful symmetry.
Sharing the delights of North East Arnhem land with Visitors is always a
satisfying experience in it self. A crystal clear stream teaming with
beautiful fish, bush land alive with the sound and movement of tropical
birds and lunch shared with friends really sets the scene well.
Follow this up with a lazy afternoon on a white sandy beach cradled by
Ochre red cliffs with a backdrop of Coastal Rain forest and you have to
wonder can it get any better than this!
The final stop for the day was to be the open Coastal plain known as
Macassans (local spelling) Beach. Fringed with Casuarina trees that
seemed to sing in the wind, as the dry season sea breeze whistled through
their pale green pine like leaves.
To put you in the picture, the Aboriginal people of NE Arnhemland are
called the Yolngu People, The Language is Known as Yolngu Mata. Not all
the words in their language originate from our shores though. The
Makassan people of Sulawesi (now part of Indonesia) had been trading with
the Yolngu people 200 years before Australia was even colonized by
Europeans. The Makassan's have had a material influence on the Yolngu
People including the addition of many words to their already rich
We had just finished looking at the "Macassan" stone drawings, a very
significant site for the local Yolngu people.
I looked up (as you do often when you are an astronomer!) and there the
IIS was, high overhead and bright as can be. The ISS was traveling from
North West to South East and was as bright as the Planet Jupiter. It was
only afterwards that I made the link with the Makassan people sailing on
their annual trading journey to the Yolngu homelands in NE Arnhem land,
coming from the northwest into the southeast . Just as the ISS had done
before our eyes, high above the stone pictures of the arriving Makassan
ships, laid down in the late 18th Century!
What a contrast the ISS is to the Makassan sailing ships of old that
plied a trade with the Yolngu people 200 years before Europeans were even
in this country, let alone flying through space.
Yet the similarities are still there, people of different races bought
together through a knowledge of the stars. For surely the Makassan 's
must have navigated their way here by the position of the stars and the
Yolngu people anticipated their arrival by their own celestial calendar.
Just as the ISS brings people of all Nations together in the pursuit of
Space Science, as we work out our own place in the universe. With ever
more accurate distances plotted to stars in our galactic neighborhood and
an insatiable desire to discover a habitable planet around another star.
The "Macassan" Pictures and the passage of the ISS was a real treat for
everyone present and one that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Keep looking up, you never know what you might see!
Ian Maclean - Author, Presenter and Science Show host
Homepages: http://www.nightskysecrets.com and
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