“Emu in the Sky”

Short Cuts, BBC Radio 4

Featuring Krystal De Napoli.

Co-produced by Michelle Macklem, Krystal De Napoli and Zoe Tennant
Edited by Eleanor McDowall

“What if I were to tell you that a brief glance at a single constellation in the sky can tell you about current local animal behaviour, seasonal change, the availability of food sources, and impending weather patterns?” - Krystal De Napoli, Gomeroi woman and astrophysics student in Naarm, Australia. 

In Indigenous Astronomy there are oral traditions that tell stories about the stars, ones that contain deep scientific knowledge about the earth  -- where asteroids hit, the solstices, hunting seasons -- and this is one of the things that establishes the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander astronomers as the world's first astronomers. But documentation from early anthropologists got chucked into boxes and tucked away into random libraries and much of it hasn’t been touched, until Krystal De Napoli and her colleagues came along.

The Emu in the Sky is one of these constellations. For the Gomeroi, the celestial Emu represents different things at different times of the year. The Emu first becomes visible in March. When it is fully visible in the Milky Way, during April and May, it takes the form of a running emu, a female chasing the males during mating season. Because emus begin laying their eggs at this time, the appearance of the celestial Emu is a reminder that these eggs are available for collection. Held within these stories is nurture, knowledge and survival for the Gomeroi. 

As a young girl, growing up in a rural town with dark skies, Krystal’s mom often pointed out constellations to her. The more she studies astronomy, the more questions Krystal has about the stars and the sky and the universe. “I still look up, and I have so many questions.” 

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© Michelle Macklem 2024