When the stars align

25 November 2016

As a kid it seemed like a long, long drive to me. My father would point out the distant Sydney city skyline barely visible on the horizon. The buildings looked like the illustrations I had seen of ancient civilisations or alien outposts compared to the wild, green, rocky landscape of our D'harawal Country in the Royal National Park. It also seemed like nothing particularly unusual to me that my father could navigate by the plants and other unassuming landmarks to find the hidden bush entrance that lead to our family's secret, ancient, sandstone rock engravings. I had no idea as a kid that what I was a part of was our living Dreaming, a manifestation of the Ancestors and their knowledges passed on from generation to generation. It is only as an adult that I realised that not all families made these pilgrimages. Not everyone was taught which plant lead to a secret path in the wild bush. Not everyone was a "D'harawal garigalonung" (D'harawal Saltwater person).

There are some amazing Aboriginal sites right under our noses here in Sydney including sandstone engravings thousands of years old and not all of them are secret. Many can be found by undertaking modern navigation techniques in the form of a simple Google search. These engravings can tell you not just about the people and animals of the local land and water, but also the skies.

We are all familiar with world renowned sites such as Stone Henge and the Great Pyramid of Giza and their relationship with equinoxes and solstices, but very few Australians know of the ancient celestial observatories of local Aboriginal people. I urge you to read the research surrounding Ku-Ring-Gai's Moon Rock and the star map engravings of Kariong on the Central Coast and its incredible accuracy to the night skies of 2500BC. While you're there, do yourself a favour and have a look at the star maps and navigation techniques of the Euahlayi and Gamilaroi people of north west New South Wales. It's staggering!

It is ground breaking science and older, more magnificent and more accessible than other sites from around the world that we travel to see at huge effort and expense. And most importantly this is OUR amazing Australian Aboriginal science, culture and history. This belongs to all of us and we must learn it, protect it and stun the world with it! We owe it to ourselves as Australians to scream it from the rooftops - or the sandstone outcrops as it were?

Who knows what the future is for our sandstone engravings? Sandstone, by its very friable nature is its own worst enemy, destined to degrade and take our knowledges with it. There have been projects to re-engrave the sites just as generations of our families would do each year on their visit to the engravings. But some of our secret sites are now completely inaccessible due to the overgrown wild Country that has not been managed with our Indigenous cool burning techniques for over two hundred years. Contemporary back burning techniques have been employed and while they are said to be based on Indigenous knowledges, they are actually a misguided interpretation of what was witnessed by non-indigenous observers. Back burning has meant that an effective fire has not gone through the Royal National Park for over a decade so our sites are now overtaken with dense prickly tea tree. Biodiversity in the vegetation is at an all-time low, as so many native plant species rely on cool burning to successfully and speedily propagate in a sea of infestation species like the prickly tea tree.

So as you can see, it's all interconnected. It's a huge story and who knows where to start? Or when to start? How do we argue against the ingrained colonial paradigm to allow our Indigenous knowledges to breathe a little deeper for the sake of not just our culture and science, but our land?

Maybe the answer is in the stars?