30Oct2016

Sydney Moon Rock Aboriginal Site’s Astronomy Connection

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Moon Rock reveals Aboriginal astronomy

A large Aboriginal site in bushland near Belrose in northern Sydney has been declared a significant Aboriginal Place, NSW Heritage Minister Mark Speakman announced on Wednesday.

“Moon Rock” in high bushland with views to the ocean has about 50 engravings depicting Aboriginal astronomical knowledge, lunar phases and Baiame the creator-spirit.

The site also shows local totems, food and weapons used in the area by the Garigal clan, part of the Eora nation that lived for millennia in the Sydney basin before European colonisation.

“It’s just fabulous that we are standing here at such an amazing site less than 15 kilometres from the CBD of Australia’s largest city,” said Nathan Moran, chief executive of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, which owns the 5.8-hectare site.

Whale and eel carvings can be seen in the foreground at Moon Rock.

Whale and eel carvings can be seen in the foreground at Moon Rock. Photo: Kate Geraghty

“Our land council wants to work with the government to preserve this place and allow us to share its cultural significance. This will allow people in Sydney to have direct contact in our city’s backyard with the oldest culture on Earth,” Mr Moran said.

Mr Moran said that establishing the site as an official “Aboriginal Place” under the National Parks and Wildlife Act will give it greater protection and allow the Aboriginal community of NSW to share their heritage with the broader population.

He is urging people to stay off the land until the land council can establish a plan of management with the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage.

The centre of the site depicts eight moon phases following a boomerang engraved in the exposed rock platform. Next to this is a depiction of Baiame. Surrounding these central motifs are engravings of whales, stingrays and, Mr Moran said, what appears to be dugongs.

It is thought that such engravings would be less than a thousand years old given the friable nature of the sandstone. Site maintenance was a continued practice right up to colonisation, and is a practice Mr Moran wants to continue.

He said he hopes managing the site will involve regrooving the carvings with the assistance of Aboriginal stonemasons in the Sydney community.

Chief executive of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council Nathan Moran says the recognition will give the site ...

Chief executive of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council Nathan Moran says the recognition will give the site protection. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Heritage Minister Mr Speakman said: “The site holds significant Aboriginal cultural values and has a direct connection to country for the local Aboriginal community.”

The NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Leslie Williams, said: “It’s important that we protect this historic site so future generations learn about it and appreciate its significance.”

Aboriginal astronomy tour guide Kirsten Banks assists Tia, 6, at the Sydney Observatory this year.

Aboriginal astronomy tour guide Kirsten Banks assists Tia, 6, at the Sydney Observatory this year. Photo: Cole Bennetts

In recent years there has been increased interest in Aboriginal astronomical knowledge. Ray Norris is an astronomer at the CSIRO. He said: “We know very little of traditional Eora culture as it was so badly damaged by the arrival of the British. But we know the stories of nearby groups, whose culture was similar to the Eora people.

NSW Heritage Minister Mark Speakman has announced Moon Rock as a significant Aboriginal Place.

NSW Heritage Minister Mark Speakman has announced Moon Rock as a significant Aboriginal Place.

“The moon was certainly important, and was usually viewed as a bad-man/creator-spirit who committed various crimes. The phases of the moon represent stages of his health as he is punished for his crimes, as a result of which he dies (the new moon) and then, after remaining dead for three nights, returns to life.

Dr Norris said that the moon was also important in practical terms, as ceremonies were often held on the full moon, and the cycles of the moon were frequently used to count periods of time, like a calendar.

Wiradjuri woman Kirsten Banks is studying physics and astronomy at the University of NSW. She works at the Sydney Observatory as an Aboriginal astronomy guide.

“Before women and men,” she said of the Wiradjuri story, “Baiame had only the company of a kangaroo, koala, eagle and emu.”

After a dispute between the animals as to who was best, Baiame settles the score.

“Baiame took his boomerang and threw it at the sun, following it through the sky, before returning to his hands. He threw it again and at the place it disappeared that night a crescent moon rose. All agreed that Baiame’s feat was the greatest.”

Duane Hamacher, a Monash University astronomer who works with Ms Banks and Dr Norris, said that alongside the creation stories, Aboriginal understanding of the moon was scientific and practical.

“The moon was used as a calendar and for deep understanding of the tides,” Dr Hamacher said. “Lunar haloes were used as important weather predictors: stars visible inside a halo meant there would be no rain for days.” Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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