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Sharing the story of Australia’s first astronomers

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Photo of a young woman, Kirsten Banks, looking up at the sky next to a telescope.
Kirsten Banks Indigenous Australian astrophysics student. Photo: Justin Banks (Grigori Films)
7 May 2018

Astronomy is one of the oldest natural sciences, common across all ancient civilizations, so it’s no surprise that First Australians were expert astronomers, observing the skies for thousands of years. Yet it is only recently that the extent of their knowledge, unique to the Australian continent, is being widely recognised and brought to the attention of the wider Australian public.

One such project is the Australian first Indigenous astronomy exhibition at the Brisbane Planetarium. Initially developed as part of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Reconciliation Action Plan, the exhibition will remain a permanent installation, and share celestial knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from Brisbane, Katherine in the Northern Territory, Murray Island in the Torres Strait and Goodooga in New South Wales.

At the forefront of this movement are young scientists like Kirsten Banks, a Wiradjuri astrophysics student. Kirsten is pursuing her PhD in physics and astronomy at the University of New South Wales, while working as an astronomy educator at the Sydney Observatory.

‘I didn’t always know what country I came from, but I always knew I was Aboriginal,' said Kirsten. 'When I started learning about Kamilaroi and Boorong astronomy, I had a driving force within me pushing me to learn more about my culture. That’s when I did some digging into the family background and discovered that I am Wiradjuri.’

Kirsten’s inspiration to share the astronomical knowledge of her ancestors was sparked following a meeting with a Wiradjuri elder who shared with her the story of the celestial emu which explains the changing seasons.

‘Knowing astrophysics is like knowing the magic of the universe, that’s why I love studying in this field.’

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To learn more about Kirsten and her work follow her on Twitter @AstroKirsten.

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