There’s a good chance Aboriginal people mapped out Australia’s road network thousands of years before Europeans arrived—and used star charts to do it. (Phys.org)
Use our resources to learn more about how Aboriginal Australians charted their landscape.
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- The Phys.org article focuses on star maps created by Aboriginal Australians, and refers to indigenous Euahlayi, Kamilaroi, and Arrernte people. What is the relationship between Aboriginal Australians and indigenous people?
- The word “aborigine” can refer to an indigenous person from any country. Capitalized, Aboriginal Australian is a legal definition referring to people and cultures living in Australia and Tasmania prior to European contact in 1788.
- The Euahlayi are an Aboriginal Australian people and culture with a nation in northern New South Wales.
- The Kamilaroi are an Aboriginal Australian people and culture with a nation in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.
- The Arrernte are an Aboriginal Australian people and culture with a nation in the southern Northern Territory.
- What are star charts or star maps? Take a look at this beautiful example for some help.
- Star charts are maps of the night sky, showing the relative positions of celestial bodies as seen from a particular place on Earth. Star charts are often used in celestial navigation, the process of determining an object’s position using the stars and planets as guides.
- How do Aboriginal Australian star maps differ from traditional star charts?
- Aboriginal Australian star maps are “maps of the land,” not maps of the sky. Star maps use celestial bodies as mnemonic devices (memory aids) to teach the route and physical and cultural waypoints of a journey. Stars may indicate where to veer north or south, for instance, or they may indicate the location of a freshwater spring.
- Aboriginal Australian star maps are a part of songlines, a fascinating, complex method of navigation. “In Aboriginal mythology, a songline is a myth based around localised ‘creator-beings’ during the Dreaming, the indigenous Australian embodiment of the creation of the Earth. Each songline explains the route followed by the creator-being during the course of the myth. The path of each creator-being is marked in sung lyrics. One navigates across the land by repeating the words of the song or re-enacting the story through dance, which in the course of telling the story also describe the location of various landmarks on the landscape (e.g. rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees) . . . . By singing a song cycle in the appropriate order, an explorer could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia’s interior (a fact which amazed early anthropologists who were stunned by Aborigines that frequently walked across hundreds of kilometres of desert picking out tiny features along the way without error).”
- How have Aboriginal Australian songlines and star maps shaped Australia’s highway network? Read through the Phys.org article for some help.
- “The first European explorers . . . used Aboriginal people as guides and interpreters, who were likely given directions by local Aborigines. These directions would no doubt reflect the easiest routes to traverse, and these were probably routes already established as songlines. Drovers and settlers coming into the region would have used the same routes, and eventually these became tracks and finally highways.”
Phys.org: How ancient Aboriginal star maps have shaped Australia’s highway network
Nat Geo: Rainbow Serpent
The Basement Geographer: Songlines: How Indigenous Australians Use Music to Mark Geography
Australia National Film and Sound Archive: The Songlines
Queensland Rural Medical Education: What are song lines?
(extra credit!) Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage: Star Maps and Travelling to Ceremonies—the Euahlayi People and Their Use of the Night Sky
7 thoughts on “Aboriginal Songlines Helped Draw the Map in Australia”