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New coins celebrate Indigenous astronomy, the stars, and the dark spaces between them

By Duane W. Hamacher

Associate Professor, University of Melbourne This article first appeared in The Conversation Two new coins have been released by the @royalaustmint to celebrate the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They feature artworks from Wiradjuri (NSW) and Yamaji (WA) artists representing two of the most famous features in Aboriginal astronomy: the great Emu in the Sky and the Seven Sisters.

Both celestial features are found in the astronomical traditions of many Aboriginal cultures across Australia. They are seen in similar ways and have similar meanings between cultures on opposite sides of the continent and are observed to note the changing seasons and the behaviours of plants and animals and inform Law.

The Emu in the Sky Uncirculated Coin. Royal Australian Mint

Above: The Wiradjuri of central NSW are the largest Aboriginal language group in the state and one of the largest in the country. Wiradjuri astronomical knowledge is rich and complex, linking the land and people to the cosmos (Wantanggangura).

One of the many “dark constellations” is that of the celestial emu, called Gugurmin. The emu is a silhouette of the dark spaces stretching from the Southern Cross to Sagittarius in the backdrop of the Milky Way. The galaxy itself is a river called Gular (or Gilaa), which is also the Wiradjuri name of the Lachlan River.

The Seven Sisters Uncirculated Coin. Royal Australian Mint

Above: The artwork featured on the Seven Sisters coin is from Wajarri-Noongar artist Christine “Jugarnu” Collard of Yamaji Art. Christine was born and raised in Mullewa, WA and paints under the name Jugarnu meaning “old woman” in the Wajarri language. The name was given to Christine by her now deceased Grandfather.

The Yamaji people of the Murchison region in Western Australia refer to the Pleiades star cluster as Nyarluwarri in the Wajarri language, representing seven sisters. When Nyarluwarri sits low on the horizon at sunset in April, the people know that emu eggs are ready for harvesting.

The story of the Seven Sisters tells of them fleeing to the sky to escape the advances of a man who wants to take one of the sisters as his wife. The man chases the sisters as they move from east to west each night, which appear to the northeast at dusk in November and set by April.

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