Ancient Indigenous astronomers made discoveries attributed to Galileo and Newton, says Karlie Noon


Just how much did ancient Indigenous astronomers know about space? A hell of a lot, Marc Fennell found out.

Karlie Noon was the first Indigenous woman in NSW to graduate with a double degree in mathematics and physics… but Indigenous Australians have been practicing science long before universities were teaching it.

Despite evidence in the form of rock art depicting Indigenous knowledge about astronomy, Karlie says that she gets pushback for claiming Indigenous Australian astronomers made discoveries attributed to Galileo, Newton and Kepler. 

“I'm young and I'm saying, ‘No, that's not true, Indigenous people knew about it before them.’ I guess it can be a little bit jarring to people.


“There's this perception Indigenous discoveries can’t add anything to western science, so why would we bother looking at it?” she says.

Karlie’s experience teaching students from low socio-economic and Indigenous backgrounds has led her to CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM Education project where she works as a research assistant.

When she left home and set out for a career in science, it dawned on Karlie that her background was worlds apart from those studying and working alongside her.

Like the students she has mentored along her way, Karlie grew up in a poor family; she left school in year eight, studied at TAFE then went on to university.

While many people in Karlie’s life are proud of her achievements, “there's the other side where people feel a bit weird when you're in the limelight.”

Karlie puts this down to a sort of internalised shame stemming from generations of Indigenous people needing to be fearful of the public eye.

Despite everything, Karlie continues to push ahead… and she hopes other young Indigenous people will follow her, or be inspired to forge their own path. 

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