The decision to have dedicated a star to Eddie Mabo in 2015 was a remarkable step towards Australians acknowledging the true history of this country and recognising the vast cultural knowledge that Indigenous Australians hold.
Indigenous Australians were probably some of the first human beings to name stars. But sadly, first recordings by missionaries and ethnographers didn’t account for this knowledge. A general ignorance of of astronomy led to many errors and misunderstandings of Indigenous culture. But when a star was dedicated to the late Eddie Koiki Mabo, it showed us that the mainstream is going some way to right previous wrongs.
The history of astronomy in Australia goes back tens of thousands of years. It is the Indigenous astronomy entwined with the laws and customs of the land, that has sustained both the environment and Indigenous Australians for over 40,000 years. In 2015, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences’ payed tribute to the memory of Eddie Mabo by dedicating and naming a star after him in the Sydney Southern Star Catalogue, acknowledging the history.
The dedication is part of a Dreamtime Astronomy program developed in partnership with the Nura Gili Indigenous Unit of the University of New South Wales, whichpromotes research into this important field of scientific thought.
Murray Islander Elder Alo Tapim says “The Southern Cross is totemic for southern tribe on the island of the Meriam people and it shows us the pathways and a star will always follows the same path.
"Murray Islanders will always be Murray Islanders. I can’t claim reggae music, it has to be that distant chant accmpanied with the Warrup (drum) in music."
Rose Hiscock, Director of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences knows too well that this dedication means a lot more than just reconciliation.
"The stars have great significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and it is fitting that we honour Uncle Eddie through the dedication of a star in our most iconic constellation, the Southern Cross"
Speaking to NITV, Ms Hiscock says "the stars have great significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and it is fitting that we honour Uncle Eddie through the dedication of a star in our most iconic constellation, the Southern Cross."
The decision to dedicate a star to Eddie Mabo is a remarkable step towards Australians acknowledging the true history of this country and recognising the vast cultural knowledge that Indigenous Australians hold.
Matt Poll, Indigenous Curator at the University of Sydney’s Macleay Museum has been studying Indigenous astronomy for the last 15 years.
"Star constellations are prominent landmarks in the Aboriginal skies of pre-contact Australia," he says.
"They exist in so many of the amazing stories that were passed through the oral histories of thousands of generations of people up until the present day.
"This should signal the start of a lot more recognition of the value of the contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made to science, history and culture."
The significance of this dedication is recgonsied Australia wide. For the Mer Island community, this event is one of deep emotionaland cultural significance. It connects each and every Murray Islander person.
Thonar-Tidai-Zinz-Jzapuc (as it was written in the stars)
Eddie Mabo was loved by many. Through his dedication and determination, Eddie Mabo made a difference for his people.
The Mabo star resides within the Southern Cross constellation.
Murray Islander Elder Alo Tapim explains how the Southern Cross and the wind are connected.
"I have to tell my story and it’s my totem story. I have to tell the stories of the southern wind"
"Murray Island claims the south east winds but that means we have to stay in that district where the wind is blowing all them. I have to tell my story and it’s my totem story. I have to tell the stories of the southern wind." Neighbouring Indigenous communities also held Eddie Mabo in high esteem. Kaurareg Tribal Elder Milton Savage reflects on that moment in 1992 when the Mabo High Court handed down its landmark ruling, which overturned the legal fiction of Terra Nullius. His personal reflection sums up both the life and legacy of Eddie Mabo.
"What Eddie Mabo did was open the doors and has given everyone a huge opportunity. In 2001 we got our Native Title on our traditional Kaurareg land."
"Kaurareg Tribal Elder Milton Savage tells NITV "we say Thonar-Tidai-Zinz-Jzapuc which roughly means it is written in the stars and this just destiny."
The Southern Cross means many things to many people. For the further regions in the Torres Strait, it not only holds huge cultural importance, but this star is a shining symbol of hope for reconciliation in this country. The Koiki Mabo is located in the Southern Cross, beautifully linking the culture and people of the Torres Strait Islands.
The Southern Cross holds many secrets and for the Kaurareg people, this constellation tells them which way the wind is blowing and tells them if the tide will be high or if there is a storm brewing. These cultural stories are embedded in the stars. They even provide economic benefits as the stories help predict weather patterns.
The value of Indigenous Astronomy
Indigenous people have developed complex knowledge systems which date back over 40,000 years. These knowledge systems are passed down from one generation to the next and many of these stories have been transferred through the songlines. The songlines are connected to an amazing ecosystem that is sustained by the people. Many Indigenous stories are embedded in the stars and this knowledge holds both their culture and economic independence.
Matt Poll the Indigenous curator at Macleay Museum says "The Indigenous stories preserved in astronomical knowledge represent some of the oldest scientific thoughts and imaginative thinking of any cultural group in the world. Just to catch a glimpse of how ancient Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perceived their world and their place in it is also a fascinating branch of knowledge about the history of humanity in itself."
Murray Islander Elder Alo Tapim says, "It’s a matter of – at the time maybe not now –cultural knowledge is how you survived.Here we are looking at survival in a mainstream society. Cultural knowledge is only passed down to your own family to enable them to survive. So you're able to feed your family. It is part of an initiation when you kill your first turtle or dugong in order to feed your family - that turtle and its story is part of that family. If I give that to another family, that family will benefit. It’s survival – we must accept that."
In recent years, Indigenous astronomy has caught the attention of the government and big business. It holds many answers to changing weather patterns and major astronomical events such as floods and meteorite crashes, as wellas connection to the environment. Understanding these changes can enable famers to plant crops at the right time or it may also predict floods and famine.
More than 4,000 years ago, a giant meteoroid struck the earth in Alice Springs and left a 180-metre wide crater. Indigenous people have been here for more than 40,000 years and they would have witnessed this occurrence and developed stories.
While it is important for government to protect its citizens from major astronomical occurrences it should be equally important to recognise the culture. This means providing payment for the use of that knowledge.
What stories will future generations talk about when they look up at the Eddie Mabo star?
It’s hard to imagine what future generations might talk about when they look up at this star. But one one thing is for certain – this star will hang in the air throughout history just as the Mabo ruling - changed Australia for the better.
Murray Islander Elder Alo Tapim says, "Mabo is about Murray Island. It’s about Indigenous people and where we come to now and where our path is heading. This is our own path, no one other. When Eddie Mabo went to court he said in the court, 'you cannot put your hand on something that is not yours. You cannot stare in some other person’s property of land. Yyou walk your own path. You walk and go in your own path.' The Southern Cross will always go down the same path just like the Murray Islander people."
Marcus Hughes, Indigenous Program Producer Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences says, "They will be stories of courage and determination. They will acknowledge the suffering and celebrate the enduring legacy of all those who have gone before to create a future for those who are yet to come. They will be stories that show that we can change the world."
In his historic speech at Sydney’s Redfern Park, then Prime Minister Paul Keaing said: "By doing away with the bizarre conceit that this continent had no owners prior to the settlement of Europeans, Mabo establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice."
Indisputably, Eddie Mabo’s life and the Mabo ruling shaped this nation and our future. As it was written in the stars.