July: Winter Nights On Fraser Are Star-Studded Events

On winter, our days on Fraser Island are long, sunny and we’ve been enjoying temperatures up to 21 degrees.  Our evenings are slightly cooler (as the sand doesn’t tend to hold the sun’s heat for long after sunset), so we’ve been bringing out our beanies for our Ranger-guided night walks, where conditions have been perfect for a spot of stargazing.  

The island’s indigenous Butchulla Tribe have a vibrant cultural history with the stars, and since Australian Aboriginal culture is the oldest continuous culture in the world; it is possible that the Australian Aboriginal people were amongst of the world's oldest astronomers.

Many of our resort guests are used to the city lights and big smoke where only the biggest and brightest stars can be seen, so Kingfisher Bay’s clear skies - peppered with stars - are somewhat of a novelty.  We love the surprise on people’s faces when they find out just how many constellations are out there and learn of the rich culture that surrounds them.  
One of the most iconic and recognised Australian constellations is, of course, our Southern Cross or ‘The Crux’ as it is also known. Its name is symbolic with the Eureka Stockade; it has been written into the lyrics of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ (this song, by Scottish-born composer Peter Dodds McCormick, was first performed in 1878, but not officially adopted as the Australian National Anthem until 1984); and it is also the name of the victory song for the Australian National Cricket – ‘Under the Southern Cross I Stand’.

Traditionally, Aboriginal culture marks 'The Crux' and the Coalsack Nebula as the head of an Emu in the Sky (see right). Tribes would use the rise and fall of The Crux to mark the start of hunting seasons and gathering. One southern tribe also used The Crux to indicate the harvesting season for Emu eggs!

 Unlike our Northern Hemisphere counterparts, The Crux is visible year round in our night sky so it has been adopted in the colonial age as a national symbol by several southern nations. The brightest stars of The Crux appear on the flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.

Just near The Crux is another well-known bright constellation ‘Centaurus’ containing Alpha and Beta Centauri – it’s one of the largest constellations; it was among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer, Ptolemy; and remains one of the 88 modern constellations.

 As the name suggests, it is named after the centaur - Centaurus - whom legend says was the first person to group stars into constellations and teach others to read them.  Another explanation of the constellation is that Centaurus put a picture of himself in the sky to guide his sailor friends, the Argonauts.

A little closer to home, Aboriginal tribal legends from the south east coast see the Southern Cross as a stingray swimming across the sky with two sharks – the pointer stars Alpha and Beta Centauri – in hot pursuit.

Contemporary astronomers now know that Alpha Centauri is our closest neighbouring star system and is the nearest star to the Sun. Because of this, we can see Alpha Centauri during the brightest full moon!   Here’s a Ranger tip for you: We think the best place to observe this constellation is sitting on Fraser Island’s gorgeous western beach (directly in front of Kingfisher Bay Resort) with white sand and water tickling your toes.

Stay tuned for more Ranger Adventures next month as we see what our feathered friends have been up too.  And, if like me, you’re a mad keen astronomer, join astronomer, Noeleen Lowndes for 'International Observe The Moon Night' with us on September 22.  Until next month – happy star gazing – from Amelia and the Ranger Team.