Since teaching that unit, back in 2003(!), I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of learning much more of the astronomical understandings of the Indigenous Australians, and these are well worth including in any classroom studies of the moon.

Indigenous Australian Astronomy

Bill Yidumduma Harney and Ray Norris at the First Astronomers show at the Darwin Festival. Photo taken by Bec Allen.
Bill Yidumduma Harney and Ray Norris at the First Astronomers show at the Darwin Festival. Photo taken by Bec Allen.

I learned most of what I know about Aboriginal astronomy from astrophysicist Professor Ray Norris (CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility and Macquarie University), who has been collating research on the topic for some time now. He’s worked with Indigenous elders, mainly Wardaman elder Bill Yidumduma Harney, to publish many peer-reviewed articles, established an Australian Society for Indigenous Astronomy, and written a great book, Emu Dreaming, which is very useful for teachers looking to include Aboriginal astronomy in their classes. Some of the information included in the book is on his website. Because I am concerned that adding another level of interpretation risks getting something wrong, I’m sending you to Ray’s website to read for yourself the stories about the moon in Indigenous cultures.

Ray makes the compelling argument that Aboriginal Australians were the first astronomers; they’d figured out moon phases and eclipses, and most interestingly, that the tides are caused by the moon, well before western civilisations had discovered or acknowledged these facts.

If you ever get the chance to hear Ray or his colleagues speak, do! Find out more at emudreaming.com.

Websites and articles about Indigenous Astronomy

Exploring the role of the moon in Western and other cultures’ stories and art

We created playlists of folk and popular songs for our new friends to listen to (I bet you can easily think of three songs with ‘moon’ in the title off the top of your head). We collected picture books, mythological stories and poems about the moon, and posted these to a secure internet site for our friends. We examined the development of these stories and the explanations they provided for various groups in history. We wrote our own songs and stories and performed them with dance. We wrote a play to communicate our understandings to our junior classes. And we examined artworks and produced our own to tell new stories about the moon.

An unintended consequence of our collaboration was the empathetic engagement of our students with peers halfway around the world from another culture. At the same time, it the war in Iraq was imminent. It was 2003 and our worldly students were very interested in what students around the globe had to say about what was happening. Our new friends in Qatar were telling us about the build-up of American troops in their country.

(A few) websites and articles about the moon in cultures around the world

A Cultural History of the Moon (The New York Times)
Lunar Eclipse Myths From Around the World (National Geographic)

Please suggest additional sites in the comments?

Movies about the moon

Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out (safe for kids)
A Voyage to the Moon (safe for kids)
The Dish (safe for kids 10+)
Spacecamp (safe for kids 10+?)
Apollo 13 (high school kids)
Moon (adults)
2001: A Space Odyssey (adults)
In the Shadow of the Moon (documentary)
Magnificant Desolation (documentary)

Songs and poems about the moon

Van Morrison: Moondance
Savage Garden: To the Moon and Back
Waterboys: The Whole of the Moon
REM: Man on the Moon
Cat Stevens: Moon Shadow
Neil Young: Harvest Moon
Mel Torme: Blue Moon
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bad Moon Rising
Audrey Hepburn: Moon River
Frank Sinatra: Fly Me to the Moon
LeAnn Rimes: Can’t Fight the Moonlight
Claude Debussy: Clair de lune

Oh look! NASA keep an extensive list of songs about the moon.

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