Story by Luke Steller, Photos by Mikayla Chadwick
On a clear spring night in Portland, Wiradjuri Elders, astronomers, and community members gathered around a fire to share knowledge, science, and stories about the local night sky.
The event was hosted by STEAMworks, a local not-for-profit that leads the Lithgow Valley Science Hub. With the support of event funding from Inspiring NSW and Energy Australia, STEAMworks collaborated with local Wiradjuri knowledge holders and community members to organise the event.
The program began with Wiradjuri Elder and language teacher at Dubbo TAFE, Aunty Iris, leading us through a series of workshops exploring astronomy, animal totems and language through art, story, and song, with all attendees designing their own animal totem card to take home, as well as learning to sing a song Aunty Iris has designed, called “Yindyamarra” – Respect.
As the sun set, participants gathered outside for a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony, followed by a performance by local community dance group, Ngumbaay Miyagan. Then, as the light faded, the group listened to ‘Sky Stories’ from Wirajduri Man and artist Peter Swain.
As the first stars appeared local astronomers Tina and Trevor Leaman from Dark Skies Downunder and astro-photographer Niall MacNeill used laser pointers and telescopes to lead small groups through an exploration of the night sky.
The STEAMworks astronomy night attracted interest from both near and far, with locals mixing with attendees who had driven all the way from Penrith (and one from Newcastle) to meet Elders and peer through a telescope at the Portland skies
Luke Steller, STEAMworks project lead and event organiser, was thrilled with the end result.
“It has been an absolute privilege to co-design this event with local Wiradjuri Elders and Knowledge Holders. There is a deep wealth of science and cultural knowledge in the region, and putting on events such as this that showcases the incredible talent of our community is at the heart of what STEAMworks is all about.”
Aunty Iris Reid, who had taught Wiradjuri at TAFE to many of the attendees of the Astronomy night was excited by the amount of interest in her Culture.
“This event was a great opportunity to gather as a whole to share knowledge of Aboriginal Language and Culture. We must strive to keep our Culture alive. Language allows us to share our ideas, thoughts, and feelings with others.”
Local Aboriginal Education Worker, Mikayla De Losa, also attended the event, stating that:
“The opportunity and experience that came with being involved with this event was amazing, and invaluable. Seeing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people come together to build connections was heart-warming! The event was attended by young and old, and it was so awesome to see firsthand the importance of cultural knowledge and Indigenous science, and how it helps to build a strong community. It also helps our youth feel connected and valued, which in turn strengthens their bonds in the community and improves their mental health, which is so important!”
STEAMworks is currently planning a full schedule of events and activities for 2023, with hopefully (clear skies permitting) another astronomy night in the works!
Local emerging photographer, Wiradjuri woman Mikayla Chadwick (Perfect Shutter Photography) captured the event.