Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were the world’s first astronomers, studying the night sky and navigating using the stars long before Babylonia, Greek or Roman astronomers. Tens of thousands of years of culture and heritage are reflected in WA’s night sky. The Emu in the Sky is a well-known Aboriginal Astronomical constellation that’s outlined by dark areas of the night sky, not the stars. In almost all parts of Australia you will find emu, and the bird frequently features in the Creation stories held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and in their paintings and carvings.

For the Noongar people of the south-west of WA, the emu is known as weitj. The weitj in the sky is male, and you can see them guarding their eggs. During Makuru (the coldest and wettest time of the year, that falls across June and July) the dark, clear nights provide an ideal backdrop for finding weitj. When the Milky Way arches high across the night sky, look for the Southern Cross constellation (Crux) above the southern horizon. Two bright stars directly above due south are “the Pointers” (Alpha and Beta Centauri) to the Southern Cross, which is to the right of ‘the Pointers.

On the left hand side of the Southern Cross, look for a dark oval shape, called the Coalsack Nebula. This dark nebula is visible to the naked eye as a dark patch obscuring part of the Milky Way. The Coalsack Nebula forms the head of the emu, with the beak pointing downward and the Southern Cross forming a crown for the weitj. The emu’s long neck stretches left, through the middle of ‘the pointers’. The body and legs of the emu stretch halfway across the horizon towards the east.

There are many images outlining the emu in the sky that make it easier to find, and you can learn more about Aboriginal Astronomy via Indigenous astronomers including Karlie Noon (author of Astronomy: Sky Culture) and Kirsten Banks. We also recommend ABC Science’s Beginners’ Guide to the Night Sky, Emu Dreaming, An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Astronomy by Ray and Cilla Norris, and The First Astronomers: How Indigenous Elders read the stars by Duane Hamacher.

The Emu in the Sky is outlined for ease identifying it
Image credit: Australian National University

When and where to look:

The best times this year to see the Emu in the Sky are the same dark nights the Milky Way is visible. In April/May you’ll look towards the south east. Then as the year moves on, the Emu will appear right across the sky from south east to south west, before turning to lie on its back towards September and October.

Noongar Season Dateless Planner

WA’s Wheatbelt NRM organisation, in conjunction with the Wheatbelt NRM Elders Advisory Group, has produced a wonderful yearly planner laid out with the Noongar six seasons. It’s a dateless planner and includes photographs and stories from all over the Wheatbelt along with art from local Ballardong artist Rikki Garlett. You’ll discover more about the six Noongar Aboriginal Seasons and the unique Wheatbelt environment. The planner is for sale from Wheatbelt NRM’s website.

See the Emu in the Sky

To see the Emu in the Sky, you need a very dark, moonless, cloudless night sky. Find an Astrotourism Town destination and be inspired with its beauty.