Friday, 5 March 2010

Aboriginal Astronomy in a Botanical Setting



It was astronomy (to study the transit of Venus) that brought Joseph Banks to Australia in 1770, leading to the European settlement of this country and the beginnngs of botany and eventually this botanic garden in 1816.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, where I used to work, and main entrance is called Observatory Gate. The Melbourne Observatory, now part of the gateway, once housed the largest telescope in the world. It was built so that the apparent movement of stars could be used to keep Melbourne clocks on time.

Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens has a Planetarium, and in New Zealand, Wellington’s Botanic Gardens has an observatory. Here in the Botanic Gardens Trust in Sydney, we have a strong tradition of building sun dials, i.e. using star shadows to tell the time.

I’m also a little interested in astronomy as the basis for our seasons and as you will have read, I have been mulling over solar seasons set by our distance from the sun versus environmental seasons determined by what goes on around us.

That's all a long-winded way of saying that a Botanic Garden is an appropriate place to talk about astronomy. Tonight we have two real stars of astronomy, Ray Norris from CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility and Fred Watson from the Anglo-Australian Observatory.

Fred will talk about spacefarers and the exploration of our galaxy while Ray will make the case for Aboriginal Australians being the world's first astronomers. I heard Ray talking about this topic on Radio National's Ockham's Razer recently and it was fascinating. Fred of course will entertain us all with stories about science and space.

So tonight at the Royal Botanic Gardens its upwards and onwards! It's not too late to attend...see our website for more information.

Image: How we check the time in Sydney in 2009, from Sculpture by the Sea

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