Australia

Star Lore
of the Boorong People

The Boorong are one of twenty clans of the Wergaia language group in north-western Victoria. The were accomplished star-gazers with a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy. Living relatively close to both Sydney and Melbourne, they became the most intensively studied Australian Aboriginal nation when it comes to star lore and astronomy.

The extensive material about Boorong star lore warranted the creation of an individual page. For a collection of other Aboriginal star lore, see our Australian Aboriginal site.

The studies of Boorong astronomy referred to in this presentation are:


Dianne Johnson: Night Skies of Aboriginal Australia
Edward Stanbridge Esq.: On the Astronomy and Mythology of the Aborigines in Victoria
John Morieson B.A: The Night Sky of the Boorong
Museum of Victoria: Stories in the Stars ľ the night sky of the Boorong people
Wikipedia: Wergaia - Mythological_and_empirical_thinking
Boorong Planisphere
Source: researchgate.net


In their documentary
Stars over Tyrell, creativecowboyfilms.com developed sketches of almost all the Boorong constellations. Check out our Star Lore Art sections, to see those illustrations all in one place.

Aquila

The Boorong called Altair (α Aquilae) Totyarguil, which is also the name of the Purple-crowned Lorikeet. The two stars to his side, Alshain (β Aquilae) and Tarazed (γ Aquilae) are his wifes.

Totyarguil is the son of Neilloan, which is represented by Vega (α Lyrae). Totyarguil was killed by monsters called the Bunyips in a water hole. His remains were rescued by his uncle Collenbitchick who is represented by the double star α1 and α2 Capricorni.

Source: Johnson p. 164, Morieson p. 15

Purple-crowned Lorikeet
Source: Wikimedia

Auriga

The Boorong called Capella (α Aurigae) Purra, the Kangaroo that is been hunted by Yurree (Castor, α Gem) and Wanjel (Pollux, β Gem).

In Australia, Capella rises barely over the horizon. Thus, "...sighting Purra is difficult, but it is rather similar to sighting a plains kangaroo at a great distance in the summer heat through a mirage."

Source: Morieson p. 101

Kangaroo
© Francis Firebrace

Bo÷tes

The Boorong call Arcturus (α Bo÷tis) Marpeankurrk.

Marpeankurrk taught the people how to harvest larvae of the wood ant. The northern rise of the star signals harvest time.

Her son Djuit is Antares (α Scorpii), with the stars on either side being his wifes.

Her daughter Weetkurrk is the bush lark. She is represented by Zeta Bo÷tis (ζ Bo÷tis).

Spiritual Cowboy tells us how the little bird played an essential role in the defeat of the giant Emu:

Weetkurrk joined the Berm-Berm Gle brothers, represented by the pointer stars Alpha and Beta Centauri in the hunt of Tchingal, the giant person-eating emu, represented by the Coalsack Nebula. When the lark saw them coming she came out, carrying a bough in front of her to hide herself from observation. When Tchingal was within range she cast a spear, which struck Tchingal in the chest and killed him.

The brothers were annoyed at this last minute intervention by the lark, which deprived them of the honor of slaying the enemy that they had pursued for so long. None the less, as a common enemy had fallen they did not quarrel about it. Thus we learn how to successfully hunt the emu, the essentials of teamwork and the need to have restraints on personal pride when working towards the common good.

Sources: Wikipedia, Stanbridge and Morieson p. 77; 89; 114, Spiritual Cowboy: Stars over Tyrrell.

Honey Ant
Source: artyfactory.com

Australasian bush lark
Source: Wikipedia


Canis Major

To the Boorong, Sirius (α Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the night sky is the center of the constellation Warepil, the male wedge-tailed eagle, chief of the Nuh-rum-bung-goo-tyas, the elders who created the land.

The wings of Warepil spread to either side of Sirius across less bright stars.

His wife is Collowgullouric Warepil, represented by Orion's bright star Rigel.

Sources: Morieson and Museum of Victoria

Eagle Soaring
© Melanie Hava

Also in Boorong lore, σ Canis Majoris was a man named Unurgunite, flanked by his wifes Wezen (δ Canis Majoris) and Adhara (ε Canis Majoris).

In the natural world of the Boorong, Unurgunite is a poisonous lizard called Nyurgen-nyurgen-djine literally "bitten-bitten-foot."

In 2017, the IAU approved Unurgunite as the official name of σ Canis Majoris.
Lizard
© Francis Firebrace


The Boorong have lived in what is now north-western Victoria for at least 1,600 generations and their oral history, including their star lore dates back perhaps ten thousand years or more.

With that in mind, Unurgunite may very well be the oldest star name still used.

Sources: Morieson, Wikipedia, theconversation.com, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Capricornus

The Boorong see the double star Algiedi Prima (α1 Capricorni) and Algiedi Secunda (α2 Capricorni) as the fingers of Collenbitchick, feeling for the bank of the river.

Collenbitchick was the uncle of Totyarguil, which is represented by Altair (α Aquilae) and the brother of Totyarguil's mother Neilloan, which is which is Vega (α Lyrae).

Once, Totyarguil was tricked by his mother-in-law Yerredetkurrk, fell into a water hole and was killed by monsters called the Bunyips. His remains were rescued by Collenbitchick, who was able to revive him.

Honey Ants
Source: Ant Art through the Ages

Most likely, Collenbitchick was associated with some kind of ant or termite, which would explain his mythical healing powers. Popular legend tells a story of Aboriginals using ants to stitch cuts together by holding the two sides of a wound together and then encouraged an ant to bite and embed its pincers in either side of the wound, which would then close up.

Source: Morieson

Carina

The usually dim star (or rather star system) η Carinae is surrounded by a nebula, that makes its magnitude vary rapidly. Starting in 1827, the star started getting brighter. Between March 11 to 14, the star's magnitude surpassed that of Canopus (α Carinae), before falling back to beyond naked-eye visibility.

The phenomenon was not only observed by western astronomers in the southern hemisphere, but also by the Boorong, who called Canopus, usually the second brightest star in the night sky War, meaning Crow. After the outburst of Eta Carinae, that star was called Collowgullouric War meaning Old Woman War or The Wife of War.

Sources: Wikipedia,
Hamacher, Frew, "An Aboriginal Australian Record of the Great Eruption of Eta Carinae"

Crow
© Iluka Art & Design

Coma Berenices

The Boorong call the faint constellation Coma Berenices Tourtchin Boionggerra, "Stars of the Needlewood" and see them as a small flock of birds drinking rain water, which had lodged in a hollow in the fork of a tree.

As the story goes, the Berm Berm-gle brothers (in some sources called Brambrambult), on their hunt for the Emu Tchingal discovered a Needlewood brush that contained water to refresh them.

Needlewood
Source: Wikipedia

Robert Mathews explains: "if a forked tree is split slightly open by a windstorm when the tree is growing, the wood around it decays and rots forming a cavity in time in the bole of the tree. During rain, water runs down the branches into the hollow until it fills. Such water remains for a long time being replenished by every shower."

Source: Morieson p. 106

Corona Australis

The Boorong call the constellation Corona Australis Won, the boomerang.

In Boorong mythology, it is a boomerang thrown by the hero Totyarguil, which is represented by Altair (α Aquilae).

Source: Morieson p.115

Boomerang
Source: artyfactory.com


Old records left an uncertainty weather the constellation Corona Australis or Corona Borealis represents that boomerang. Both constellations have the shape of a boomerang, but since Corona Australis is always in the sky at the same time as Altair, it has been identified by Morieson as the constellation in question.

Crux and Centaurus

The Boorong tell the story of Bunya, who was chased by the emu Tchingal.

In great fear, Bunya laid his spears at the base of a tree and ran up it to avoid his pursuer. Bunya had to wait so long in the tree, that he turned into an opossum.

The opossum can be seen in the sky as the Southern Cross with Gacrux (γ Crucis) being its nose.

Bunya was eventually saved by the Berm Berm-gle, two hunters, represented by the pointer stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. The eastern stars of the Cross are the points of the brother's spears that have passed through Tchingal - one at the foot through his neck, and one in the arm through his rump.

Sources: Museum of Victoria, Australasian Science and Morieson

Opossum Tree
© Narritjin Maymuru
Coalsack Nebula

Many Australian Aboriginal nations see the dark patches in the milky between the Southern Cross and Scorpius as a giant Emu (in fact, half a world away, in South America, many nations see a similar bird in the same figuration).

The Boorong call the emu Tchingal, its head is prominemtly formed by the Coalsack Nebula.

Spiritual Cowboy tells the story of the great hunt of Tchingal, as told be the Boorong to William Stanbridge:

Tchingal is the giant emu that eats people and therefore made families live in constant fear of their lives. The crow grew tired of the constant harassment and told of his dread to the Berm-Berm Gle brothers (the pointer stars Alpha and Beta Centauri). They promised to help him if crow would lead them to the fearsome giant.

The ensuing battle raged over a wide region, which helped to define the current landscape and ultimately their quarry was cornered. To their surprise it was the Singing Bush lark, Weetgurrk (Zeta Bo÷tis), that delivered the deathblow, the final spear thrust, which secured the future safety for all people.

The heroic brothers then split each feather of the giant emu down the middle, casting one half of the feathers on the right hand side and the other half on the left, making two heaps. One of these heaps became the cock, the other the hen of the present race of emus, which are much, much smaller in size.

It was arranged that all future emus should lay a number of eggs instead of one only as the giant had. The splitting of the feathers is still easily observable in the twin-shafted feathers of all emus today.

On first sighting Tchingal in the night sky the observer is overwhelmed by its immensity. Its head is what other astronomers call the Coal Sack, just to the bottom left of the Southern Cross, its neck extends down through the pointers and its body is the large dark patch just before reaching Scorpius. Its legs hang down into the tail of Scorpius.

Source: Creativ Cowboy: Stars over Tyrell
Head of the emu
in the Coalsack Nebula
(with Crux to the right)
Source: Wikipedia

Emu
Source: ABC Net Australia

Delphinus

The Boorong call the constellation Otchocut, meaning Great Fish. The great fish is the Murray cod, the largest exclusively freshwater fish in Australia.

Murray cod
© Francis Firebrace
A Boorong legend tells us about the great ancient warrior Totyarguil, who once spotted a monstrous cod fish in a water hole. He threw all of his spears at the fish, but the fish got away, digging up a new waterway, which became the Murray River. the spines now found projecting from the back of the cod fish represent the spears thrown by Totyarguil in his vain attempt to capture it.

Source: Morieson p.97

Eridanus

The Boorong call Achernar (α Eridani) Yerredetkurrk, which is also the name of the owlet nighgar, a small, nocturnal bird. According to Robert Mathews, the owlet nighgar is the patron saint of all women.

In Boorong legend, Yerredetkurrk is the mother-in-law of Totyarguil, which is represented by Altair (α Aquilae). To avoid incest, Aboriginal tradition prohibits any contact between a man and his mother-in-law. This tradition is well represented in the way the two respective stars appear and disappear in the sky:

Yerredetkurrk is highest in the sky between September to December - the breeding season of the owlet nightjar. At that time, Totyarguil cannot be seen. Totyarguil returns to the sky in late summer, when Yerredetkurrk is only very dim above the southern horizon.

Source: John Morieson B.A: The Night Sky of the Boorong

Owl
© Betty Bundamurra

Another Boorong leged tell us about a feud between Yerredetkurrk and her son-in law:

One time, Totyarguil's family was stuck on a mountain top that was too steep to climb down. Totyarguil called out to his wife and children to jump down, one by one, and he would catch them in his arms. He caught all of them safely, but when Yerredetkurrk jumped, he pretended he could not catch her, and she fell heavily on the ground. She recovered, but surely held a grouch.

Some time late, Yerredetkurrk spotted a vicious creature in a water hole. She covered the hole over with leaves and grass to resemble a huge bandicoot's nest. She then tricked Totyarguil to enter the nest to retrieve the animals. Totyarguil fell into the water hole and the monster at the bottom caught hold of his feet and drowned him. Luckily for Totyarguil, his uncle Collenbitchick came to his rescue and managed to revive him.

Source: John Morieson B.A: The Night Sky of the Boorong

Gemini

The Boorong see two unlikely brothers in the constellation known in the West as Gemini.

Yurree (Castor, α Gem), the fan-tailed cockatoo and Wanjel (Pollux, β Gem), the long-necked tortoise are two hunters who pursue Purra the kangaroo, which is represented by Capella ( α Aurigae).

The stars appear in the sky in late spring, mating and egg-laying season of the cockatoo. They are most prominent in the sky in late summer, when the long-necked tortoise lays its eggs.

Sources: Museum of Victoria, theconversation.com

Yurree and Wanjel
Source: theconversation.com

Jupiter

The Boorong call Jupiter Ginabongbearp, meaning "Foot of Day." He is the chief ot the ancient spirits called Nurrumbunguttia and the husband of Chargee Gnowee, which is Venus.

Sources: Stanbridge, Morieson

Lyra

The Boorong called Vega (α Lyrae) Neilloan, the Malleefowl.

When the star set just after duskfall, it was time to collect the malleefowl's eggs.

In Boorong mythology, Neilloan is the mother of the great ancient warrior Totyarguil.

Sources: Wikipedia, Museum of Victoria, Stanbridge, Morieson

Malleefowl
Source: Wikipedia

Moon

The Boorong call the Moon Mityan. They tell the story of the feud between Mityan and Unurgunite.

Unurgunite is Sigma Canis Majoris, flanked by his wifes Wezen (δ Canis Majoris) and Adhara (ε Canis Majoris).

Once, Mityan fell in love with one of Unurgunite's wives (Adhara). While trying to induce her to run away with him, he is discovered by Unurgunite. A fight takes place in which Mityan is beaten, and runs away. He is still running, which is why he doesn't have a fixed place in the sky.

Sources: Wikipedia and Morieson

Orion

The Boorong tell the story of the Kulkunbulla, a group of young men dancing a dance called corroboree.

The group is centered around the Saucepan, which consists of Orion's Belt and Orion's Sword. An old man called Gellarlec sings and beats a drum to the dancing. He is represented by Aldebaran (α Tauri).

Larnankurrk, a group of young women watching th young men dance, is represented by the Pleiades.

Sources: Museum of Victoria and Astroblog

Kulkunbulla
Museum of Victoria

Rigel (β Orionis), the brightest star in the constellation Orion and the seventh brightest star in the night sky is called Collowgullouric Warepil, wife of Warepil by the Boorong.

Warepil is the name of the wedge-tailed eagle, chief of the Nuh-rum-bung-goo-tyas, the elders who created the land. Her husband is Warepil, represented by the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius (α Canis Majoris).

Source: Morieson
Wedge-tailed eagle
©: Deb Easton

Pleiades

In Boorong mythology, the Pleiades are a group of young women called Larnankurrk.

They are dancing with a group of young men called Kulkunbulla (Orion's Belt) to a beat drummed by an old man called Gellarlec, represented by Aldebaran (α Tauri).

Source: Morieson

Source: Aboriginal Art Library

Scorpius

Antares (α Scorpii) is called Djuit by the Boorong. He is the son of Marpeankurrk, which is Arcturus (α Bo÷tis).
The faint stars at either side of Antares are Djuit's wifes.

Djuit is also the Boorong name for the Red-rumped parrot.

Source: Stanbridge

Red-rumped parrot
Source: Wikipedia
The two stars at the end of the scorpio's tail, Shaula (λ Scorpii) and Lesath (υ Scorpii) are a male and a female Kestrel (a kind of falcon), called Karik Karik.

The stars are directly overhead in the early evening in August, when the kestrel start laying their eggs.

Source: Stanbridge
Australian Kestrel
Source: Wikipedia
Sun

The Boorong call the Sun Gnowee.

[Wikipedia Quote]: "She was once a woman who lived upon the Earth at a time when it was eternally dark, and people could only move about with the aid of bark torches. One day she left her little son sleeping while she went out to dig for yams. Food was scarce, and Gnowee wandered so far that she reached the end of the Earth, passed under it and emerged on the other side. Not knowing where she was, she could not find her little son anywhere, so she climbed into the sky with her great bark torch to get a clearer view. She still wanders the sky to this day, lighting the whole world with her torch as she continues to search for her lost son."

Source: Wikipedia, quoting Jennifer Isaacs, Australian Dreaming: 40,000 Years of Aboriginal History

Another Nation of the Wergai language group, the Wudjubalug people tell a somewhat different story:

[Wikipedia Quote:] "Gnowee, the sun, was created by Pupperimbul, one of the Nurrumbunguttia. These ancient spirits disappeared from the heavens before man himself was created, and the earth was in sheer darkness. Pupperimbul hurled an emu egg into the firmament, whereupon it burst and shed light over the sky.

Source: Wikipedia, quoting Roslynn D. Haynes: "Astronomy and the Dreaming: The Astronomy of the Aboriginal Australians"
Carved Emu Egg
©: Australian Museum

Taurus

Gellarlec is an old man, represented by Aldebaran (α Tauri). In Boorong tradition, Gellarlec chants and beats time to the dance of the Kulkunbulla (Orion's Belt) and Larnankurrk (Pleiades).

Source: Morieson

Dancers
©: Tommy Barnes

Venus

The Boorong call Venus Chargee Gnowee, meaning Sister of Gnowee, which is the Sun.

She is the wife of Ginabongbearp, which is Jupiter.

Sources: Stanbridge, Morieson

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