4 mins read 03 May 2021

Moonhack – Coding the story of the Emu in the Sky

With Moonhack 2021 just around the corner, young people have an opportunity to learn about (and code) the story relating to Dhinawan, the Emu in the Sky constellation recognised by the Gomeroi people.

The Emu in the Sky as seen from Kuringai National Park. Credit: Barnaby Norris/Ray Norris.

In a very special lesson this year, young people will have a chance to learn about one of Australia’s most beautiful stories and connections to the cosmos, with a dedicated coding lesson that focuses on the Gomeroi story about the Emu (Dhinawan) in the Sky.

As the first astronomers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people have been looking up at the night sky for tens of thousands of years and used the patterns they observed to draw constellation that assisted them with agriculture, navigation, ceremonies and further knowledge.

In the case of Dhinawan – the giant Emu that stretches across the Milky Way band – where it is positioned in the sky from season to season, can reveal a lot of information about securing a food source at the right time of year.

For example, when the emu reaches its first full appearance in the sky (where the head down to the body can be seen above the horizon), it is said to be the mating season of the emu. As eggs are laid, this was the time of year for the Gomeroi people to gather the eggs as a food source. An excellent overview of the Emu in the Sky story from the Kamilaroi, Euahlayi, Ngemba and Murrawarri people has been documented by Fuller et al. (2014) in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. The story of Dhinawan is shared across many language groups.

Outline of the Emu in the Sky. Credit: Barnaby Norris.

Interestingly, unlike western astronomy which only utilises the stars to draw out the shapes of the constellations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people also use the dark patches of the Milky Way band to form their constellation shapes – which is showcased in the case of Dhinawan where one can note the head of the Emu is the dark nebula known as the Coal Sack, which resides in the Southern Cross.

 As part of this lesson, young people will have a chance to learn about the Emu in the Sky, its important relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples, and how it has connected Indigenous Australians with the sky for tens of thousands of years.

Participants will be able to code their part of the story in the coding platform Scratch, making an animation that shows the different phases of the story of Dhinawan. The project was made by Tess Reading, a Gomeroi woman from Tamworth for Code Club Australia who also wrote a blog post about it for Code Club Australia.  

Further information and reading, including journal papers about a range of wonderful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island astronomy, can be found on the Aboriginal Astronomy website.

Registrations Now Open!

Credit: Code Club Australia.

Registrations for this year’s program are currently open and will run through until the event’s completion on May 30th Participants are encouraged to register in this period and will receive special tips, certificates, and fun resources.

Moonhack is a week-long event starting on 24 May 2021 and ending on 30 May 2021. During this period registrants will complete their coding lessons and submit their results, along with tens of thousands of other participants from across the country.

Once again, is excited to be collaborating with Code Club Australia on this program as part of our InspiringNextGen campaign – which encourages young people to take up interests, practice and resources to skill the future Australian workforce – which will seed Australia and New Zealand’s space communities in the future.

For more information, check out the Moonhack page here. acknowledges the Kamilaroi/Gomeroi people as the traditional custodians of this story.