Big Skies Collaboration (BSC) brings together arts practitioners, astronomers and local communities to creatively explore and celebrate people’s relationships with the cosmos and catalyse new economic, cultural, social and educational opportunities for communities in south-eastern Australia’s rural Inland.
Since its inception in late 2016, BSC has involved hundreds of individuals, and many community organisations, local government authorities and universities.
Component projects have received cash funding from Regional Arts NSW, Create NSW, the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, Bundanon Trust and Local Land Services Central Tablelands. We have also received valuable in-kind support from many individuals and organisations, including UC’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research; Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics; Creativity & Cognition Studios, University of Technology-Sydney; Western Sydney University Observatory team; Arts OutWest (Bathurst); Orana Arts (Dubbo); Wiradjuri Study Centre (Condobolin); Parkes Shire Council; a dozen regional libraries in inland NSW; New England Writers Centre; Outback Writers Centre; Writing NSW; Milroy Observatory (Coonabarabran); and Tamworth Regional Astronomy Club. We gratefully acknowledge all this support.
As of 2020, all projects are self-funded.
To March 2020 we have achieved the following.
- Website and blog – Dr Merrill Findlay
Simple WordPress website and blog to document and promote Big Skies Collaboration initiatives: https://bigskiescollaboration.wordpress.com
- 2016: web site created
- 2016-2020: Ten long-form blog posts by MF
- 2019: Guest blogger and Big Skies Collaborator Tracy Sorensen published her long-form essay Staring at the Sun
2. BSC newsletter and database – Merrill Findlay
Irregular newsletter sent out to BSC participants, supporters, sponsors, and simpatico souls
- A simple segmented Mailchimp database of nearly 500 subscribers who now receive Merrill’s irregular newsletters.
3. Skywriters Project – Merrill Findlay
The Skywriters Project generates new literary opportunities for creative writers in rural and remote inland communities
- 2017: Project launches in twelve municipal libraries: Bathurst, Condobolin, Grenfell, Warren, Parkes, Dubbo, Coonabarabran, Gilgandra, Narrabri, Forbes, Orange, and Cowra
- 2018: Six events for inland creative writers co-hosted with regional libraries, local government authorities, and regional arts development organisations in Parkes, Coonabarbran (Milroy Observatory), and Dubbo
- 2019: First major publication, Dark Sky Dreamings: an Inland Skywriters Anthology (Interactive Press, Brisbane, Nov. 2019), which includes works by 50 Australian authors from all states and the ACT. Curated and edited by Merrill Findlay with Dr Suzie Gibson (Charles Sturt University, Bathurst) and Val Clark (Outback Writers Centre)
- 2019 ArtState 2019 in Tamworth: Panel discussion on Big Skies Collaboration and its projects with Merrill Findlay, Tracey Callinan (Executive Director, Arts OutWest, Bathurst), and Wiradjiri author Marion Wighton-Packham (Condobolin)
- 2019-2020: Community book launches in Tamworth, Coonabarabran, Forbes, Condobolin, Grenfell and Bathurst. Other launches, including Dubbo, have been postponed because of COVID19
- Articles in the local and regional print media, online sites and social media
4. Big Skies 3D Immersive Dome Project – David Clarkson & Box of Birds
A state-of-the-art immersive 3D production ‘without the goggles’ with live storytellers to be projected and performed in a geodesic dome which can be dismantled, loaded into a seatainer and moved to the next town.
- 2015: Writer Merrill Findlay and Composer Peter Kennard meet in a Canberra Café to discuss the Big Skies Collaboration concept and a possible collaboration with physical theatre company Stalker Peter was working with
- 2016: Merrill pitches the Big Skies idea to director David Clarkson, the Creativity & Cognition Studios team and others at Carriage Works in Eveleigh, Sydney – and it was enthusiastically supported
- David and Merrill meet in Dubbo to further discuss Big Skies Collaboration
- Stalker Theatre and the Creativity & Cognition Studios showcase some of the 3D outcomes of their collaborations at the UTS Data Arena, Ultimo, Sydney
- 2017: Merrill’s essay Doing the Arts/Science/Techno Thing in Inland NSW, about the Big Skies Immersive project, is posted on the BSC blog
- Week-long R&D residency at Bundanon Centre, Nowra, with David Clarkson and the Box of Birds crew, to workshop the immersive 3D project, with funding from Create NSW
- 2018: David gives multiple presentations to potential sponsors and funding bodies in Australia, China and New Zealand
- 2019/2020: previews of Big Skies work-in-progress at UTS Data Arena for potential funders, politicians and others
5. Inland Astro-Trail (IAT)
The IAT is an astro-tourism, cultural heritage, STEAM outreach (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), and sustainable development initiative to link, promote, utilise and conserve sites of astronomical significance in south-eastern Australia’s rural inland for the benefit of rural and remote communities. Initiated by Merrill Findlay and others.
- 2016: Conceptualisation of the IAT and the 700 Kilometre Array (700KA) of astronomical observatories in Inland NSW and ACT
- 2018-2019: Discussions with Destination Network Country and Outback (DNCO), one of six organisations supporting the tourism industry on behalf of the NSW State Government, about the potential of astro-tourism for inland communities
- 2019: IAT Symposium in Parkes, NSW, with Parkes Shire Council, Arts OutWest, Destination Country and Outback, Central NSW Councils (CENTROC), University of Canberra and other partners
- 2019-2020: Meetings with senior staff at Museum of Applied Arts and Science, Sydney, about developing IAT programs which were followed up with a preliminary list of point for further discussio
- 2020: DNCO released its Night Skies Experience Concept Plan on 28 Feb.
- 2020: Discussion Paper on the potential of the Inland Astro-Trail now being prepared by Merrill Findlay
6. Condo SkyFest – Tennille Dunn, Wiradjuri Study Centre and colleagues
A community celebration of the inland night sky, as experienced by Wiradjuri people for 65,000+ years, in the small remote town of Condobolin, on the Lachlan River.
- 2018: first Condo SkyFest at the Wiradjuri Study Centre with star gazing with astronomers, traditional dancing, Wiradjuri language workshops, children’s activities, cultural displays, and two exhibitions, Wiradjuri Murriyang (Wiradjuri Skyworld) by Scott Towney, and Seven Sistas Weavings by Big Skies Collaborator Bev Coe and the fibre artists of the Condo Sista Shed
- 2019: second Condo SkyFest, including traditional sky dancing, star gazing with astronomers, workshops, and two exhibitions, Weaving the Night Sky by Bev Coe and the weavers of the Condo SistaShed, and Strong Aboriginal Man, a photographic exhibition by Marion Wighton-Packham
- 2020: third Condo SkyFest scheduled for September 2020
7. Wiradjuri Murriyang (Wiradjuri Skyworld) – Scott ‘Sauce’ Towney, Trevor Leaman, Christine McMillan (Arts OutWest), Kate Richards (University of Western Sydney), Penrith Observatory (UWS). Parkes Shire Council, and Wiradjuri Study Centre
Constellation artworks by Wiradjuri artist, ‘Sauce’ Towney, as commissioned by cultural astronomer Trevor Leaman through BSC partner organisation, Arts OutWest, and funded through Local Land Services Central Tablelands and NSW Regional Arts Fund.
- 2016: Contract for the images signed by the artist and Arts OutWest in Peak Hill
- 2017: Stellarium projection of the digitised constellation images in a blow-up dome at Cementa Biennial Festival of Contemporary Art, Kandos
- First exhibition of framed images at the Skywriters Project’s Big Gig in Parkes Shire Council’s Coventry Room, 8-9 July 2017
- Exhibition in the Coventry Room for Astro-Fest hosted by Central West Astronomical Society
- Selected images reproduced on Parkes Shire Council’s Art Wall in Peak Hill
- Article featuring several of Scott Towney’s images by cultural astronomer Duane Hamacher, Kindred skies: Ancient Greek and Aboriginal Australians Saw Constellations in Common, in The Conversation, 10 April 2017
- 2018: Exhibition of Wiradjuri Murriyang at SkyFest 2018 at the Wiradjuri Study Centre, Condobolin
8. Carnarvon to Narrabri: an astro-literary journey – Tracy Sorensen
BSC’s first writer-in-residence project (self-funded with in-kind support from Birmingham University Physics Dept. and CSIRO’s Paul Wild Observatory.)
- 2019: Staring at the Sun, long-form essay published 31 March 2019 as guest blog post at https://bigskiescollaboration.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/staring-at-the-sun/
- Tracey Callinan, Executive Director, Arts OutWest, launches Staring at the Sun at the historic Lachlan Inn, Bathurst, 31 March, 2019
- Article published on Birmingham University’s website: ‘Australian Novelist Writes About Life at Birmingham Solar Observatories,’ 3 May 2019, with link to Tracy’s essay on Big Skies Collaboration website
9. Outer Space: Inner Minds – Dr David Reiter and Interactive Press P/L
An ongoing interactive multimedia initiative to produce a digital anthology of interactive works exploring our relation to the cosmos and its impact on our thinking and creativity.
- 2018-2020: Multiple grant applications to funding bodies in Australia and Canada
- 2018: First Inland Astro-Trail Tour to meet astronomers and skywriters and to visit significant astro-sites along the IAT (July, 2018)
- 2020: (2 April) Call-out for contributions to a multi-phased mixed media immersive anthology to include audio, video and 3D animations which explore how the visible and invisible universes surrounding us inspire creative thought and expression
10. Skycountry: a cosmography – Merrill Findlay
As creative non-fiction book tentatively scheduled for completion in 2022 – see https://bigskiescollaboration.wordpress.com/projects/skycountry/
- 2017/2020: multiple field trips to astro-heritage and astronomical sites along the Inland Astro-Trail, plus meetings with astronomers and astro-physicists
- 2018/2019: two research trips to China to investigate China’s 5,000 years of documented astro-heritage and the astronomical traditions C19th Cantonese migrants brought with them to Inland NSW
- 2019: book chapter, My Seven Sisters Dreaming, published as an essay in Dark Sky Dreamings: an Inland Skywriters Anthology (IP 2019)
- Research for this project is informing other BSC initiatives
Presentations, publications, Interviews Etc
Many talks, Powerpoint presentations and interviews have been given about BSC initiatives since 2016, and many articles have been published in the rural and regional press and online. BSC also has a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.
- 2017: Presentation at Readers and Writers Festival, Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre (BMEC), 27 May 2017
- Numerous talks and media interviews about Skywriterss Project and Inland Astro-Trail
- 2018: Paper presented at National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers, Ballarat, 30 March – 2 April 2018. See
- Presentation on BSC at Centre for Creative & Cultural Research, University of Canberra (19 Nov. 2018)
- 2019: Panel discussion at ArtState2019 in Tamworth on the Collaboration and what the component projects mean for inland communities, with Merrill Findlay, Tracey Callinan (Arts OutWest, Bathurst) and Wiradjuri teacher and author, Marion Wighton-Packham (Condobolin)
- Consultations with Destination Network Outback and Country (Destination NSW) about the Inland Astro-Trail and benefits of astro-tourism to inland communities which led to the Dark Skies Experience Concept Plan for inland NSW released in early 2020.
- Ongoing meetings with Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (aka MAAS or Powerhouse Museum), Sydney, about MAAS contributing to the Inland Astro-Trail, Condo SkyFest and other BSC initiatives
- 2020: ideas for further discussion shared with MAAS curators
- BSC selected by Regional Arts NSW RADOs to be featured in a forthcoming publication on arts practice in regional NSW
- Proposal to present at NAACA 2020 in Parkes accepted but the event has been cancelled because of the coronavirus
- Discussion paper on the Inland Astro-Trail concept now being prepared by Merrill for wide distribution
For more information, please contact Dr Merrill Findlay, CCCR Adjunct, University of Canberra, Tel: 61 404057162, or email bigskiescollaboration[at]gmail.com
WordPress site created 3 January 2016 using content first posted on merrillfindlay.com in May 2015. Last updated 3 April 2020.