Skycountry, the book

Skycountry: 60,000 years of imagining the Southern Sky is the working title of one of  Merrill Findlay’s contributions to the Big Skies Collaboration, a literary non-fiction book.

“I grew up on a family farm in Central Western NSW between two important astronomical sites: Seven Sisters Ridge on our western horizon and the Parkes Radio Telescope to the east,” Merrill explains. “The first is associated with the Pleiades cluster of stars, or Mulayndynang, and has been of great astronomical significance to Wiradjuri people for at least 2,000 generations. The second emerged from a sheep paddock not far from our farm during my childhood. I have since discovered that there are hundreds more astronomical observatories in my part of inland Australia, including many world-class telescopes, and yet more sites of significance to the First Peoples and other groups. Together these observatories constitute what I’ve called the 700 Kilometre Array. My new book will explore some of the histories of these iconic sites and introduce some of the people who have gazed at our Southern Sky from them in search of answers to the biggest questions humanity can ask.”

Skycountry will be a very accessible first person account of the 700KA, its peoples, landscapes, its great unpolluted sky, and the astronomers who’ve used the observatories in the C20th and C21st to explore and understand our universe. The book will draw on documentary research, ethnographic fieldwork, and numerous interviews with professional and amateur astronomers, engineers, technicians, farmers and townsfolk, including descendants of the region’s First Peoples and some of the diverse Northern Hemisphere migrants who first settled the inland in the C19th.

Merrill’s project will also take her to China to investigate that country’s ancient astronomical heritage and visit some of the C21st observatories that are now using Australian technologies, including the Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, the planet’s largest single-dish radio telescope, in Pingtang county, Guizhou Province. While in China, Merrill also hopes to connect with relatives of some of the Cantonese speaking migrants who gazed at the Southern Sky from goldfields and pastoral stations within our 700KA region in the C19th, and, if  possible, include them in our Big Skies Collaboration.

Also see cultural astronomer Trevor Leaman’s Wiradjuri Astronomy Project, and Merrill’s Skywriters Project.

Photo caption: Winter Solstice sun rising over Seven Sisters Ridge, the Wiradjuri astronomical site associated with the Pleiades and the Seven Sisters Dreaming, near Merrill’s family farm.  Photo by Merrill Findlay, June, 2015.

Page created 26 June 2016. Updated 28 February 2017.

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