The Sun, The Moon, The Morning Star

The Sun 

The SunThe Sun, Image sourced from Private Collection.

According to the Wotjobaluk people of northern Victoria (see Massola, 1968), Knowee, the Sun was a woman and like everyone else on Earth she had to use a torch made of bark to see where she was going. One day she had gone away to search for food for her young son who was sleeping. However, in her search for food she lost her way. Not knowing where she had left her son she ascended into the sky with her great torch. Ever since then she has been wandering in the sky looking for her son. The torch she carries became the Sun.

There are other stories about how the Sun came into being according to the Aboriginal people. Kathleen Langloh Parker in her book Australian Legendary Tales published in 1896 tells us this story:

'For a long time there was no Sun, only a Moon and stars. One day Dinewan the emu and Brolga the native companion were on a large plain near the Murrumbidgee. There they were quarrelling and fighting. Brolga, in her rage, rushed to the nest of Dinewan and seized from it one of the huge eggs, which she threw with all her force up to the sky. There it broke on a heap of firewood, which burst into flame as the yellow yolk spilt all over it, which flame lit up the world below'. Thus, the Sun was born. From that time onwards, she says the good spirit who lived in the sky made a fire each day. 'They then told Goo-goor-gaga that, as the morning star faded and the day dawned, he was every morning to laugh his loudest, that his laughter might awaken all sleepers before sunrise'. 


Massola, A. 1968. Bunjil's cave: Myths, legends and superstitions of the Aborigines of south east Australia. Landsdowne Press
Parker, K. L. 1896. Australian Legendary Tales. London. David Nutt.

The Moon

Gurgurr – the Moon man. Australia Post.Image: Gurgurr – the Moon man. Australia Post.

The Moon is considered a man in most Aboriginal communities but there are exceptions where the Moon is seen as a woman. It is associated with fertility, death and initiation ceremonies.

According to the artist Yirawala (Holms, 1972) the Moon man and his dog were responsible for the formation of the Liverpool River. It took place during the Dreamtime. The Moon man (Gurgurr) and his dog Mulutji had gone far into the inland and became very thirsty. The dog sniffed water and began digging the ground. Gurgurr assisted his dog and soon the trickle of water became a flood. They could hardly stay afloat in the water and were subsequently drowned. When they died they were transported to the Moon and now look down on humanity from up above. They are depicted on an Australia Post stamp.

According to Charles Mountford (Mountford, 1956) the Aboriginal people of Groote Eylandt and Yirrkalla in Arnhem Land have an explanation of the waxing and waning of the Moon. They believe that when you have a full Moon it is because at high tide the sea water runs into the Moon and at low tide the sea water runs out of the Moon. The Moon then has a crescent shape. However, there is no scientific evidence that they have actually seen the sea water rushing up or coming out of the Moon. 


Holms, Sandra Le Brun. 1972. Yirawala: Artist and man. Jacaranda Press. Milton.
Mountford, C. P. 1956. Art, myth and symbolism. Records of the American-Australian Scientific Expedition. Arnhem Land. Vol. 1. Melbourne University Press.

The Morning Star and Others 

Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can be seen with the naked eye. The ancient peoples of the world made stories about them. So it is not surprising that the Aboriginal people also had stories associated with these planets. Each language group had their own names for the planets. Here are 4 some Aboriginal names as provided by members of the Aboriginal community. Some of the names are shown in the table below.

MarsWaiyunggariMurray River
SaturnIrukulpinjaWestern Desert
VenusBarnumbirArnhem Land
VenusIruwanjaWestern Desert

Banumbir. Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre

Banumbir. Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre

The flight of the Morning Star. The bag in which the Morning Star (Barnumbir) is held by two spirit women in shown in the bottom of the painting. The blossoms at the end of each branch are the localities visited by the Morning Star to convey messages from the dead.

Venus is the most conspicuous planet. Stories about Venus, the Morning Star which is known as Barnumbir are well known and common knowledge to the Aboriginal people. To the Aborigines in north-eastern Arnhem Land, Barnumbir is associated with death. Charles Mountford, an ethnologist from South Australia who led the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land recorded this story about Barnumbir (Mountford, 1956; Haynes et al 1996). According to the Aboriginal people, Barnumbir is held on a long string held by two old women on the Island of the Dead (known as Purelko in Yirrkalla and Djiraia in Millingimbi). Just before dawn Banumbir is let out of the bag so that the star can wake up the people and give them messages from the dead. At dawn the star is pulled back to the shore and kept in a bag during the day. The process is repeated again next morning. The Aboriginal people in north-eastern Arnhem Land perform morning star ceremonies to ensure that the deceased travels safely to the Land of the Dead. In the performance of the ceremony the Aborigines use a large pole decorated with feathered strings and a ball or bunches of sea gull feathers (Berndt et al). The ball represents the Morning Star. The Australian Museum in Sydney has several examples of the morning star poles in their collections. 


Mountford, C. P. 1956. Art, myth and symbolism. Vol 1. Records of the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. Melbourne University Press
Haynes, R., Haynes, R., Malin, D & McGee, R. 1996. Explorers of the Southern Sky. Cambridge University Press
Berndt, R. M. Berndt, C. H. with Stanton, J. E. 1998. Aboriginal Australian Art. New Holland. Sydney