The Emu in the Sky


The male Emu sitting on eggs as seen in early June

I had the opportunity over the long weekend while camping in The Pilliga to try some Astrophotography. I haven’t done any since I started using a DSLR and the last time i had a go was probably 20 years ago with long exposures on 35mm film.

The Pilliga Scrub is an area made up of State Forests, National Parks, Nature Reserves & Conservation Areas between Coonabarabran & Narrabri in northwestern New South Wales & covers nearly 1 million acres, with the nearest towns over 50 km away, ideal for dark night skies.

The camera used was a Pentax K30, 16 MP, 18mm focal length lens at F5 for a 30 second exposure at 12800 ISO. The image  I tried to capture was of the Emu in the Sky from the Aboriginal culture which is seen as the dark areas in between the stars, not the usual patterns seen in most of the constellations.

The Emu in the Sky as seen by the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi people changed from season to season, as the Milky Way containing the Emu changed position in the night sky. As the Emu changed position, it also altered in appearance. While the Emu can be seen in the sky as early as March, it reaches its first appearance of note in April and May, when it is seen stretching from the South to the southeast.

In this appearance, the Emu has legs, and appears to be running. The reason for this is that this is the time for mating and laying of eggs, and as the Emu in the Sky at this time is female, the female emu birds chase the males during mating. Because the eggs are being laid at this time, seeing the Emu in this way is a strong reminder that the emu egg resource is available, and eggs can be taken for food when they are laid.

emu 1

(image courtesy of Starry Night Education)

In June and July, the appearance of the Emu changes. The legs disappear, and the male Emu is now sitting on its nest, hatching the new chicks. The eggs are still an available resource, and can be taken from the nest. In late winter (August to September), the neck of the Emu becomes indistinct, leaving the body to represent an emu egg. This was taken as a sign that the chicks were hatching, and that the eggs should no longer be taken.


Emu`s at a waterhole in the Pilliga

For more on Aboriginal Astronomy visit


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