I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Kahlil Gibran: Sand & Foam
Whenever I take my camera with me, a walk somehow turns into an adventure, as I see the world through my second eye.
This morning was no exception.
No sooner had I caught up with the other dog walkers, than I found out that last night was the June Winter Solstice. You see, like so much other things down here in the Southern Hemisphere, things are a bit topsy turvy and upside down. Or, indeed, the right way up depending on your perspective. While so many of you re feasting on Summer, it’s Winter Down Under.
Yet, the dog walkers were all pretty chuffed this morning. There we were enjoying the incredible sunshine in the middle of Winter, tossing our jumpers, coats, scarves to the four winds, while some of the more daring canines actually braved the surf without dipping in a pre-emptory paw first.
Winter? What Winter?
Although the day started out at a brusk 9 degrees Celsius, it rose to a glorious 20 degrees. Talk about spoiled! Indeed, I was.
Returning home, I started cogitating about the Winter Solstice, reading about festivals held overseas as well as scientific facts about the seasons and the rise and fall of the moon and the sun.
What with all this juggling of snippets, facts and reflection, I started wondering about the feet which used to walk along these shores not that long ago and what their traditions for the Winter Solstice might have been.
Our local area was home to the Guringai Australian Aboriginal tribe. This tribe stretched from the north side of Port Jackson, North through Pittwater, Broken Bay and Brisbane Water, to the southern end of Lake Macquarie.
In March 1788, just a couple of months after the English first settled at Sydney Cove, the first Europeans arrived in our local area when Governor Arthur Phillip landed with a party at Ettalong Beach. In June 1789, a more thorough investigation of Brisbane Water was conducted. A rest stop was made at Ettalong Beach before the group passed through ‘The Rip’ (a dangerous passage leading into Brisbane Water). On return, the party camped at Ettalong Beach before sailing to Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury River.
Here are a few quotations from that trip which appear on a a local plaque:
Plaque no 2.: “Monday 3rd March, 1788 When the tide had slacken’d we picked up and found several small inlets between mangroves on one of which island we stop’d and pitch’d the tents: had a very hard rain all the morning Lieut. Wm Bradley March, 1788”.
Plaque no 3.: “Tuesday, 4th While the tents and clothes were drying… a crab was caught and proved very good AM, at day light proceeded up… we found natives all the way up. Lieut. Wm Bradley March, 1788”.
Plaque no 4.: “This plaque was laid on the 3rd of March 1988 to commemorate the landing in this vicinity of Gov. Phillip, Lieut. Hunter and their party on 3rd March 1788”.
Feet…despite my love of history, I’ve never really considered whose feet I am following in as I walk with the dogs along the beach and chat to other dog walkers. By the time we arrive, there are hundreds of footprints in the sand and it’s no longer a fresh canvas.
However, these footprints dig deeper…Governor Phillip, the Guringai people… into a timeless land.
Turning back the clock even further, Aboriginal people observed the solstice long before Stonehenge was even a dream.
Found on a property near Mt Rothwell, 80km west of Melbourne, there’s an ancient Aboriginal sundial dubbed Wurdi Youang, which was built by the Wathaurung people before European settlement. CSIRO professors believe the ancient Aboriginal sundial could be more than 10,000 years old, an estimate that would have it pre-date the famous neolithic Stonehenge and the only remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Egyptian Pyramids.
CSIRO astrophysicist Professor Ray Norris said the precise alignment of the stones proved beyond a doubt it was constructed to map the movements of the sun, in order to track the seasons.
“What we have found with this stone arrangement, which is a circle of about 50m across, is it’s aligned east-west and what is really interesting is that if you stand at the top and look through this particular gap over the stones, you look at the exact position of where the sun sets on summer and winter solstices and at the spring and autumn equinoxes,” Prof Norris said.
“This can’t be done by guesswork. It required very careful measurements.
“If it goes back, let’s say, 10,000 years, that predates the Egyptians, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, all that stuff. So, that would indeed make them the world’s first astronomers.”
Head of Sydney University’s Koori Studies, Janet Mooney, said the discovery would be an inspiration for young Aborigines and help address what she claims is a fundamental oversight of the skill of the ancient race.
“This discovery has huge significance for understanding the amazing ability of this culture that is maligned,” she said.
I felt quite a sense of pride learning of these Aboriginal achievements. So often, I hear comments about how Australia has no history. That we only go back 227 years, as though Australia didn’t exist beforehand. Indeed, it was terra nullus…a blank sheet of paper just waiting for the English to start writing its’ story.
Not so. Definitely, not so!
Anyway, none of this crossed my mind as walked with the dogs this morning. All I was thinking about how good that sun felt and how blessed we are to live in an absolute paradise. Of course, this is totally forgetting about the dreary, wet days we had last week and it is this contrast against that cold gloom, that made today so much better. It isn’t like this every day!
So, now the march towards Spring and those scorchingly hot Australian Summers has begun and yet I’m sure you’ll understand why it’s so easy to fall in love with a sunny Winter’s day at the beach!
Further reading About Wurdi Youang
A Blog About Aboriginal Astronomy: http://aboriginalastronomy.blogspot.com.au/