Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Emu in the Sky (aka, I'm still on a bit of an emu bender)

Have you ever seen an emu's wings?

This question never crossed my mind until yesterday, when I began reading about emus' stabby, huge (not "quite small"!) bills. I guess that if I'd thought about emus' wings at all, I would have assumed they were that weird shaggy kind of pelt that emus have, as if they're wandering around wearing a blanket all the time.

But there is a reason you've never seen an emu's wings: they're underneath all that shagginess, and they're tiny. Smaller than a crow's. Of course, this makes sense, given that they hardly need wings when they don't fly and can run like something out of Jurassic Park.

The fear I had of them as a child is turning more into fascination and a kind of awe -- but I got a chill when I found the Aboriginal story of how the Emu in the Sky came to be.

The Emu in the Sky is not so much a constellation as a negative heavenly space: the shape of an emu's body formed not from stars but from dark patches of the Milky Way. The giant emu was consigned there for eternity by a husband exacting justice upon the bird for killing his wife, according to people from Papunya, in the Northern Territory.

If you fancy going to this link to a great article about Aboriginal astronomy, it's worth clicking through to the second picture in the slide show: an astonishing photo of the emu's shape visible in the night sky, mirroring an Aboriginal rock carving on the ground below, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, in Sydney.

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