Discover how Robert S. Fuller, a UNSW PhD candidate, is helping keep the magic and knowledge of the world’s first astronomers burning bright. Explore details of his stellar study of the cultural astronomy and songline connections of twenty-one Saltwater Aboriginal communities situated on the New South Wales coast and rediscover stargazing through the eyes of Australia’s First Peoples.

The overview

“Aboriginal astronomy” is the world’s first astronomy. It existed long before the Babylonians and Greeks studied the stars. For the ancient Aboriginal peoples of the NSW coast, also known as the Saltwater peoples, astronomy was an essential part of their culture. However, with the invasion of Australia in 1788, much of Saltwater culture, including the connections between their astronomy and songlines, were lost. In a stunning study seeking to revive a vital aspect of our nation’s cultural history, UNSW PhD candidate Robert S. Fuller worked with 21 communities along the NSW coast to reawaken and reconfirm the connectedness of Aboriginal culture to the sky.


Research duration
Sep 2015 - Ongoing

Lead researcher
Robert S. Fuller
UNSW PhD candidate

Funding partner
Australian Government Research Training Program

Research area
Human society & culture

21 communities

A study making connections with 21 Indigenous communities along the NSW coast

35 knowledge holders

We sought the knowledge of 35 knowledge holders of the Saltwater people's traditions & history

5000+ archives

Over 5000 archives searched to unearth cultural knowledge

The challenges

  • Finding recorded cultural knowledge among Aboriginal communities that have been disrupted for over 200 years, removed from traditional countries, and had their language and knowledge denied.
  • Connecting with communities and knowledge holders who are rightfully suspicious of researchers and anthropologists.
  • Linking knowledge and stories from written archives and ethnographic interviews to the wider cultural astronomy and songline knowledge base.

The Seven Sisters (Pleiades constellation) relevant to the Black Duck Songline

What’s a songline?

Within the belief system of Indigenous Australians, a songline, also called ‘dreaming track’, is one of the paths across the land and sky which mark the route followed by localised "creator-beings" during the Dreaming. The paths of the songlines are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance and painting.

The solution

  • A  deep dive into all available archives on cultural knowledge (with over 5000 sources searched) and a clear understanding of the fragmented knowledge available to the very small contingent of Aboriginal community members possessing cultural knowledge. 
  • Connecting with communities through a slow and patient process to find the right ‘gatekeeper(s)’ and convincing the community, and eventually the knowledge holders, of the value of the study.
  • Allowing new perspectives on data through the linking of knowledge from different sources.

Stay tuned...

Publication of the results of this project are yet to come and work is underway to secure funding for a documentary focusing on songlines and astronomy.  In the meantime, check out the trailer for Robert S. Fuller’s previous documentary ‘Stars Stories of the Dreaming’ which has been shown on NITV, in theatres and online.

Related people

Contact us

Faculty Research Office
Research Hub, Level 1 
John Goodsell Building 
UNSW Sydney NSW 2052


HDR Research Office
Research Hub, Level 1 
John Goodsell Building 
UNSW Sydney NSW 2052