Cultural Difference: Seeing Stars
This is another story of different cultural interpretations and ideas. It involves a kardiya named Dan and two old Aboriginal men from the Pilbara during a night spent beside a mining company’s railway line.
The police and HMC officials crossed the railway line, scrounged for firewood for twenty minutes, lit fires, and switched off vehicle and spot lights. The remaining light was from millions of stars, glittering incessantly across the entire sky, and fires which created mobile shadows in the surrounds.
“What you see up there, Danny boy?” Patrick suddenly asked in the dull light from the fire, pointing at the stars.
Dan, lying his back in Jimmy’s sleeping bag, finally murmured, “Lots and lots … big mobs … of stars.”
The answer made him feel silly as the array above him glittered and shone.
“Yuwa, and you say what you see, old man?” Patrick grinned at Norman.
“Emu.” Norman pointed at the swathe of the Milky Way.
“You see him, Danny boy?” Patrick asked.
“No, just big mob of stars.”
“Look at middle of big star mob.” Norman pointed at the Milky Way again. “You been see one big black bit. You find him?”
Dan stared but finally shook his head. Norman patiently tracked the black space for Dan by identifying stars that were brighter than others.
“I got him,” Dan finally acknowledged.
“Okay, you look at top of him and you see long neck and little head and beak. Then look down him and see fat body bit and real skinny legs.”
“I can’t … make those shapes out yet, old man.”
“It take little bit time, but watch black bit, not star bit,” Norman repeated. “One time, you see emu and next time, maybe kangaroo and big lizard. They all been there. You just got to look right way. And this day, emu stand up, but soon, him been lie down. When him do that, we know been time to get emu egg and have good feed.”
Dan wasn’t sure of what Norman meant by lie down. He lay looking up through his frosty breathing. He was about to give up when suddenly, the shape of an emu in the middle of the Milky Way stood out like a beacon. As it did, the sense of lie down also became clear: the earth rotating would alter the position of the stars until the black shape looked flat. He shook his head in amazement and didn’t see Patrick smile. At that point, with the night chill causing his face to smart, Dan pulled the hood around his head.
“Now, you sleep good way, Danny boy,” Patrick told him.
“Thank you old man, and you too.”
“You need, what you kardiya mob call him, yuwa, pretty sleep, ay?”
“Why you say that, old man?”
“You got to look pretty to talk to them kids tomorrow,” Norman chuckled.
Using his jumper as a pillow, Dan kept watching the stars. Sleeping out on country was not his idea of fun and as he lay staring up and feeling so chilled in a place where day temperatures could reach thirty-five degrees, he knew he’d sleep fitfully.
But he knew his respect and admiration for these people had been heightened again, and he slept well, despite the hard ground. He’d occasionally wake, numb in body parts, to see stars glittering. They’d remind him of Patrick’s and Norman’s latest intervention to help him learn difference and he’d marvel at all he was learning from these people.