In preparation for the June 21st Winter Solstice, I spent a weekend away at an eco-friendly sky pod in Victoria’s stunning Otways. Perched on a hill in a wildlife refuge property, the pod I chose featured floor to ceiling windows which look out onto the Southern Ocean.
During the day I watched as the changeable weather treated me to scenes of sunshine imbued surf, rain and storm clouds, and stunning rainbows. At night, with the lights turned off, the night sky was bewitching. I fell asleep with the gentle caress of starlight on my face.
Deep in the night I woke up and was amazed at the amount of starlight in the room. When I looked around I saw that it was the Southern Cross shining through the south facing window. I have seen this star pattern many times before but never so close. I felt as though I could reach out and touch the bright stars as they filled the room with translucent light. It was magical. I felt an immediate connection to the Southern Cross, something I have never felt before.
The Southern Cross star pattern is composed of four bright stars and one fainter star which form the shape of a cross, or more accurately, a kite. The Southern Cross is not a constellation but an asterism which is a group of stars that can be part of a constellation or span across multiple constellations. The Southern Cross is the brightest star pattern in the Crux constellation, the smallest constellation in the sky.
The Southern Cross asterism was once a feature of the northern skies and was an important celestial symbol for ancient cultures. The ancient Greeks considered it part of the Centaurus constellation. By Roman times it had sunk below the horizon and out of view for most of the Northern Hemisphere, although it is still visible in some southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Cross was virtually forgotten in the Northern Hemisphere until it became an important asterism in navel navigations.
The Southern Cross has always been a powerful celestial symbol in the southern skies and features prominently in the mythology and stories of Southern Hemisphere cultures. The Southern Cross configuration is featured on the flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa. It is also mentioned in the national anthems of Australia and Brazil.
In my home country of Australia, the Southern Cross is an important part of indigenous and non-indigenous Australian culture. Australian indigenous culture is wide and diverse, and while there are many stories about the Southern Cross, it is regarded as one of many star patterns that grace the southern skies. However, for many non-indigenous Australians, this celestial symbol has almost mythic status and is considered one of the most important star patterns in the southern skies. Unfortunately, the Southern Cross has also been used as a symbol of nationalism, bigotry and rebellion, often in nasty ways. This association with the uglier parts of Australian culture has made me uncomfortable about getting to know the Southern Cross asterism. However, after seeing how beautiful it truly is, I’m now keen to form a relationship.