Mental Maps

The Burarra people can navigate without using maps. Instead, they use their memory of familiar landmarks and natural features.

Navigating at Night

At night when it is too dark to see landmarks the Burarra people use the stars to navigate.

The positions of the stars in the night sky change throughout the night and the year. Like the Sun, stars appear to move across the sky from east to west each night. This is caused by the movement of the Earth spinning on its axis. The Earth also orbits the Sun. This causes a slow precession across the sky, where from night to night the stars appear to start a little further west each night. This slow movement is what makes the wet and dry season (or summer and winter) skies totally different.

The Burarra people recognise the pattern of stars at different times, and use these to guide them. A particular star is followed to make sure they are traveling in the right direction.

The best time of year to use the stars for navigation is during the dry season when there are no clouds in the sky. The dry season is also a good time to travel in a boat at night because the seas are calm and the breeze is gentle.