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Four Circles (2014) and Dark Sparklers (2004):

Two books by Dr. Hugh Cairns, Bill Idumduma Harney

History of Study of Australian Indigenous Astronomy.


The Australian Night Sky, which is so bright and amazing to someone from the Northern Hemisphere where there is so much more mist, fog and pollution, was of much interest to Hugh and his family when they arrived in Australia. They visited Kurringai Chase, Elvina Track and other sites nearby and being familiar with Standing Stones in Britain, Stonehenge and Avebury, Greek and Roman Mythology, The Pyramids in Egypt, The Aztecs and the Red Indian lore they expected archaeologists in Australia to be able to explain the site, what it meant, how it was used etc. Hugh had studied Ancient civilizations and the development of human thought, his wife Hilary studied pre-history. They studied the Rock Art in Australia and interpreted some of the art as being about the sky but archaeologists in Australia said we needed an aboriginal informant and could not extrapolate from Europe or the Americas. We had a great deal of support from the Archaeoastronomy groups world-wide who said they were waiting to hear what was in Australia. Archaeologists here said there had to be Aboriginal informants before they would even consider the matter even though early papers were written on the subject in the early 19th century. They told us the aboriginal peoples knew nothing about the sky.


Hugh and Bill Harney met when Hugh drove colleague Julie Drew to the Northern Territory to work on Bill’s cattle station 'Menngen’ which is 150kms from Katherine near the Victoria River: she was gathering material for her Master’s Thesis. Bill and Hugh became firm friends. Bill said Hugh was the very first white man to ask him anything about the stars. Bill explained how the Wardaman people’s year is ordered by the movement of the stars and planets across the sky. The timing of their ceremonies is dictated by the stars; they know when to move to the next food source by the stars. They did not need a watch when he was on watch as a stockman as the stars tell the time too.


Bill asked Hugh to write the book Dark Sparklers as he wants all this knowledge of the stars and all they relate to be saved for his grand-children and the generations to come.

About Us


MA Oxon, BD PhD Edinburgh. 


Hugh was born in 1935, brought up and educated in England and moved to Scotland in his 20s. His parents were Scots and Cornish. He was a brilliant sportsman representing his schools in rugby, soccer, cricket, fives and hockey and captaining most of the top sides. He was Head of School at both the Dragon School Oxford and Charterhouse. He also captained Oxford University and Scotland in hockey. He worked in a parish and schools in Scotland and was Principal of St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney 1975-88. He lectured in the BD Course and gave occasional lectures and seminars in the French, Religious Studies and Archaeology Departments. He has studied petroglyphs and rock art all over the world and given papers at conferences in USA, Britain, Italy, Bolivia, Bulgaria, India, South Africa and Tanzania. His interest in Aborigines was sparked by a lecture in Oxford when he was about 6 years old; and Standing Stones, ancient Neolithic Tombs and studies in the Classics kept it alive. He began studying early astronomies in 1975 after visiting sites in Kuringai Chase. Hugh first went to Wardaman Land in 1979 but did not meet Bill until 1997 when they became close friends and they have worked together since then. Dark Sparklers had its N.T. launch by Ted Egan at Government House, Darwin in 2004 and Bill said to Hugh that evening “Now we must write my Law”. Four Circles is the result.

Senior Elder and Senior Custodian of
the Wardaman people of the Victoria, Flora and Katherine River Districts of the North Territory of Australia. 


Bill Idumduma Harney was born on Willeroo Station around 1931, grew up there and became a head stock man with the Vesteys and also the Durack family. He was initiated by the Wardaman Elders between the ages of 13 and 19, trained as a Law Man and taught to paint Rock Art styles and body paintings. From1979 Bill became a commercial artist and craftsman. Then he moved into tourism and won the Brolga Award for Tourism in 2004. Bill is also well known to Australians for his book with Jan Wozitsky Born under the Paperbark Tree (1993), The Land of the Lightning Brothers film 1987, The White Cockatoo Country an SBS film in 2002 and various appearances in lectures and TV interviews both here and in USA. In 2003 Dark Sparklers written in collaboration with Hugh Cairns was published about Aboriginal Astronomy. Four Circles is their second book and is on the Wardaman’s Customary and Spiritual Law, their Imulan Law. Sections show the differences between Australian laws and the spiritual Imulan Law. Imulan Law cares for Earth, Humans, Community and the Planet.



For any enquiries, please contact Dr. Hugh Cairns:

Tel: +61 418 628 512 |

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