Dark Sparklers was launched at the University of Sydney (Saint Andrew’s College) by John Clegg, recommended by (S.M.H) book review (early November 2003) and (in its revised second printing June 2004) presented in Darwin by Bill Harney’s friend The Administrator, His Honour Ted Egan, at Government House, Darwin, Northern Territory. It honours the indigenous intellectual world. Four Circles was also launched – this time by Professor Emeritus John Campbell of james Cook University – in this University of Sydney College where Dr Cairns had been Principal from 1975 to 1988. The authors were present in both.
Both books enjoy beauty with their original art, their photographs, and the verbatim voice of an Aboriginal storyteller. Dark Sparklers presents the Ancient Astronomy of the Wardaman under the southern night skies. In prehistoric and recent art, the informant’s associated story enlivens the perception of traditional Aboriginal knowledge as it is embedded in the astronomical observation of regularities. It describes what-you-see-by- naked eye as regular cultural process, the remembered experiences and perceptions marking out the tribal, clan and family expectations, practices and ceremonial necessities that will be the social framework for the year.
This is a Pre-Science book of Australian original people and their traditions: but it impacts on study of religions and human cultures. As an Intellectual-Spiritual story relating to humans searching for The Spiritual while surviving in an existential cosmos of always-changing realities, this family-tribal society gathers knowledge in a humble existential search and experience. This seems unlike later ‘civilisations’ such as Ugarit, where writings and religion often reify the metaphors and concepts of existential insight and perception into the ‘gods’ of story that then evade Science and are used to give solidity and security to bureaucratised cultural power.
With the Aborigines, the night sky Gestalten are not reified. Where the monotheist religions create ideologies to justify and perpetuate their power-structures, what is occuring normally in indigenous societies is personal searching in intellectual humility, within clan processes of oral survival knowledge; and Bill harney’s particular Aboriginal family’s curiosity is a realistic, scientific search relying on memory and sensible observation, especially amongst the women; and this complex traditional thought-world helps the survival of their intellectual integrity today.