November 15th, 2018
The stars are objective: they can be counted, measured and catalogued but they can also be read and interpreted.

Both the measurement and the reading of stars are valuable for us to understand our place in the universe.

Fraser Farrell is co-founder of the Backyard Universe – a business that travels around the state giving tours of the night sky that includes stories vital to the human experience as well as the vital statistics of stars older than the Earth.

“A lot of Australians take our dark country skies for granted,” Fraser said.

“International tourists are blown away by how much we can see.”

The official names of celestial bodies are decided by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Constellations and star names usually reflect the worldview of the people who name them.

“Many of our constellations in the Southern Hemisphere were dreamed up by Dutch East India sea captains in the 17th century,” Fraser said.

“A lot of them don’t make sense.

“100 years later a French astronomer named Nicolas Louis de Lacaille filled in the gaps when he travelled to South Africa.

“This was the height of the Age of Enlightenment which means we have things like a microscope, telescope, chemical furnace and a pendulum plotter in the sky.”

Official names tend to be Euro-centric – discounting the naming conventions of pre-colonial cultures but the IAU has recently been active in including astronomical names developed by non-European cultures.

Fraser Farrell's Backyard Universe night sky tours aims to be multicultural in his presentation of the universal light show.

“Every culture and civilisation has played join-the-dots in the night sky,” he said.

“We try to represent as much as we can.

“Take the Southern Cross.

“We talk about the official European story but also discuss how the Ngarrindjeri, the Kaurna, the Inca, and South African peoples saw it.

“Most recently I have been learning traditional Chinese constellations which tends to impress Chinese tourists that I know any at all and can share the story of the cow herd and weaver girl.”

In a time of Netflix and social media – Information Age technologies that create an over-abundance of stories – looking into space and back through time to see ancient light through the lenses of our ancestors can help provide context and interpretations for the world we live in today.

“It's about reconnecting with the universe and the real world,” Fraser said.

“You can look at pictures of astronomical objects – there are millions of photos available online – but it’s worth bearing in mind that many of those pictures have been digitally enhanced.

“When we show people the real sky most are blown away by seeing something with their actual eyeballs that they’ve only ever read about.”

Coming up at the end of this month is Stars and Vines 2 – an opportunity to venture out into our dark Australian sky for a night under the stars while enjoying award-winning wine and fare at Vineyard Road Cellar Door in Langhorne Creek.

For Vineyard Road cellar door coordinator Karen Davis, the first Stars and Vines event helped her learn more about the universe.

“Outside the cellar door at night it is very dark with no light pollution” she said.

“Which makes it the ideal location for Fraser to guide us through constellations with his laser pointer.

“Through the telescope I got to see the rings of Saturn, shooting stars, satellites and we also learned about just how much space junk is littered around the planet.

“There is quite a lot to take in because it is a very educational evening that Fraser makes entertaining as well.”

Additional entertainment comes in the form of wine and food showcasing Vineyard Road's warm and welcoming hospitality.

“We are still a relatively new cellar door in Langhorne Creek and we prie ourselves on being unique and creating events that appeal to people of all ages,” Karen said.

“So it has been about finding ways to show people what we have to offer.

“We have so much space and an amazing dark sky so when we learned about Fraser's business Backyard Universe we thought it would be a perfect match.”

Stars and Vines 2 is on Friday, November 30 from 8.30pm to 10pm at the Vineyard Road Cellar Door,
697 Langhorne Creek Road Belvidere.

Tickets are $35 for adults and $25 for children over five years.

The ticket includes supper and wines by the glass will be sold separately on the night.

Dress for the weather – it can get cold at night!

For more information phone 0488 705 224.

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