Why? How? When? And all that good stuff…

by Steven R. Wills

Mind-Boggling Astronomy

A “heads-up” for teachers who like to plan ahead


Star Stories – July

Corona Borealis

The native people who live in Australia are called Aborigines (ab-oh-RIDGE-ih-neez), a word that means simply "original inhabitants." Before white people came to their continent, Aborigines led simple lives. They hunted and fished and gathered whatever they could from the land. They told many stories about the brilliant stars in their clear desert skies. Here is one of the stories.

It happened a long time ago, before the dawn of history – so long ago that the stars were not arranged in patterns in the heavens, but were randomly scattered across the sky. A small band of people lived near a river. They were more fortunate than many. A talented man named Priepriggie (PREE-prig-ee) was one of their members. He was a fine hunter, and rarely came home empty-handed from a hunt.

At night, when the day’s work was done, members of the band would gather around a campfire. Men and women would dance in a circle around the flames. Now, Priepriggie was more than just a good hunter. He was a fine musician. He was better than anyone else at leading the dance. When he sang, people just wanted to get up and move in time to the music.

One morning, Priepriggie awoke early. Leaving the others in the band asleep, he crept out of the camp. It was time to hunt. Carrying his spear, he walked quietly to the river. Maybe an animal would come to the water for a morning drink.

Priepriggie could not believe his good fortune. Right along his path was a tree almost covered with flying foxes. (A flying fox is a type of Australian bat). The little animals were hanging upside-down, sound asleep.

The largest of the flying foxes was the leader of the group. Priepriggie killed it with his spear. He was congratulating himself on his success, when the other flying foxes awoke. With their leader gone, they were at first confused. Then they flew up all at once and flew at Priepriggie.

They landed all over him. Priepriggie tried to brush them off, but he couldn’t — there were too many of them. They grabbed him with their spiky little feet. They flapped their wings and carried Priepriggie up to the sky.

The other members of the band began to worry when Priepriggie did not return. They were more worried as they ate their scanty dinner — a few dried roots and grubs. When night came they were still hungry.

They lit a fire and tried to forget their troubles by dancing. But Priepriggie wasn’t there with his wonderful music. Nobody felt like dancing. They sat sadly around the fire and missed him very much.

Then, as they sat, they heard faint music — almost as though Priepriggie was singing from a great distance. The music seemed to come from above them.

They looked at each other wide-eyed, then looked up at the sky, blazing with innumerable stars. They saw a wondrous sight.

Before, the stars had been scattered around the heaven. But now, the stars had formed into a group that danced across the sky. Priepriggie was there! He was singing his irresistible dancing song, and the stars were following him in a great band across the sky. Like the people below, the stars couldn’t resist his music.

Look! there he is! said the people. And they got up and danced around their fire, too, as happily as before.

You can still see the path of the stars that dance across the sky; nowadays, we call it the Milky Way. July is a good time to try to see it. You should be as far as possible from city lights. Wait until the sky is completely dark, and look for a faint, hazy band of light that runs from north to south. Then think of Priepriggie, whose music was so irresistible that even the stars danced to it.

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Last modified: April 23, 2003