One of the most spectacular things about the Margaret River Region is its night sky. Look up on a clear, moonless night and you’ll see the stars up there like caster sugar scattered over a sheet of black velvet, the Milky Way arching as a great cloudy bridge from horizon to horizon.

Here in Australia, while the European system is the most common system of reference for the night sky, there is also a very different means of viewing this cosmoscape.

For thousands of generations, these stars have been fundamental to the life and culture of Australia’s First Peoples, including the Wadandi people here in the Margaret River Region. Those stars are an icon of story and mythology, a natural calendar, and navigation markers guiding their way across land and ocean.

The Margaret River Region's night sky is a highlight of every camping trip. Photo: Zac White

If you look up there, you might see the Emu in the Sky; a whole bunch of dark nebulae visible against the Milky Way background. You’ll find the Emu’s head next to the Southern Cross, its body and legs an extension of the Great Rift trailing out to Scorpius.

While you’ll find the Southern Cross and the Great Rift and Scorpius in an astronomy guide, you won’t find the Emu. These different views of the same sky exemplify the different ways in which different people view the stars.

Many constellations have been used to help Aboriginal people identify landscape features and places to find food and water, and orient their way as they travel between places. Some of these star maps have been so crucial to navigation that even some modern highway networks and towns in parts of Australia have been based on Aboriginal star maps – information that has been passed down orally from generation to generation through story and ceremony for thousands of years.

Close to the Southern Cross, you might see the Emu in the Sky. Photo and illustration: Robert Fuller & Uncle Ghillar Michael Anderson

That European system of identification descends, of course, from the northern hemisphere, where the night sky is vastly different to the one you will see in Australia.

While the north pole faces outwards to the universe beyond, the south pole points to the galactic centre of the Milky Way. In the southern hemisphere, this means brighter stars and more constellations containing more stunning objects. Plus, everything in the southern hemisphere sky will look upside down, if you’re used to northern skies.

The winter months are the best time to see the stars in the southern hemisphere, when the nights are longer and darker, though you’ll need to time your stargazing with a clear night to get the best view. The period between March and June offers the best opportunity for this in the Margaret River Region.

To get the best view of the stars, you’ll need to be as far as possible from any source of light pollution, and fortunately, there is ample space for this in the Margaret River Region, with few residential areas and only a handful of town centres. A high point can also offer an excellent vantage. Some options include Cape Leeuwin, Meelup Beach (tip: go for the moon rising), and Injidup Beach.

8 Paddocks
Secluded stays such as 8 Paddocks are the perfect base for stargazing. Photo: Visuals by Sammy

The summer and autumn months in the Margaret River Region also offers the chance to catch Aurora Australis, known more commonly as the southern lights. It appears as stunning green, purple, or red curtains of light shifting across the sky.

The southern lights are caused when highly energetic particles, powered by strong solar winds, collide with particles in the atmosphere. The colour of the Aurora usually indicates where in the atmosphere the collisions are happening, which is usually between 500 and 1,000 km above.

Higher altitudes result in greener lights, while a strong purple colour indicates the particles are very energetic. It happens mostly in summer and autumn as the sun enters a period of high activity, and clear skies offers more opportunity to observe this stunning phenomenon.

The Bureau of Meteorology provides aurora outlooks, watches, and alerts with each sent out at different intervals as the likelihood of an aurora increases.

And sometimes, just looking up on a clear night and witnessing something by sheer luck, is what makes any stargazing opportunity extra intriguing.

Aurora Australis
Aurora Australis is one of the most magical phenomena the night sky has to offer. Photo: Tim Campbell

Please take care and look out for wildlife if you’re driving at dusk and nightfall. Tell someone where you are going, and bring appropriate safety gear such as a torch, warm clothes and plenty of water.

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