O Starry Night

Photo by D6

Photo by D6

Although I have spent much of my life living in or around major centres in Australia, I have been fortunate enough to spend a fairly significant amount of time in The Bush. The Bush is one of those ubiquitous terms (and by no means uniquely Australian) that covers any location that lacks traffic lights, more than one pub and – I think vitally – the kind of light pollution that turns the night sky from a dazzling mural of light to an inky black void. I have used (and continue to use) the term The Bush to represent anything from a beach sleep out on a fishing trip to time spent in the Western Australian desert or at Karijini National Park in the State’s North. In fact anywhere I travel that requires a swag or a tent fits the bill. I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel internally for work quite regularly and each time I go away I come back with a similar reflection on the experience. Travelling Out Bush in Australia is all about the night.

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Living in Australia, particularly WA, we tend to take the outback for granted, and until recently I assumed that a weekend camping in the scrub was normal, almost mundane in terms of a way to spend a holiday (or even a weekend), but after a friend returned from a trip last week, I realised that I could be taking something amazing for granted. If I look into the night sky from my swag or from the campfire anywhere more than an hour out of Perth (or Brisbane, or Cairns, Toowoomba or most centres outside Sydney or Melbourne) I can feel fairly confident of two things. Firstly I will probably see starts, and secondly there will be a hell of a lot of them! My friend remarked upon her return from a jaunt north that the sheer quantity of stars was staggering to the point where she had to ask about the cloudy formation around the greatest concentration of stars. She was astounded to learn that that was the Milky Way, something that she’d never seen first-hand before.


Every time I go away, I am awed by the show that the southern sky puts on for us, but I’ve seen it so often that the wonder fades before I drift off to sleep beneath my canvas cocoon. I’ve always assumed that was the same for anyone living outside the world’s big cities, but perhaps the enormity of this vista is worthy of a bit more respect.

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I recently learned that the Wongatha people from the region west of Menzies, near the mining hub of Kalgoorlie have gazed at the southern sky since the Dreaming and the negative space within the myriad of stars even forms an important element of their creation story. The idea that the area without stars could be clear enough to serve as a lasting illustration for the history of the oldest continuous civilization on the planet suggests that our night sky has more to offer than I’ve been giving it credit.


Add to the shimmering firmament a glowing fire and the exquisite nature of camping in The Bush becomes palpable. Many a time have I sat late into the night with friends, family, and even strangers drinking in an atmosphere which I’d wager you can find nowhere on Earth except in The Bush around a warm fire. So next time you settle into your swag to feel the warm glow of the dying embers fade from your face or the chill winter air filter the smoke from your hair, spare a thought for people around the world who go without. Remember the people in a concrete jungle huddling around gormless television shows or lounges slightly larger than the room in which they sit. Take a moment to remember that most people look out their windows to a street light while we are basked in the near infinite radiance of the stars.

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