Australia’s Parkes Telescope Just Got a New Name: Murriyang, Which Means “Skyworld”

Australia’s iconic 64-meter Parkes radio telescope has been given a new traditional name to recognize the Wiradjuri, who own the land on which the telescope sits. The Wiradjuri are some of Australia’s First People who have occupied the continent and its adjacent islands for over 65,000 years.

The telescope received the name Murriyang, which represents the ‘Skyworld’ where a prominent creator spirit of the Wiradjuri Dreaming, Biyaami (Baiame), lives. The two smaller telescopes at CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory also received Wiradjuri names.

“This recognizes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first people of Australia and respects their enduring connection to lands, skies, waters, plants and animals,” said Louisa Warren Executive Manager the Office of Indigenous Engagement for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the government agency responsible for scientific research. Warren added that the new names acknowledges and pays respect to the astronomical knowledge of the indigenous peoples.

You can listen to Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay discuss indigenous Australian astronomy on this episode of Astronomy Cast.

The telescope staff worked for two years in collaboration with Wiradjuri Elders and other indigenous groups on the telescope naming project.

Wiradjuri Elder Rhonda Towney conducted the naming ceremony, and Elder Dr Stan Grant revealed the telescope’s Wiradjuri names.

“This is a very proud day for the Wiradjuri people, Grant said. “The naming of the telescopes is one of the biggest things to happen to our people.”

The UN estimates that 90 per cent of all languages will disappear within 100 years. A great majority of these languages are spoken by indigenous peoples, and these unique languages are in danger of becoming extinct. Indigenous languages are an essential part of a peoples’ collective identity and is often linked to the land or region traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples. When the language dies, that sense of connected community can also disappear.

Wiradjuri Elder and representative of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group David Towney said language is “everything about who and what we are.”We teach language to understand country, culture and sky stories. Connecting our language to the telescope is … a way for people to come together and celebrate Wiradjuri culture.”

“Science is the search for truth, often we think we are the first to discover it, but much of the knowledge we seek was discovered long before us,” said CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall.  “We’re honored that the Wiradjuri Elders have given traditional names to our telescopes at Parkes, to connect them with the oldest scientific tradition in the world.”

Telescopes at CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory received Wiradjuri names at a ceremony on 8 November 2020. Credit: C. Watson/CSIRO.

The naming ceremony was held in conjunction with a yearly celebration of indigenous peoples in Australia called NAIDOC, which originally stood for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.

The telescope facility is located on Wiradjuri country in central west New South Wales, approximately 380km west of Sydney.

The names for the smaller telescopes:

The 12-metre ASKAP testing antenna at CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory has been given the Wiradjuri name Giyalung Miil, meaning ‘Smart Eye’. Credit: CSIRO.

Giyalung Miil, for the 12-metre ASKAP testing antenna, means ‘Smart Eye. This telescope was commissioned in 2008 as a testbed for a special new type of receiver technology (a phased array feed, PAF) used on CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) antennas. The PAF is able see different parts of the sky simultaneously making it a ‘smart eye’.

An 18-metre decommissioned antenna at CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory has been given the Wiradjuri name Giyalung Guluman, meaning ‘Smart Dish’. Credit: CSIRO.

Giyalung Guluman, for the 18-metre decommissioned antenna, means ‘Smart Dish.’ This antenna had the ability to move along a railway track while observing, and when linked to the main 64-meter antenna became pivotal in early work that determined the size and brightness of radio sources in the sky. The antenna was originally assembled at the CSIRO Fleurs Radio Telescope site, Penrith NSW in 1960, was transported to Parkes in 1963 and became operational in 1965.

Source: CSIRO

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