We Don't Need a Map

“Everyone’s got a different story about the Southern Cross,” says author Bruce Pascoe in We Don’t Need A Map, the 2017 film by Warwick Thornton.

The Southern Cross was popularised in Australian colonial society in 1854, when it became the emblem of the flag brandished by gold miners during the Eureka Stockade as a symbol of unity and rebellion. The constellation became a quintessentially Australian symbol, plastered across the national flag and several state and territory flags. This symbol has been heavily commercialised, with 5,552 Australian businesses containing the words “Southern Cross” in their names. Over the past few years, its connotations have shifted significantly; the Southern Cross has come to be associated with fierce nationalism and racism. All these interpretations specifically focus on the significance of the Southern Cross in post-colonial Australia. Given this, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that myriad other stories about the Southern Cross exist.

It’s easy to forget that it played and continues to play an important role in Indigenous Australian cultures. For example, some fishing communities around Arnhem land see the constellation as a stingray, while some communities in central Australia consider it to be the footprint of a wedge-tailed eagle. We Don’t Need A Map offers a fascinating exploration of the significance of the Southern Cross in a number of Indigenous Australian communities and of the intricacies of Indigenous astronomy.

It’s also easy to think about the Southern Cross in a nationally exclusive sense, to forget that it is visible in other parts of the Southern Hemisphere, such as South America, and that it bears cultural significance in a number of these places.

The Southern Cross is significant in the astronomy and worldview of various indigenous cultures in South America. The Tehuelche people in Patagonia spoke of a grand ostrich named Kakn, who ran across the sky to escape hunters, stumbled over a rainbow and left an enormous footprint, the Southern Cross. Similarly, the Mapuche people in Patagonia believed the Southern Cross to be the footprint of a rhea. In Quechuan cultures, the Southern Cross and the sun form the basis of the Andean Cross (“cruz andina” or “chakana” in Quechua), a recurring symbol that represents the union of the earth and the heavens, of man and the gods. The Kalapalo people in Brazil believed the constellation to be angry bees emerging from their hive.

To learn more about the significance of the Southern Cross in Australian Indigenous cultures, get tickets to SLAFF’s screening of We Don’t Need A Map at the Addison Road Picture House on Saturday 16 June at 6:30pm.