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This activity is inspired by the Endeavour Voyage: The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians. The exhibition explores views from the ship and shore in 1770 and beyond.

Did you know ...

A headdress featuring seven stars protruding from a black painted piece of board forming half a fishbone pattern. It is connected to two pieces of board painted blue with white splatter and seven stars on each side with a white fabric fringe at the bottom. It is all attached to a fabric wrapped headband in the centre. - click to view larger image
Baidam headdress by Milton Savage

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been observing stars and planets for over 65,000 years.

Observing the skies informs Indigenous peoples daily lives and culture. Stories about the emu and the great shark baidam tell of the stars, and have been passed down through the generations.

The crew aboard the HMB Endeavour used the night sky to help them navigate across the world, and one of their tasks was to observe the transit of Venus.

Indigenous peoples and the Endeavour crew observed the stars differently. Cook and his crew looked at the stars, while Indigenous people looked at the spaces between the stars.

How to make your own starry artwork

Make your own scratchback painting 6:48

See some of curator Shona's favourite objects in Endeavour Voyage: The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians, then make your own starry creation.

Go outside tonight and look up at the sky. Can you see lots of stars and planets? Can you see the planet Venus? Can you see the emu constellation?

Skill level: ★★ Moderate — you may need an adult to help
30 minutes
Ages: 8 years and up

What you need:

  • paper or card to paint
  • oil-based crayons or pastels (the oilier the better — wax crayons won’t work)
  • black acrylic paint
  • container for the paint
  • paintbrush
  • a tool to scratch off the paint, uch as a paddle pop stick, skewer, ballpoint pen or a spoon (it needs to be sharp at one end).

Tip: This is a messy activity — you may want to wear an apron or old shirt and cover the surface you are going to work on.

Step 1

  • Gather your materials.

Step 2

  • This bit is fun! Colour in the whole page with oil pastels.
  • We used many different colours to create a patchwork effect.

Step 3

  • Put some black paint into the container.
  • Grab your paintbrush and cover the page with black acrylic paint.

Tip: A thicker coverage works better for this activity.

Step 4

  • This step will not work if your paint is wet. So, once completely covered, wait for the paint to dry. When you touch it, no paint should come off on your finger.
  • Before you start, test your tool in a corner of the page to see if it works.

Step 5

  • Use your tool to scratch away the paint so that the pastel colours can be seen underneath.
  • Can you include the emu constellation in your artwork?

Share your creation

We’d love to see your creation by emailing us a photo to:

A series of paintings featuring stars and planets in the sky.
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