Federal Court of Australia Annual Report 2016-2017


Iritjinga (Eagle Hawk) belonging to the Aranda and Luritja Peoples of Hermannsburg (Ntaria) in the Central Desert of Northern Territory

In 2017, when the Court was developing the requirements for its new Digital Court Program (to replace the old case management system called Casetrack) it was decided that a name for the new system was needed.

Staff were encouraged to come up with names, and in researching one suggestion about using the name of a particular colour, the CEO and Principal Registrar came across some academic work about the theory of colours and noticed a reference to Indigenous connections. Those ‘connections’ made him think of the idea to find an Aboriginal word that would be a suitable name for the new system.

The CEO met with Ms Larissa Minniecon, the Court’s Aboriginal Cultural HR Advisor, and discussed some concepts that would be suitable – something was needed that recognised that the new system would include the general federal law and family law jurisdiction requirements.

A few days later, Larissa produced a copy of an academic paper about Aboriginal Astronomy. She told the CEO that he would find the ‘word’ in the paper.

“Eventually I came across a word that, instantly, excited my attention. It was the explanation of the meaning of the word that left me with a sense of humility and how it was relevant to the work we do. Here is the explanation and the word is easily identified. I hope you, like me, find it thought provoking.” – Warwick Soden

‘By watching the movement of the stars the Aborigines of central Australia discerned for themselves that certain stars neither rise nor set, i.e. they are circumpolar. Thus, they knew that the Iritjinga (Eagle) constellation which was made up of some of the stars of the Southern Cross (Gamma and Delta Crucis) and the Pointers (Gamma and Delta Centauri) was circumpolar.

It is interesting to note that in Aboriginal astronomy it is not necessarily the case that only the brightest most conspicuous stars are grouped together when forming a constellation. This is illustrated in the case of the Aboriginal constellation Iritjinga (Eagle).

In this group, the stars of the Southern Cross, Alpha Crucis (magnitude 0.75) – the lower the magnitude the brighter the star – and Beta Crucis (magnitude 1.25), are connected by their marriage classes with the Pointer Alpha Centauri (magnitude – 0.04), whereas the stars Gamma and Delta Crucis (magnitudes 1.56 and 2.78 respectively), are grouped with the less luminous stars Gamma and Delta Centauri (with magnitudes 2.18 and 2.56 respectively), in disregard of their close proximity to the brilliant stars Alpha and Beta Crucis.


This different perspective arises as a result of grouping the stars in Aboriginal astronomy according to family and social relationships in Aboriginal society.’

‘Iritjinga is such an appropriate representation of Aboriginal societal knowledge. As we researched further into Iritjinga it was such a natural phenomenon for our courts as it represented exactly what our courts and the future of Casetrack was designed for: “Aboriginal astronomy according to family and social relationships in Aboriginal society.” Understanding that Iritjinga (the Eagle Hawk constellation) belonged to the Arrernte Nation of Central Desert, Alice Springs NT – I had to identify if our use of Iritjinga was permitted and approved. I found it after four weeks, a lot of correspondence within Alice Springs, NT, five different organisations and an article written by Dr Ragbir Bhathal, the author of Astronomy in Aboriginal Culture. They were all most helpful. I would like to especially acknowledge Dr Ragbir Bhathal, who helped me explain the Iritjinga constellation and approved the use of his work on ‘Aboriginal Astronomy’ by granting permission to quote his work. In Alice Springs, representatives from the NT Government Aboriginal Interpreter Service and the Strehlow Research Centre – Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, who looked at this request and agreed with the very fitting concept of ‘open knowledge’ and that Iritjinga had a big and powerful totem, with many sites of significance and restricted ceremonial acts across Central Australia’. Larissa Minniecon