Dr. Duane W. Hamacher

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Duane Hamacher is a Lecturer and ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow at Nura Gili. His teaching and research focus on cultural astronomy, with an emphasis on Australia and Oceania (commonly called "Indigenous Astronomy" or "Aboriginal Astronomy"). His research involves understanding how Indigenous people developed and encoded scientific information in their Knowledge Systems, particularly knowledge related to astronomy but also with regard to geology, mathematics, and meteorology.

He leads the Indigenous Astronomy Group at Nura Gili and is the founder and Chair of the Australian Society for Indigenous Astronomy and a Council member of the International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture. His DECRA grant from the Australian Research Council (2014-2017) involves studying the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Torres Strait Islanders.

Duane earned a degree in physics from the University of Missouri before moving to Australia to complete a Masters degree in astronomy at UNSW searching for extrasolar planets. He then earned a PhD in Indigenous Studies at Macquarie Universty, with a thesis on Australian Aboriginal astronomy before joining the academic staff of Nura Gili in 2012.

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  • Physical Address: LG 115 Balnaves Place, Electrical Engineering Building, UNSW, Kensington (G12)
  • Mailing Address: Nura Gili Indigenous Programs Unit, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, 2052, Australia.
  • Email: d.hamacher@unsw.edu.au
  • Phone: (+61) 2 9385 2251


Teaching & Course Development

Duane developed two undergraduate units for the Indigenous Studies undergraduate program, focusing on the Indigenous Knowledge Systems stream within the major. Both courses are also available as General Education units, making them accessible to any student studying at UNSW, including study aborad and exchange students.

He taught both courses in 2014, but from 2015 will only teach ATSI 3006, as he is on an ARC Fellowship with restricted allowance for teaching duties. He recruited Dave Harrington, formerly of Macquarie University, to teach ATSI 2015 for his extensive research and experience in fire ecology and ethnopharmacology.

ATSI 2015: The Science of Indigenous Knowledge

In this course students will explore the history, philosophy, theory, and methods of science and Indigenous Knowledge systems. Students will critique the development, application, and dissemination of Indigenous Knowledge, including astronomy, weather, medicine, fire ecology, ethnobotany, geography, and mathematics. 'ATSI 2015: Science and Indigenous Knowledge' provides a framework for students to explore the history and development of science in both Western and Indigenous contexts by learning how knowledge systems are developed and how this knowledge is passed down to successive generations through oral tradition and material culture. Students learn about the history of colonial "scientific" practices that disempowered Indigenous people and led to environmental damage and unsustainable practices. Students will discover ways in which Indigenous Knowledge can inform Western scientific practices, and learn how scientists and Indigenous communities are collaborating to provide new technologies and develope sustainable practices that are beneficial to all. Taught Semester 1 only.

ATSI 3006: The Astronomy of Indigenous Australians

This course will introduce students to the growing inter-discipline of cultural astronomy and explore the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Indigenous Australians. Students will learn about the history, development, theory, and methods of cultural astronomy, followed by a conceptual (non-mathematical) study of positional astronomy and celestial mechanics. Students will then learn about the various ways in which the sun, moon, and stars inform and guide Indigenous practices such as navigation, calendar development, and food economics, as well as social structure, marriage laws, and totem classes. Students will apply the methods and techniques of history, anthropology, and archaeology to critically analyse oral traditions and material culture in order to better understand the role and nature of astronomical knowledge in Australian Indigenous cultures. Students will conduct original research and undertake a project to develop educational materials and develop a cultural astronomy program. Taught Semester 1 only.


  • Trevor Leaman (PhD) | Project: Wiradjuri Aboriginal Astronomy
  • Melissa Razuki (PhD - RMIT) | Project: Charting Seven Sisters Dreamings across Australia
  • Imogen Casey (Hons) | Project: Morning Star Ceremonies in Northern Australia
  • Michelle Gantevoort (Hons) | Project: Tasmanian Aboriginal Astronomy

Professional Membership

Refereed Publications


Non-Refereed Publications



Grants & Scholarships

  • 2014-2017: Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, Australian Research Council ($352,000). "Exploring Cultural Astronomy in the Torres Strait"
  • 2013-2015: Research Grant, Central Tablelands Local Land Services ($26,000). "Researching Wiradjuri Astronomical Traditions"
  • 2012-2012: Jenni Chandler Grant, Melbourne Community Foundation ($20,000). "Understanding Australian Aboriginal Astronomy"
  • 2008-2012: Research Excellence Scholarship, Macquarie University ($180,000). "On the Astronomical Knowledge and Traditions of Aboriginal Australians"
  • 2006-2008: Postgraduate Scholarship, University of New South Wales ($24,000). "A Search for Transiting Exoplanets in the Southern Hemisphere"

Selected Media



Articles/Blogs/News Reports

Postgraduate Research Supervision 

The following is a list of potential Honors, Masters, and PhD projects, but other projects are available or may be proposed by students. HDR candidates with a range of backgrounds can take on these projects.

Because Nura Gili is not part of a Faculty at UNSW, students will be enrolled in one of the other faculties, such as Arts & Social Science, Education, or Science, but will be supervised by me. You can find information about postgraduate research degrees and scholarships below:

If interested, please contact me by email at d.hamacher@unsw.edu.au or phone at (+61) 02 9385 2251.

Potential Research Projects

The Morning Star Ceremony

This project will investigate the various Morning Star ceremonies prominent in Aboriginal cultures across Australia. This will involve surveying the literature and archival materials and conducting ethnographic fieldwork at places such as Yirkalla in eastern Arnhem Land. A cross-cultural study investigating Morning Star ceremonies from around the world as part of the research is also possible.

Planets and Planetary Motions in Astronomical Traditions

Many Aboriginal and Islander cultures differentiated planets from stars, but little is known about these traditions. This study will survey the ethnographic, archaeological, linguistic, and historical records for information about the role planets had in astronomical traditions. This would include investigating planetary motions, the retrograde motion of Mars, brightness changes, their relationship to stars along the ecliptic, the possibility of people observing the largest Jovian moons, and understanding how the planets were incorporated into oral traditions of Indigenous groups across the continent.

Researching the Astronomical Traditions of Particular Indigenous Communities

There are hundreds of distinct Indigenous language groups and communities across Australia, each with unique traditions and customs. This project will involve working closely with community elders and custodians to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the astronomical knowledge and traditions of a particular community or language group.  It is important to investigate the role of astronomy in both pre-colonial and contemporary Indigenous cultures and understand how it relates to identity and spirituality.

Celestial Navigation

Indigenous people across Australia and Oceania used the sun, moon, and stars for navigation, both on land and sea. Unfortunately, little is known about the navigational techniques of most Indigenous groups. This project will explore the historic and ethnographic record for information regarding navigation by Indigenous people. An ethnographic component is possible.

Astronomical Ethnomusicology

Many Indigenous communities shared information through song and dance. This project will involve working with communities to record and understand the role of astronomy in song and dance. In the 1980s, Richard Moyle conducted a comprehensive survey of Alyawarra music, in Central Australia. Some of which contains astronomical significance. Hundreds of other communities exists with similar songs, yet little is known about the musical structure or astronomical significance. Alternatively, the composition of new music based on Indigenous music are possible (click here for an example).

Astronomical Symbolism in Rock Art

This project will involve surveying and studying rock art across Australia to study their astronomical significance. There is a probable anthropological component, as many of the sites are looked over by Aboriginal custodians, who will provide the meaning and context of the rock art.

Astronomical Orientations of Stone Arrangements & Ceremonial Sites

This project will involve surveying and studying stone arrangements across Australia to determine if they have astronomical orientations. Recent research shows that stone arrangements are oriented to the positions of the sun at solstices and equinoxes, cardinal points, or celestial objects such as the Milky Way.

The Emu in the Sky

The motif of the celestial emu spanning across the Milky Way is found across Australia, with close similarities in South America. In this project, the student will conduct a comprehensive, cross-cultural survey of oral traditions regarding the emu in Australia and the counterparts in the New World. Fieldwork is possible, but most of the research will involve archival and historical studies.

Dark Constellations

The dark spaces in the Milky Way are seen by Indigneous peoples across the world as being "dark constellations". These include snakes, kangaroos, emus, crocodiles, llamas, partridge, toads, and foxes to name a few. This project will investigate, analyse, compare, and contrast different views of dark constellations from around the world.

Stellar Variability in Oral Tradition 

Variable stars, including novae, supernovae, eruptive variables (e.g. Eta Carinae), and periodic variables (e.g. Algol), are detectable to the naked eye, or have been visible in the past. Recent studies show that Indigenous oral traditions noted the brightness changes of some stars, such as Eta Carinae and possibly Betelgeuse. Using a range of cultural data, the student will determine if any of these types of variable stars were noted and included in oral traditions.

Solar and Lunar Traditions

The sun and moon play an important and role in Indigenous practices, culture, and traditions. This project will explore this link with respect to time keeping, calendars, tides, and many other solar-lunar relationships.

Cross-Cultural Study of Celestial Objects

Celestial objects, such as constellations, asterisms, stars, star clusters, galaxies, or nebulae, have a particular role in the astronomical traditions of Indigenous cultures. Curiously, many of these stories are very similar despite being separated by distance and time. Why, for example, are the Pleiades typically associated with women and the stars of Orion with men, chasing the women? Why is the Aboriginal name for the Milky Way so common across the country? This project will involve choosing specific objects and conducting a cross-cultural study to better understand the origins and connections of oral traditions across Australia and other parts of the world. Historical, anthropological, and linguistic analysis may shed light on these questions.

Theoretical Frameworks in Cultural Astronomy

Despite being an established academic field for well over 30 years, the interdisciplinary field of cultural astronomy - which merges the physical, natural, social sciences and humanities - it is still struggling to find its place in wider academia. Stanislaw Iwaniszewski once noted that "For a long time I have believed that such diversity [in cultural astronomy] requires the invention of some all-embracing theory. I think I was very naive in thinking such a thing was ever possible." But as the scholarship evolves, we are developing new approaches to this, particularly in an Indigenous context. Using established and emerging scholarship, this project will explore ways in which we can develop new and innovative methodological and theoretical frameworks for cultural astronomy research and education.

Indigenous Knowledge and the Education Curriculum

Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge into primary and secondary school programs, particularly in the sciences, is essential for the new curriculum. But accomplishing this is difficult as few people have the broad background in education, Indigenous Studies, and science that is necessary to tackle the challenge. This project will involve using teaching pedagogies, combined with the latest research, to develop appropriate and regionally specific programs and materials for incorporating IK into the primary and secondary education curriculum.

Mathematics in Indigenous Culture

This project will explore the myriad ways in which mathematical knowledge is developed and used by Indigenous cultures (dubbed "ethnomathematics"). This may involve studying Indigneous number systems, understanding the algorithms of marriage or totemic systems, or geometrical and spatial skills.

Studies in Geomythology

Many oral traditions describe various geological events, such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, and meteorite impacts. This project will involve surveying the historical and archival records for accounts of geological events, then working directly with community elders and custodians. Using geological and archaeological techniques, the student will analyse evidence of these events. For example, many Aboriginal traditions across Victoria and South Australia describe volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, but we do not know if these traditions are describing specific events. The project may also involve working with elders and custodians at places such as Liverpool Crater in western Arnhem Land or the volcanic Crater Lakes in northern Queensland.

Weather and Climate Knowledge

The student will investigate how weather patterns, seasons, and climatic cycles were used by Indigenous people and incorporated in their traditions. Relationships between the environment, climate change, land resource management, and weather patterns and their application will be studied.

Media and Production Projects

Projects in music, media, theater, dance, art, and video relating to Indigenous astronomy, science, or mathematics are possible. Enrollment would be through UNSW Art & Design.