Willy Stevens

Willy grew up knowing little about his ancestral Australian Aboriginal culture. Born a Muruwari man in New South Wales, he was adopted into a Kamilaroi family. But when at the age of 17 he met his biological mother, she regaled him with traditional stories, many featuring the stars. Today, Willy’s passions lie in sharing those stories of Aboriginal astronomy, passed down through millennia, with students and the wider community. While working as a tour guide in the Sydney suburb of The Rocks, he was recruited into a new Dreamtime Astronomy program at the nearby Sydney Observatory. As the observatory’s first Indigenous Australian presenter, he quickly became the face of the program, appearing on numerous radio and TV shows, including a French documentary called Between Heaven and Earth. Given this, it might seem curious that Willy doesn’t actually hold much interest in astronomy as an academic discipline. But as a tour guide and university guest lecturer, he continues to develop new ways of sharing culture, especially traditions relating to the sun, moon, and stars. His passion is palpable as he explains to undergraduate students the importance of the sky-world in Aboriginal cultures, and how this informs kinship, ceremony, and survival practices. For Willy, it’s the effect his work has on Aboriginal people that most inspires him. Because of the devastating effects of ongoing colonisation, many Indigenous Australians have limited knowledge of their heritage or culture. When they attend his talks, he sees it an opportunity to share knowledge. “I feel very humbled when Aboriginal people thank me after coming on my tour and discovering things about their culture they had never known. Learning these stories gave them a sense of pride and made them want to learn more.” His passion also inspires indigenous people from other cultures: “I was once given a gift by a Native American lady and her granddaughter who came to one of my tours. It’s a seashell necklace worn by men.” But the most important thing for Willy is teaching his community about history, morals and traditions. When visiting family in Narrabri and Lightning Ridge, he instructs his younger brothers about making age-old tools and learning from elders. Willy recently developed a potential higher education course on Aboriginal astronomy, geared toward Indigenous Australian students. He hopes participants will develop skills to work as guides and rangers across Australia, sharing more ancient stories of the stars.

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