Under Southern Skies. Gallery entrance. Photo: Andrew Frolows, ANMM.

Under Southern Skies

A new gallery exploring the story of navigating and voyaging around Australia


The Australian National Maritime Museum acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Custodians of the bamal (earth) and badu (waters) on which we work.


We also acknowledge all Traditional Custodians of the land and waters throughout Australia and pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to Elders past and present.



From the observation of the transit of Venus, to the importance of the night sky in Torres Strait Islander navigation and voyaging – planets and stars unite the long history of all navigators around Australia.

Constellation, artist: Gail Mabo, 2014. ANMM Collection 00054564
Constellation by Gail Mabo, 2014. © Gail Mabo / Licensed by Copyright Agency, 2019 ANMM Collection 00054564 

Incredible feats of navigation were not the sole preserve of the Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese or British, but were part of a global current of trade, migration and voyaging – all made possible by skills and technologies that understood wind, water and stars. This new gallery space tells the stories of all these navigators under the southern skies using more than 500 objects from the National Maritime Collection - many never shown publicly before.

Ranging from bark paintings that depict Makassan fishermen trading with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, to sextants, compasses and telescopes that show the technological advancement in navigational instruments, modern indigenous art to historic portraiture, objects recovered from infamous Dutch shipwreck the Batavia and James Cook's HMB Endeavour, model ships and digital touchscreen technology – this fascinating exhibition travels across history.  

Indiae Orientalis, insularumque adiacientium typus by Abraham Ortelius, c 1590, ANMM Collection 00000918 
Indiae Orientalis, insularumque adiacientium typus by Abraham Ortelius, c 1590, ANMM Collection 00000918

From the Pacific to the Islands of Indonesia, ocean voyagers had been traversing and navigating around the coasts of Australia for centuries before Europeans arrived. The first navigators were Aboriginal people who crossed the seas to arrive in Australia over 60,000 years ago – the oldest known ocean migration in the world. From Muslim Makassan traders to the Chinese Grand Fleet of Zheng He to Polynesian sailors, the oceans around Australia were a swirl of cultural contact long before the first Europeans set foot on what they had called the Great Southern Land. 


 Kulba  Yadail(Old Lyrics) by Billy Missi
Image: Kulba Yadail(Old Lyrics) by Billy Missi tells the story of how Torres Strait Islanders learn to read the stars, moon and the sea. Australian National Maritime Collection 00049227. Estate of the late Billy Missi / licensed by Viscopy.