Curiosities – Australia: Swags and Stargazing
My trip into the Red Centre of the Outback involved 2 nights camping in the desert under the stars in a swag. A swag is basically a thin mattress inside a canvas bag that protects you from the elements whilst you sleep. You use it in place of a tent. If it’s really cold, it helps to position your swag near the fire (but not too close!).
It can get very cold, so counter-intuitively it’s best to take off all of your layers, get into your sleeping bag, get into the swag and zip it up around you. The reason it’s best to get your layers off is that you might get sweaty in the night and this will actually lower your temperature. Someone in our group learned this the hard way on the first night and felt a lot better for having shed her layers on the second night. There’s also a flap at the top that can completely cover your face if you’re scared (as one of my neighbours was). I pulled the flap over my head, when I heard dingoes howling in the distance. and got a face-full of red sand.
The sky above me was breathtaking. The air in the Outback is dry and there is almost no light pollution. The night sky looks very different when viewed from the Southern Hemisphere. For example, you can’t see the Big Dipper here, but you can see the Southern Cross, which isn’t visible in Northern Europe. Stars are very hard to photograph, and the picture below will show you little detail. What I hope you will get a sense of is how vivid the stars are.
The trails are caused by the Earth’s rotation (the exposure for the photo was around 17 minutes). The sky appeared black to me, but appears blue in the picture because of the long exposure. You can see that the trails appear to be concentric. The centre point they hint towards the South Pole. I am still working on focusing – the tree was pitch dark to me as I was setting up the shot, so it appears slightly out of focus.
One interesting fact I heard was that whereas we Westerners use the stars for navigation, the Aboriginal people use the “Blacks” between the stars. I must admit, I struggle still to understand how that works.
I didn’t sleep very well at first – I was totally engrossed in stargazing. You could see stars and galaxy clouds very clearly, and I let my mind wander as I listened to appropriately chilled music: