The Southern Cross

Joan Relke

Photo by John Fields

Artist's Statement
Joan Relke

Central Australian Aborigines saw the footprint of an eagle in the Southern Cross. Thousands of years ago these four stars were an object of reverence in the Near East. In the Biblical days they were just visible at the horizon, and were last seen from the latitude of Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion of Christ. Still today, Christians see their sacred symbol in the shape of this constellation. Now it revolves in the Southern Sky, a circumpolar constellation, barely dipping below the horizon. Visible even on a moon-lit night, these stars form a provocative pattern. Perhaps it is a cosmic kite, fluttering across the night sky, its tail, the pointer stars, trailing behind.

As a sculptor, using the solid materials of the earth, I created The Spirit of the Southern Cross to bring this constellation closer to us. She reaches up from her earthly home to grasp the rising constellation as it moves along its trajectory through the night sky. As it passes between her hands, she grasps it, momentarily connecting earth and sky - the world of mortals and the heavenly realm. She holds it like a cat's cradle, taut between her hands, before releasing it back to heaven.


The Spirit of the Southern Cross

Photo by Carl Merten         

Photo by John Fields


The ideal time to see the Southern Cross held in her hands is midnight on the autumnal equinox. Other times are listed below.

The sculptor is Joan Relke, a local Uralla artist, and her works can be seen on her website.


The Sculpture

Sitting on top of a 4 metre high boulder, the Spirit of the Southern Cross reaches up to catch the cross between her hands as it passes overhead.

The figure is 3 metres from the tip of her long hair to the tip of her fingers and is made of cast aluminium, which can be seen at night and also by day from the passing highway.


Photo by Carl Merten                    

the constellation

The Southern Cross (Crux) is the best known and most represented star group in the Southern Hemisphere. The group's distinctive shape is easily located because of its brightness and close proximity to each other. It can be seen all year round from almost anywhere in the Australia. As a southern circumpolar constellation, it is not visible in the northern hemisphere.

The Southern Cross contains four bright stars so situated that they depict the extremities of a Latin cross. Thousands of years ago these four stars were an object of reverence in the Near East. In the Biblical days they were just visible at the horizon. But despite its visibility to the ancient civilisations of the northern hemisphere, no Greek or Roman myths or legends are associated with it. Today it is no longer visible at latitudes north of 25 degrees.

The constellation was again discovered in the early sixteenth century by European navigators and explorers who used it to steer by and also to calculate the time of day. The Australian Aborigines have many stories to tell using the stars of the Southern Cross, and those from Central Australia see it not as a cross, but as an eagle's footprint. Had the Christian Cross not been associated with it, we might see it today as a kite, flying through the night sky.

Visible in the southern skies

January 1st 5:00 am
February 1st 3:00 am
March 1st 1:00 am
April 1st 12:00 am
May 1st 10:00 pm
June 1st 8:00 pm
July 1st 6:00 pm
August not visible
September not visible
October not visible
November not visible
December not visible


4/08/09 jr