Indigenous Seasonal Calendars

Australia has incredibly diverse climate and ecological zones, from monsoon tropics to desert and savannah, to alpine and temperate regions. As such, this diversity really can’t be simplified into a rigid European seasonal calendar. For millennia, Indigenous peoples have lived on the land, following the distinct changes in weather, plants, animals and stars. Across Australia, hundreds of Indigenous groups follow unique seasons that are indicated by specific weather events and the availability of resources on their country (BOM, 2021).

Plants showing the six seasons of the Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba and Kambarang. Courtesy of Australia’s South West, 2021.

Indigenous weather knowledge is gradually becoming recognised and shared within organisations such as the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). BOM talks about how Indigenous peoples' ability to use events in the natural world to predict seasonal changes was a key factor of the development and survival of First Nations communities. An example of this is how the people of Dharawal Country (Botany Bay, Sydney) would use their seasons. BOM explains (2021) that the season Marrai’gang (meaning ‘wet becoming cooler’) during April to June is:

“The time of the year when the cries of the Marrai'gang (Quoll) seeking his mate can be heard through the forests and woodlands, and when the lilly pillys ripen on the trees.” - BOM, 2021

When these fruits begin to fall, it means it is time for the Dharawal peoples to mend old warm-cloaks and begin the yearly trek to the coastal areas. The Dharawal people would observe these environmental indicators to predict when they should start preparing for cooler weather (BOM, 2021).

CSIRO has worked with a range of First Nations language groups to develop a series of calendars representing seasonal ecological knowledge. Each of these calendars is completely unique and displays the wealth of knowledge that First Nations peoples hold about the Australian environment. The language groups that they've created calendars with include the Gulumoerrgin/Larrakia, Ngan’gi, MalakMalak and Wagiman, Tiwi, Ngadju and Kundjeyhmi peoples. Many of these language groups have up to seven seasons in a year! (CSIRO, 2021). For example, the seven seasons for the Gulumoerrgin peoples, living in the Darwin region of the Northern Territory, are:

Balnba (rainy season)

Dalay (monsoon season)

Mayilema (speargrass, Magpie Goose egg and knock ‘em down season)

Damibila (Barramundi and bush fruit time)

Dinidjanggama (heavy dew time)

Gurrulwa (big wind time)

Dalirrgang (build-up).

If you’d like to learn more about the different seasonal calendars you check them out here. 

Kaurna Seasonal Calendar. Courtesy of ABC News, 2017.

As talked about in our previous article Experiencing Indigenous Culture in Australia, so many Australians grow up with little knowledge about Indigenous culture as schools so often fail to teach culture in an authentic way. It is wonderful to learn that the teaching of Indigenous seasons is slowly making its way into the classroom. ABC News covered a story about a school in Adelaide learning the local Kaurna Seasons from Kaurna Elders. BOM has now created the Kaurna calendar so that more students can learn about the local Indigenous seasons (ABC News, 2017).  

The wealth of knowledge that First Nations peoples’ have of their surrounding nature really goes to show how we can live harmoniously with our environment. We encourage everyone to learn about the Indigenous seasonal calendar of your area as it will open your eyes to a new perspective of the country on which you live.