Indigenous Australian seasons
Indigenous Australians have distinct ways of dividing the year up. Naming and understanding of seasons differed between groups, and depending on where in Australia the group lives. Below are a few examples of different groups and their seasons.
North coast — Yolngu seasons
The Yolngu, Indigenous Australians of North-East Arnhem Land, identify six seasons. Non-Indigenous people currently living in the Top End identify two— the Wet and the Dry. (Arguably, the build-up period between dry and wet is coming to be identified as a distinct third season.) The six Yolngu seasons, and their characteristics, are:
Season name Period Weather Flora and fauna Seasonal activities Mirdawarr Late March,
End of wet season with scattered showers. Wind in south-east quarter but air still hot & humid. Vegetable foods becoming plentiful. Fish numerous. People generally sedentary & living in big camps. Nomadic movement restricted by floodwaters. Long rank grass & mosquitoes. Macassar traders used to depart at this time with south-east winds. Goose-hunting expeditions into swamps. Fishing, especially large-scale communal fishing operations and drives where floodwaters receding; including basket traps in weirs, nets and the gurl in use only in the valley of the Glyde River. Dhaarratharramirri Late April,
South-east or dry season. Wind in east and south-east People nomadic; big wet-season camps breaking up. Systematic burning of all extensive grassed areas, communal drives for kangaroo, bandicoots, goanna. Fishing still important, with nets, grass barriers, in shallow waters on plains & salt pans. August to November (inclusive) is the most important period for ceremonial activities. Rarranhdharr September,
Hot dry season. Hot periods towards close of dry (south-east) season. Wind chiefly north-east, lightning frequent and first thunder heard. Stringybark in flower. Nomadic activities lessen after burning of grass. Poisoning of fish in waters now concentrated by evaporation. Fish spearing continues in estuarine & coastal waters. Important ceremonial time. Worlmamirri Late October,
The 'nose of the wet season', with or bringing thunder - late October. Period of maximum heat and humidity immediately before the rain season, characterised by violent thunder storms of increasing frequency. Nomadic activities much restricted. People generally in camps near permanent water. Baarramirri Late December,
Short season with wind in north-west; breaking of the wet. Also called munydjutjmirri from the fruit of munydjutj. Two kinds of north-west wind recognised: (i) Baarra yindi, the big, or gurrkamirri (male), baarra; (ii) Baarra nyukukurniny, the small, or dhuykun (female), baarra. The first refers to the more boisterous north-west gales, the second to the gentler breezes from the north-west. Macassar fleets used to arrive with north-west winds (baarra) and disperse to regular sites for trepang fishing. People concentrated in wet season camps leading almost sedentary life. Inland travel restricted by floods and dense growth of rank grass. Gurnmul or
Wet season proper. Two phases, the first, girritjarra is again subdivided into three. People concentrated in camps. Inland travel restricted by floods.
Central — Anangu Pitjantjajara seasons
The Anangu Pitjantjatjara of northern South Australia and the southern part of the Northern Territory, live in Central Australia. Where non-Indigenous people name four seasons here, they name more. Examples of some of their seasons include.
Season name Period Weather Flora and fauna Seasonal activities Wanitjunkupai April,
The beginning of the cold weather. Tjuntalpa (clouds) start around April but usually don't bring rain. They come from the south, brought mainly by westerly winds, and sit low over the hills till late in the day. Reptiles hibernate. (Wanitjunkupai literally means "hibernate"). Wari Late May,
The cold time when there is nyinnga (frost) and kulyakulyarpa (mist or dew) every morning, but little rain. Piriyakutu/ Piriya-Piriya ~August,
This is when the priya comes – a warm steady wind from the north and west. Animals breed. Food plants flower, fruit and seed. Hibernating reptiles come out and the honey grevillea is in bloom. A good time for hunting malu (kangaroo). Mai Wiyaringkupai / Kuli ~December Hottest season. Ngangkali (storm clouds) and wangangara (lightning), but little rain. Lighting strikes can start fires. Not much food around at this time. Itjanu / Inuntjji January,
Utuwari (overcast clouds) usually bring rain. Food plants flower. If rains are good there is plenty of fruit and seed.
South-west coast — Noongar (Whadjuk) seasons
Period Weather Flora and fauna Seasonal activities Bunuru February,
Hot, dry, easterly and north winds. Fish — tailor and mullet — in shallow water. Macrozamia riedlei fruiting. Wattle (Acacia) and banksia in blossom. Trapping fish (coasts and estuaries). Collecting kooyal (frogs), marron, gilgies (freshwater crayfish), tortoises from wetlands. Climbing trees for possums. Collecting Macrozamia fruit and removing toxin. Pounding the horizontal rhizomes of the bulrush (Typha domingensis) into a cake and roasting it. Collecting the bulb of Haemodorum spicatum and roasting for a spice. Collecting wattle and banksia blossoms and various roots. Djeran April,
Cooling, south-west winds. Group fishing at lakes and weirs (inland). Continued fishing at estuaries. Collecting edible bulbs and seeds. Makuru June,
Cold, rain, westerly gales. Kuljak (Black Swans) begin moulting, making them unable to fly. Moving inland to hunt, when the watersheds fill. Hunting Kuljak (Black Swans). Collecting Tribonanthus tubers. Keeping warm by holding smouldering Bull Banksia branches (Banksia grandis) beneath bookas (skin cloaks). Djilba August,
Warming. Collecting roots (meen and djakat). Digging out Platysace cirrosa tubers from under wandoo. Hunting of waitch (emus), quenda (Southern Brown Bandicoot), yonga (kangaroos), koormul (possums). Kambarang October,
Rain lessening. Astroloma and Desert Quandong (Santalum acuminatum) fruiting. Movement to the coast. Sweet gum gathered by removing the bark from the moodjar or WA Christmas Tree (Nuytsia floribunda). Collection of yams (Dioscorea hastifolia and Platysace cirrosa). Collection of eggs from waterfowl and other birds. Catching of yaarkin (tortoises), kooyal (frogs), gilgie (freshwater crayfish). Trapping of possums and kangaroos. Birak December,
Hot, dry, daytime easterly breezes, late afternoon south-west sea breezes. Banksia in flower. Gathering banksia flowers for honey. Catching bronzewing pigeons. Controlled burning for hunting, and to assist regrowth.
Source: Swan River System, Landscape Description (Report No 27/28 1997), 6. Resource Inventory, 6.2 Cultural Context pp41–42 Lisa Chalmers (Waterways Management Planning, Water and Rivers Commission), for the Swan River Trust. The section references Hunters And Gatherers, Landscope Volume 8, 1, 31–35, (P. Bindon & T. Walley, 1993) and Broken Spears: Aboriginals and Europeans in the South West of Australia, Perth: Focus (N. Green, 1984). Portal page for the entire report. Retrieved 9 June 2007.
See also: Noongar seasons
- Thomson, D., & Peterson, N., 1983, Donald Thomson in Arnhem Land, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne. Revised ed. publ. 2003, ISBN 0-522-85063-4, pp172–3.
- Uluru—Kata Tjuta National Park Visitor guide, Welcome to Aboriginal land, Colemans Printing, Darwin, January 2006, pp24–25.