How can we tell what season it is? The Western four-season calendar, which divides the year into roughly four equal sequential phases (Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring) is not a particular informative way of engaging with the weather and climate in Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Australia’s First Scientists, have always held a deep understanding of the seasons, and of how to tell when seasons are changing. Acute observation of the environment over time has contributed to the development of highly detailed complex ecological understanding of the interactions of plants, animals, water, weather, fire and even the stars – to inform them of which seasonal foods are ready for harvesting, when different animals are breeding, and what land and sea management actions should take place at any given time.
Why are there so many calendars?
Indigenous knowledge of the seasons is highly localised and unique to each language group across Australia. As such, the number of seasons recognised in an annual cycle, the length of each season, and how they are locally defined and understood, differs a lot depending on where the seasonal knowledge of Country has developed.
Importance of recording Indigenous seasonal knowledge
Seasonal understanding of Country underpins many activities on Country. Recording this knowledge provides a powerful tool for Indigenous knowledge holders to demonstrate and communicate their connection to, use and management of Country.
The calendars provide insight into the wealth of ecological, meteorological and hydrological knowledge Indigenous peoples in Australia hold for the environment.
Over the past fifteen years CSIRO has co-designed, refined and tested the application of a season calendar methodology with our Indigenous partners as a way of documenting and presenting seasonal understanding of Country.
What have we learnt from the co-production process?
The co-produced seasonal calendars have proven to be powerful tools in representing Indigenous understanding of, and connection to Country.
Together, we have also come to understand the importance and relevance of the seasonal calendars to Indigenous peoples and their partners by:
- Enabling the strengthening and sharing of knowledge within language groups, and between older and younger people (through their creation)
- Creating an educational tool to support learning within the Indigenous language group - in local schools, and also for learning by other members of the community and language group
- Building awareness of the diversity and extent of Indigenous seasonal knowledge, and Indigenous connection to Country, within the broader Australian community – in particular through use as a classroom teaching tool
- Acting as a boundary object, in the sharing of knowledge about Country with partners including: in weaving different knowledges for joint management of natural areas; building awareness and understanding of Indigenous seasonal water resource use in the develop of water plans; and as a framework for Indigenous-led land and sea management.
Further, seasonal calendars are highly engaging visual tools for sharing knowledge and understanding of Country, language and culture with the wider community – building recognition and respect for Indigenous knowledge.
Support and funding bodies
CSIRO has supported the co-creation of a diversity of calendars across multiple language groups, with funding from a range of sources including an Inspiring Australia Unlocking Australia’s Potential grant; the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge research hub; the National Environmental Research Program’s Northern Australia Hub and State Government funding. Significant in-kind support from Indigenous-led community-based organisations has further enabled the creation of these important resources.
Who did we partner with to co-produce the calendars?
The groups involved in the development of the seasonal calendars include:
- Gulumoerrgin/Larrakia people from the Darwin region in the Northern Territory
- Ngan’gikurunggurr (Ngan’gi), MalakMalak and Wagiman people from the Daly River region in the Northern Territory
- Tiwi people from the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin in the Northern Territory
- Kunwinjku people from western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory
- Gooniyandi and Walmajarri people from the Fitzroy River area in the Kimberley region of Western Australia
- Ngadju people from the Great Western Woodlands region in south-west Western Australia
- Kundjeyhmi people from the Ngurrungurrudjba (Yellow Water) region in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.