Friday, May 11, 2007

Aboriginal weathermen say drought breaking soon

There is so much we can learn about surviving this vast, dry, continent from the Aboriginal people, especially now that the climate has taken a turn for the worse.

For example, I understand that in the north they have two seasons, and up to seven distinct seasons as you travel south. Makes sense if you have experienced both locales for at least a year or so, and it brings home the awkwardness of imposing our four-seasons template we imported from Europe - that it is not really appropriate. To Aboriginal tribes in the Sydney region, for instance, September and October are known as Murrai'yunggoray, the time when the red waratah flower blooms.

It is followed by Goraymurrai, a period of warm, wet weather during which Aborigines would not camp near rivers for fear of flooding.

Strong message: In the Sydney region, Aborigines recognize the beginning of the Murrai’yunggoray season in September and October by the red blooms of the waratah flowers.
Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

Anyway, the good news about the drought, according to Djabwurrung, Jeremy Clark, chief executive of the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Grampian Mountains of Victoria State, who knows something about this stuff, is that it will soon be broken. Something to do with when cockatoos were flocking and the wattle bushes were flowering. A few good months of rain are predicted. The BoM, with their satellites and synoptic charts, can only give us a fifty-fifty chance, and John Howard, well he can only give us a prayer.
clipped from

For a warmer future, Australia employs Aboriginal wisdom

Faced with its worst drought in history, meteorologists are plumbing the Aborigines' 40,000 years of lore.

Australia faces climate change's worst drought.

These days, Australians need all the help they can get. Last month, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the country faced an "unprecedentedly dangerous" drought.

But Australia isn't the only nation to recognize indigenous meteorological knowledge. Experts studying the effects of global warming in the Arctic are looking to Inuit expertise, and South American Indians' knowledge of weather patterns, such as El Niño, has long been recognized.

"The Indians knew that when the ocean was warm they'd get rain from El Niño, so they'd plant potatoes," says Dr. Stern. "When it was cold, there'd be no rain, but the anchovies would be plentiful, so they'd feed on fish."

In the years to come, the Bureau of Meteorology hopes to recruit more Aboriginal communities to the project.

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Aboriginal wea ther forecasting is claimed to be 90% accurate by adherents. They take note of subtle changes to plants and animals get clues about the weather. "It's about reading the landscape and the environment through the activities of plants and animals," says Mr. Clark.

For example, in the Simpson Desert of central Australia, the appearance of wading birds called plovers is associated with the onset of seasonal rains.

In the humid north of the Northern Territory, the arrival of the brolga crane was traditionally seen as heralding the beginning of the monsoon season. The flowering of rough-barked gum trees indicates that winds will blow from the southeast, bringing in the dry season.

I googled up an Sydney based Aboriginal calendar: :::[Weather cycles around Sydney from the Bodkin/Andrews clan of the D'harawal People]

It's way cool.

Today, it's the 11th May, or the third last week of Bana'Murray'Yung when Lillipilli (Syzygium spp) fruit ripens. A time when it's wet, and getting colder; traditionally the time to make cloaks and journey to the coast.

More specifically, it's Marrai'gang, when the tiger quoll seeks her mate.

During the breeding season, the male Tiger Quolls emit a slow, deep growl and a loud, explosive spitting sound (like that of a cat, but enormously magnified). The female's call is not quite as loud. These nocturnal calls may have given quolls their fearsome 'tiger' reputation. They don't look so fearsome all curled up during the day. Sadly, they are a threatened species having to survive habitat fragmentation, predation on the young by introduced foxes and feral (and domestic) cats, fire, and accidental poisoning by 1080 baiting programs to control fox and wild dog populations. When 1080 baits are used, best practice management guidelines are encouraged in order to keep impacts to native species to a minimum.

Googling more information on the Sydney Aboriginal calendar reveals that in addition to the six annual seasons is an 11-year cycle which determines what the seasons will be like... all this in an eight phase cycle! I came across this report from February 15th, 2003. :::[Now for the 4000-year forecast]

To Frances Bodkin, a traditional D'harawal Aboriginal descendant, the massive flowering of the Sydney green wattle 18 months ago was a terrible meteorological warning.

According to the calendar of her ancestors, it signalled a meeting between the climate cycle Gadalung marool and the season Gadalung burara, bringing the harsh weather we are now experiencing.

Ms Bodkin, a botanical author, teacher and traditional storyteller at Mount Annan Botanic Gardens, is one of the last people in the Sydney region who inherited tens of thousands of years of weather wisdom.


In Sydney, says Ms Bodkin, there are eight phases to the 11-year cycle. They do not last for set periods but are based on subtle changes in the environment, invisible to all but the most observant.

Gadalung burara is the hottest and driest part of the cycle and is indicated by a massive blooming of Acacia decurrens. Also, gums begin to lose their leaves.

When Gadalung burara coincides with January and February - traditionally known as Gadalung marool - there will be "real trouble", Ms Bodkin says.

Unless her ancestors began burning as soon as the wattles flowered they risked fires getting into the tree crowns.

I live in Sydney; this is an awakening for me. Imagine how many us in NSW, from politicians to fire-fighters to property owners, would have liked to have known to look out for Gadalung burara coinciding with Gadalung marool?

More googling confirms that January 2003 was when Canberra had it's terrible bushfires causing insurance losses of $250 million with 2,500 individual claims. :::[Canberra burns]

How lucky are we to now have people like Frances Bodkin share their knowledge, and that of their ancestors? Here is more information. And if you have got this far, you are as hooked as me, so you can't go past the Bureau of Meteorology Indigenous Weather website.

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