[permaculture] phenology in the news....

mIEKAL aND dtv at mwt.net
Wed Mar 19 12:08:56 EST 2003

SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) -- When the bearded dragon lizard sits 
upright and points its head to the sky, it is going to rain the next 
day. If a flock of currawongs flies overhead you've only got four hours 
to get the washing off the line.

If the queen wattle blooms heavily, bull ants abandon their tree nests 
for mounds of dirt, or meat ants cover nests with tiny, heat-reflecting 
quartz stones, then bushfires are coming.

Sounds like mumbo-jumbo?

Not to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, which hopes to tap into the 
tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal weather knowledge to help it 
expand its understanding of the island continent's harsh climate.

Aboriginal ideas about the weather can be starkly different.

Unlike the conventional European notion of four seasons -- summer, 
autumn, winter and spring -- Aborigines in different parts of Australia 
count as little as two or as many as six, each intimately linked to 
subtle changes in the local environment.

"The bureau comes from a purely Western scientific meteorology 
perspective. It is something entirely new for a weather bureau to 
recognize the importance of this other weather knowledge," said bureau 
forecaster John O'Brien.

"Our concepts of meteorological science have a time span of several 
hundred years, whereas Aboriginal culture based on weather, flora, 
fauna and climate is tens of thousands of years old," O'Brien told 

The Bureau of Meteorology has launched an "Indigenous Weather" Web site 
(www.bom.gov.au/iwk) mapping Aboriginal weather knowledge and plans to 
keep on updating it as it documents new indigenous weather calendars.

Indigenous weather patterns

Aboriginal culture is dominated by a creation time called the 
"Dreaming," which links past and present in a continuum. In it, the 
weather, land, plants, animals, people, previous generations and 
supernatural forces are all inter-related.

Aboriginal culture is passed down from generation to generation in oral 
form, using stories and legends, but this generation is the first to 
start recording weather knowledge.

Frances Bodkin, a descendant of Sydney's D'harawal Aborigines, said 
indigenous weather patterns were signposted by plants, animals and the 
stars and were as accurate as any modern-day meteorological forecast.

"Present-day scientists do their studies by measurements and 
experiments. Aboriginal people are just as good scientists, but they 
use observation and experience," Bodkin, a botanist at Sydney's Mount 
Annan Botanical gardens, told Reuters.

In 1788, when English settlers first arrived in Sydney, they imposed 
the four European seasons on their new home without any real knowledge 
of local weather patterns, yet the local Aborigines lived according to 
an annual six-season calendar.

For longer-range weather forecasting they used an 11-12 year cycle and 
a massive 8,000-10,000-year cycle, said Bodkin, who is entrusted with 
D'harawal weather knowledge.

The bushfires which burned through Sydney in the past two "European 
summers" came as no surprise to Aborigines as Sydney's queen wattle 
trees bloomed heavily for the past two years, a sign bushfires were 
coming, said Bodkin.

"When it has a very heavy bloom the D'harawal people knew they had 18 
months to burn off before massive fires went through," explained 
Bodkin. "That gave them two really good seasons to burn off before the 
fires appeared."

Bodkin warned the queen wattle had a massive number of buds this year 
and would again flower heavily -- a portent of more fires to come.

Sydney's six seasons

Sydney's six-season Aboriginal calendar is based on the flowering of 
various native plants.

• Murrai'yunggoray, when the red waratah flower blooms, is the first 
season. Spanning September and October, it is a time when temperatures 

• Goraymurrai, when the two-veined hickory wattle flowers, occurs 
around November to December. It is a time of warm, wet weather and 
historically Aborigines would not camp near rivers for fear of flooding.

• Gadalung marool, when the single-veined hickory wattle flowers, is 
hot and dry. It occurs from January to February and Aborigines only ate 
fruit and seeds as the heat meant stored meat would spoil quickly.

• Banamurrai'yung, when the lillipilli tree produces tiny sour berries, 
is around March to May and is a time of wet, cooling temperatures, a 
signal to make cloaks to keep warm.

• Tugarah'tuli, when the forest red gum flowers around June to July, is 
a cold time. Aborigines would traditionally journey to the coast where 
food was more abundant.

• Tugarah'gunyamarra, when the gossamer wattle flowers around August, 
is the end of the annual weather calendar. It is a cold and windy 
season, a time to build shelters facing the rising sun. It was also a 
time for Aborigines to return to Sydney's western highland, following 
fish upstream.

The weather phenomenon El Nino has been blamed for Australia's worst 
drought in 100 years -- a dry spell which has seen bushfires blaze 
along the eastern seaboard, ringing Sydney and razing hundreds of homes 
in the national capital, Canberra.

But according to the D'harawal Aborigines, El Nino is not to blame, but 
the rare meteorological convergence of three ancient climate cycles -- 
the annual hot and dry Gadalung marool, the hot season of the 11-year 
Djurali cycle and the 8,000-10,000 Talara'gandi, which means ice and 

The 11-year cycle started in 2001 with the appearance of the Aurora 
Australis, the luminous pale green and pink phenomenon that occurs in 
the upper atmosphere above the South Pole, said Bodkin. The Aurora 
Australis is caused by the interaction of electrons and protons from 
outside the atmosphere.

The Talara'gandi, or ice and fire, had in the past been responsible for 
Ice Ages and desertification, said Bodkin and it started when the sea 
began rising. Aborigines tell stories that the ocean was once a 
three-day walk east of Sydney's coastline.

"We are in a period of absolute extremes, where we should be getting 
very cold, dry winters and very hot, dry summers," said Bodkin. "If you 
superimpose the 10,000-year cycle on top, I think it may last for 2,000 

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