When James Cook visited Australia in 1770, he found a good continent at the bottom of the planet. The vast land was good for settlement and more so farming. That’s why by 1787, the first fleet of ships sailed from England to Australia. By 1788, the first European settlement was established in Australia. With it came European knowledge, lifestyles, and everything.
But the aboriginal people have been living in Australia for more than 60,000 years. They had their own life and culture, which was largely ignored. The culture we have today in Sydney is influenced by European culture. One of the things that are too common to even think about is the weather calendar.
But did you know that the original Sydney weather calendar is with the aboriginal people? Well, I know you are now trying to guess how it looked like. I was also equally surprised by my friend Frances Bodkin, an aboriginal woman I respect a great deal.
Bodkin has been working hard to make Sydneysiders understands other frameworks in this region and not just the protestant work ethic used today. In her book, D’harawal Seasons and Climate Cycles, she introduces us to aboriginal people’s weather calendar. Forget about the summer, autumn, winter and spring, that’s European weather calendar.
Even today, some of the aboriginals live in a different and a bit sophisticated Sydney. The introduction of her books reads as follows: “we were intelligent people”. She then goes ahead to say that the aboriginal community had a complex system of protecting the knowledge from being lost. Considering they were illiterate, and survived thousands of years, we can’t dispute it.
In the aboriginal climatic calendar, Bodkin’s book starts by explaining a typical day. To her community, a day started with the Kookaburra laughing or Gugagara’ djanaba. It ends in the silence of the night, also called Nguwing’kapo in aboriginal language.
For the seasons, a cycle for the Sydney aboriginals started around September and October. This season is called Ngoonungi. At this time, winter or the cold season is ending, and it’s getting water. What follows is the Gooray’ murrai season (October – January), which is a warm and wet season. This is part of the spring and summer in the European calendar.
The third season is Gadulung Marool (January and February), which was hot and dry. This is again part of the summer in the European calendar. It is also called the time of Kangaroo. What’s interesting by this period is that most people in Sydney eat a lot of bbq. In fact, it’s part of the bbq season. But for the Sydney aboriginals, they were not eating meat or fish during this season.
What follows is another long season called Bana’ murrai’yung (March, April and May). It’s a wet and cold season or what we call autumn in Australia. During this time, people would move from the highlands to the coastal areas to avoid the cold season or winter.
This season is followed by Turagarah Tuli, which is characterised by cold, frosty and short days. The sixth and last season of the aboriginal weather calendar is the Tugarah Gunya’ marri, which was cold and winder. So, the aboriginal community in Sydney had a total of six seasons.
But that was not all thing that the book covers about the season. According to Bodkin’s book, there was a bigger cycle at the top that ran for 12 years. It would sometime shift the small seasons and overall weather pattern. The larger cycle was also used to determine aboriginal people age. A grown person would go up to 6 of these bigger seasons.
This is just one weather calendar by one community. So, you can imagine how many permutations of original weather calendars we have in Australia. The bottom line is that there is a lot to learn from the aboriginals in Sydney and Australia-wide.