August has always been a season of its own
by Jo French
11th September 2017
AUGUST — it’s when many of us head north and if we can’t do it, we dream about it.
We’ve had enough of the chills and ills of winter and the cold weather seems to have taken over our lives.
It’s in all our conversations and seems all consuming.
Recently, I heard someone mention that August was a season of its own and it struck a chord.
August is often a difficult month for me, and for many of those in my inner circle.
Sickness seems to just hang around and motivation flies out the window at its earliest convenience.
I was an immediate convert to this idea of a new season, so I did a little investigating.
Seems it’s not a new thing after all.
Allow me to explain.
Across Australia there are many Indigenous calendars.
Most have six or seven seasons, including that of the Kulin nation – the five Aboriginal language groups that make up what we know as Greater Melbourne and Central Victoria, including the Wurundjeri People.
According to Museums Victoria:
“The Kulin have a detailed local understanding of the seasons and the environment.
Each season is marked by the movement of the stars in the night sky and changes in the weather, coinciding with the life cycles of plants and animals.”
Their calendar has seven seasons and, not surprising, August is a season of its own:
It’s called Guling Orchid Season, and it is marked by orchids flowering, the silver wattle bursting into colour and male koalas bellowing at night.
Poorneet Tadpole Season, (September and October) is when temperatures rise, rain continues and the pied currawongs call loudly.
The days and nights are of equal length.
Buath Gurru Grass Flowering Season, (November) is warm and it often rains. (A good thing to remember as we start planning picnics.)
Kangaroo-Apple Season, (December) is marked by its changeable, thundery weather, longer days and shorter nights.
Biderap Dry Season, (January and February) has high temperatures and low rainfall.
Iuk (Eel) Season, (March) is when the hot winds stop and the temperatures cool, while the manna gums flower and the days and nights are again equal in length.
Waring Wombat Season, (April-July) has cool, rainy days and misty mornings, with our highest rainfall and lowest temperatures.
Seven seasons seem to make a lot of sense.
In my research, I stumbled across some notes from a workshop that was held in Warrandyte, in March 1994.
The workshop was initiated by Alan Reid, now a renowned naturalist and environmental writer.
He was interested in including Aboriginal knowledge of seasonal change together with local knowledge from regions of Australia, and had suggested the workshop to pool observations within the region to look for seasonal patterns.
This seemed to be the catalyst for ongoing work by other naturalists into the seasonal calendars of the Melbourne area.
Monitoring was undertaken by many birdwatchers, plant surveyors and others with an interest in documenting changes in local flora and fauna, and, later that year, an interim local calendar of six seasons for the middle Yarra region was launched.
Some years later, more observations were added, and the calendar was adjusted.
In brief, it seems they have done away with autumn for this six-season calendar, but here are some key points from their findings:
- high summer, from early December to early February, when beetles and xenica butterflies appear and young fish come up from the estuaries
- late summer, from early February to early April, when the Yarra River becomes muddier, young platypuses emerge and eels move downstream
- early winter, from early April to early June, when morning mists are in the valleys, migrating birds arrive from Tasmania and casuarinas flower
- deep winter, from early June to late July, when the weather becomes colder, heavy rains fall, orchid rosettes appear and silver wattles flower
- early spring, from late July to late September, when more wattles begin blooming, many species of birds begin nesting and joeys emerge from the pouch
- true spring, from late September to early December, when seed-eating birds, such as finches and parrots, begin nesting, platypuses lay eggs, the Yarra rises and tadpoles are in the ponds
Personally, I don’t want to do without the word autumn as it conjures up so much colour and meaning, but having a local calendar that incorporates indigenous knowledge seems to fill in the gaps and paint a more complete picture of the world immediately around us.
So, with a greater understanding from those that lived dependent on the rhythm of the seasons combined with the findings from the workshop in Warrandyte, perhaps we can all approach this next season a little wiser, be a little more prepared, and just maybe next winter won’t seem so long if we acknowledge Guling.
Calendar source: Museum Victoria