SEASONAL CALENDARS FOR THE MELBOURNE AREA
Compiled by Dr. Beth Gott of the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University.
All over Australia, Aborigines had their own local yearly calendars. Just as the climate in Kakadu is very different from that of Melbourne, so the Wurundjeri had their own way of marking the changing seasons. The division of the year into four seasons comes from Northern Europe, and does not fit Melbourne. We still think of winter as an unfavourable season for plants, when northern European trees drop their leaves and become dormant, but for our native plants, especially the small tuberous herbs, winter is a season of growth. At this time the bush is green, and the temperatures are rarely low enough to stop growth. The unfavourable season is high summer, when water is scarce, and much of the ground flora becomes brown and dies off. Water-plants such as Cumbungi are usually green during the summer, they die off during the winter.
Alan Reid originally suggested a calendar for the Middle Yarra region which has six seasons. Autumn, Winter, Pre-spring, True Spring, Early Summer and Late Summer. Glen Jameson (Victorian Naturalist 1996, Vol. 1 13 pp.26,67,123,269,313. 1997, Vol. 1 14, p.4S.) has modified this to: Late Summer, Early Winter, Deep Winter, Early Spring, True Spring, and High Summer, and has given lists of many plants and animals to be found in each of these seasons. Alan Reid agrees with Jameson, but emphasises that the seasons vary from place to place - for example the coastal seasons of the Bunwurrung would have been different.
Jones, Mackay and Pisani, from the University of Adelaide (Jones, D., Mackay, S. & Pisani, A. 1997 Patterns in the Valley of the Christmas Bush: a seasonal calendar for the upper Yarra Valley. Victorian Naturalist 114(5):246-249.) have proposed a seven season calendar.
This has Kangaroo Apple Season (December), Dry Season (Jan-Feb), Eel Season (March), Wombat Season (April-August), Orchid Season (September), Tadpole Season (October), Grass-flowering Season (November). The Museum of Victoria has chosen to follow this pattern in its displays in Melbourne and at Coranderrk. The Museum have named the seasons after the Woiwurrung language names for eels, wombats, and orchid, tadpoles and grass, but it is not known if these names were used by the Woiwurrung.
All the above are attempts to find the natural seasonal divisions of the area based on modern observations. Although William Thomas gave some seasonal happenings, that also did not represent the Aboriginal view. In the seasonal descriptions which follow we have combined elements of Jameson and Thomas, and have tried to include the activities of the people.
Lifestyle depended very much on the rhythm of the seasons. People moved over their extensive territories in regular cycles, maximising the availability of food and shelter. When food was plentiful there were opportunities to carry out ritual responsibilities and opportunities for ceremonial gatherings.
They were always mindful of the seasons in selecting the localities in which to spend their time, taking into account not only the natural features of the ground, but the facilities for obtaining food.
Much was known about the stars and the seasons. People could read the sky. For example, they would know that when a particular constellation appeared it was time to hunt a particular animal, or dig up a particular plant. See Thomas v.21, p98 "they are great observers of the starry heavens" for details. The flowering of particular plants was often used to mark seasonal events. Even today, fisherman use the flowering of the Coast Tea-tree in early November to mark the entry of Snapper into Port Phillip Bay.
We will start our survey in March, because this marked the end of the dry summer.
Late Summer, February - Mid March.
Early Winter, April & May.
Deep Winter- June, mid July
Early Spring - Mid July, August
True Spring- September, October.
High Summer November, December, January
As food was plentiful, large gatherings of the tribes and clans took place. With permission from Bunurong clans, people went to the sea-coast to swim and gather shellfish and the fruits of Pigface and Coast Beard-heath. Flounder and Flathead could be speared or netted in the shallows, and shellfish were gathered.
The Dandenong Ranges were the hunting grounds for both the Bunurong (Western Port tribe) whose land lay to the south, and the Wurundjeri (Yarra Yarra) tribe whose land lay to the north and west. When the first pastoralists came: Blacks from the Western Port and Yarra Yarra tribes were frequently seen during the summer months, hunting in the forest for wallaby, possum and koalas.
(perein = no more sun)
wudawiin = cold weather)
Nger-wein = sun)
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