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Climate clues beyond the four seasons myth

  • 08 November 2019


Any Australian who believes in four seasons is engaged in a form of climate denial. It's not an evidence-based belief. Spring, summer, autumn and winter are colonial constructs, not an objective truth.

I recently visited Thornbury Primary School in Melbourne's inner north, which has the largest Indigenous student population in Melbourne. There, the kids made a mural depicting the eight seasons of greater Melbourne.

Eight. Not six, as it was once thought, before a confluence of knowledges came to light. Many elders at the Wurundjeri Tribe Council now recognise the truth of this. I recognised it too, not because I'm from the Kulin nations (traditional custodians of the Port Phillip region), but because I'm from a family of farmers and horticulturists.

Those who propagate seeds and cultivars in Australia's temperate zones are aware that certain varieties only germinate in narrow temporal intervals, such as 'early spring' or 'mid-autumn'. Not merely 'spring' or 'autumn', because these taxonomies are absurdly broad.

Few Australian locations have four seasons in the northern hemisphere sense. Western Australia's Nyoongar Country has six, each representing the cycle of life. Yirrganydji traditional lands have five, and parts of Arnhem Land have three, each attuned to wetness, wind and humidity. Gariwerd Country, around Victoria's Grampians, has six seasons: right now it's Petyan, the season of tempestuous weather when the Emu constellation appears.

Each seasonal schema is specific to discrete cycles within regional landscapes and their attendant weather systems. To impose a one-size-fits-all classification onto this continent disregards millennia of First Nations knowledges.

In southern states, gardeners and farmers observe the eight seasons by cleaving the colonists' seasons into intra-seasonal segments. We determine these not according to numbers on a calendar but by observable conditions of humidity, dew-points, sunlight angles, radiant heat, wind patterns, warmth and wetness of topsoil, bandwidth of temperatures, woodiness and hormonal stages of new shoots, activities of bees, water-levels of creeks, migration of animals.


"If we want to understand our climate emergency's impacts on Australian landscapes, and the integrated ways we can respond and measure reparation, these First Nations seasonal schemas inform us in ways settler models can't."


All these patterns change dramatically in the course of weeks — they can't be neatly generalised into quarterly calendar instalments. It's by a constellation of conditions that many farmers understand that harvest-seasons, or times to plant for optimal yields, are imminent.

If we want to understand our climate emergency's impacts on Australian landscapes, and the integrated ways