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Australia: a country for all seasons

Y4SC week 6 News Term 44

Year 4 thought they had the four seasons nailed. That was until they started to delve a little deeper and discovered that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, seasonal calendars are defined by the skies, rainfall, plants and animals. 

Summer, autumn, winter, and spring, right? Not so simple. For thousands of years changes in the environment have been used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to develop seasonal calendars to track and monitor ecological change. Changes to animal behaviours, flowering plants and climactic variances have been tracked in detail to measure seasonal change.

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Together with Mr Pomfrett and Ms McNerney, Year 4 have enjoyed reading Diane Lucas’ Walking with the Season in Kakadu. Through the book, they discovered that Kakadu’s traditional owners recognise six different seasons based on years of local ecological knowledge. The transitions between seasons are marked by variations in the weather, animal breeding and feeding cycles, the bush foods that are available and the plants that are in flower. The Ngurrungurrudjba seasons are: Yegge - cooler weather time, Wurrgeng - early dry season, Gurrung - hot dry weather season, Gunumeleng - pre-monsoon storm season, Gudjewg - monsoon season, and Banggerreng, which is harvest time when most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young.

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Using their Science, Geography and English knowledge, Year 4 used inquiry-based learning to compare and contrast the six seasons of the Kakadu region with the six seasons of the local Dharawal nation from the Sydney area. In doing so, they learnt that the way in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples draw connections between life cycle stages of plants and animals, is very different to Western science and that this knowledge could be useful when considering climate change and global warming.

Leni said, “I have learned how to identify seasons by changes in plants, animals and the weather.”

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“I used to think that there were always four seasons in all places, except the Equator,” said Annick.

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“Now I think that seasons can be tracked differently. Now I am wondering whether most places will have the same number of seasons."

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Sophie said, “Before I read the book I thought that all around the world there were only four seasons. Now I know that some countries or places have different seasons and they may not all have the same number on months in each season.”

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Lexi said, “Now I’m wondering will the number of seasons we have change as time passes? For example, in the next 50 years or so, will the number of seasons go down to two with climate change?”

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This knowledge of nature is pivotal to the culture of Kakadu and its people. The Gundjeihmi-speaking people of the Murrumburr clan said of Diane Lucas’ book, “This is a story that has got to be told to children so they know country – no good just sitting in the classroom all day. You’ve got to get outside and discover the bush, feel the changes, see what’s there."

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As Year 4 have discovered, documenting the calendars is a useful way to inform scientific understanding of the relationships between people and the seasonal cycles of resource availability. Perhaps in the future, some of our budding scientists will draw on these calendars to detect ecological change associated with climate change.