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When the Ghost Gum Peels, Bull Sharks Are Fat in the River

When the Ghost Gum Peels, Bull Sharks Are Fat in the River

By Emma Woodward

With indigenous knowledge being lost, six Aboriginal language groups have documented up to 13 “seasons” that can be used by scientists to evaluate the impact of climate change.

Emma Woodward is a researcher with CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences based at the Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre in Darwin.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge of their environments combines meteorological, hydrological, biological and spiritual observations to create a knowledge system that is unique and complementary to a western scientific understanding of the world around us.

A common feature of this indigenous understanding of the environment is the connection between seemingly unrelated plant and animal species. For example, speakers of the Ngan’gi languages of the Daly River in the Northern Territory look for the flowering of the red kapok tree to tell them that freshwater crocodiles are laying their eggs and it is time to go and dig them up. Once the seed pods of the same tree turn brown and crack, the crocodile eggs are hatching and the collection season has finished.

In contrast to the Gregorian calendar, which follows pre-set calendar dates for months and seasons, indigenous seasons are defined by one or more events that herald the arrival of a new season. These events, or seasonal cues, can be a combination of ecological, meteorological or metaphysical observations.

For example, eight of the 13 seasons in the Ngan’gi seasonal calendar follow the lifecycle stages of the local speargrass species (Sorghum intrans), and are therefore directly correlated to annual variability in rainfall. Seasonal cues like this inform indigenous people about the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.