The 6 Seasons of Sydney

3 June 2015


A modern take on ancient knowledge in response to the book D'harawal Seasons and Climatic Cycles (by D'harawal elder Aunty Fran Bodkin)

It's June. According to the four seasons of the European calendar it's winter. Summer is over, the cold weather has moved in, plants have become dormant and all of the animals are hibernating.


So why am I scraping sticky, squashed berries off the bottom of my ugg boots and dodging (not easy in uggs) the violent onslaught of territorial, nesting native birds? Perhaps the answer lies in the ancient knowledge of the local Aboriginal people, my family, the D'harawal.

For over 20,000 years the people of the D'harawal Nation have inhabited the area from the southern shores of Sydney Harbour to as far south as Jervis Bay and inland up to 50kms or more. Here in the Sydney basin the D'harawal clans shared the land and its unique resources and knowledge with their neighbours including the Cadigal, the Cammeraigal and the Wangal.

With this 20,000 years of observation the D'harawal have devised a system of deciphering the natural indicators of the Sydney region in order to anticipate seasonal, climatic change. We now recognise this as the Six Seasons of the D'harawal.

At this time of year - around May, June or July - the Time of the Burrugin or echidna begins in Sydney and you can expect short, cold frosty days. The season is signified by the mating of the echidna and the flowering of the delicate blooms of the burringoa or gum tree (Eucalyptus tereticornis). During this time male echidnas can be found forming long lines behind females as they follow her through the bush hoping to mate. Now, you may not find amorous echidnas roaming the streets of Sydney, but you will definitely notice the many Australian native birds that also start their nesting season at this time - after all, it is kind of hard not to notice the aggressive swooping and screeching of the territorial native miners and magpies as they try to take your eyes out while you collect the mail. And if the birds aren't enough to deal with, then dusting the delicate, white gum flower snow off the windscreen of your urban assault vehicle before you get going in the morning is a sure way to start the day with maximum irritation.

As the Time of the Burrugin ends and you find yourself now going insane scooping wattle flowers out of your infinity pool and dealing with the deafening noise of the cockatoos tearing the trees to shreds, then you can safely say it is the next season which is the Time of the Wiritjiribin or lyrebird. The days are cold and windy and the lyrebird is busy nesting and calling in preparation for the arrival of a mate. It is a time when the Sydney landscape is iridescent with the intense yellow flowering of the golden wattle. And oh, what a sinus inducing combination! High winds and soft, fluffy, honey scented, high-pollen-count flowers. Achoo! To the power of ten.

So if hay fever isn't keeping you awake, the nightly rantings of our next featured animal certainly will. The next season, the Time of the Ngoonungi or flying fox marks the arrival of warmer weather, but it's still a little fresh for what is commonly known to Europeans as spring. When the Gymea Lily has come into full bloom and the flowers are starting to dry up, it is time for the D'harawal to make their way out to the coast to sing the whales home from their migration. Evidence of thousands of years of this journey has been documented by the D'harwal in the extensive rock engravings of southern right whales and orcas on the sandstone outcrops along the Sydney coastline.

When the whales have finished their migration, the D'harawal know that the hot, stormy weather is coming and the next season, the Time of the Parra'dowee or short finned eel begins. While the D'harawal are observing the migrations of the eel and go out prawning on moonless nights, Sydney siders would be best to bring their washing in off the line before the afternoon sets in because the storms will arrive out of nowhere. This season is wet and warm, flooding is common so don't camp near rivers, carry an umbrella and remember to put your car windows up even on the driest, brightest sunny days.

Coming right up will be January and February which will not surprisingly be hot, and not altogether dry, this is the Time of the Burran or kangaroo. While Sydney siders are decimating sausages, steaks and rissoles on the Weber, the D'harawal are cleverly forbidden to eat meat. Hunting occurs in the morning, eating occurs in the night and food poisoning occurs on the hot days in between. Not only that, but it's bushfire season and the lighting of fires is forbidden by the D'haramuoy or Keeper of the Flame.

So if you're not indulging your inner carnivore, what can a hungry D'harawal eat? Paleo enthusiasts will be beside themselves to hear that finger staining dianella berries are now plump, juicy and ripe. The tubers of flowering plants are fat and delicious and the witchetty grub is a high protein delicacy found in the trunks of the banksia trees here in Sydney.

Coming right up in March, April and May, before the European designated winter period, is the high humidity Time of the Marrai-gang, the spotted tail or tiger quoll, a small Tasmanian-devil-like marsupial that can be heard growling and screeching in the night on the lookout for a mate. The lilli pilli is berrying (not at all dormant considering it is technically autumn) and the magenta, crunchy, miniature-apple-like fruits are a favourite for birds, animals and members of the clan. Sadly though, you won't see the nocturnal quoll on your late night dash to Woolies as the spotted quoll is now virtually extinct in the Sydney region, but you can bet your life if you're scraping hardened, purple bat and bird lilli pilli poo off your car, the Time of the Marrai-gang has well and truly settled in.

As you notice the overripe lilli pilli berries start to fall from the tree and stain the unsealed, natural stone pavers in your recently renovated alfresco dining area, we have come full circle and the Time of the Burrugin returns. All Sydney siders know to enjoy the cool because before you can say "go get the Karcher" another year will pass and the Time of the Lilli Pilli Bat Poo will be back again and you would be smart to take the sound, ancient advice of the D'harawal (via this modern, concrete Koori) and give your car a good wax and polish. Believe me, it is much easier to scrape partially digested, berry jam concrete off a clean, well-polished car.