The trouble with Australian seasons

The following excerpt is taken from my Master’s thesis on seasonal celebrations:

In Australia seasonal variability has been the norm for many thousands of years. From a European point of view it is “a continent characterised by extremes of variation and unpredictability.” (Rose, 2005: 38) The cultural practices of Indigenous Australians, however, have evolved alongside Australia’s changeable weather so that “conditions labelled by whitefellas as ‘very changeable’ [are] in fact ‘entirely natural’” (Rose, 2005: 37). Debbie Bird Rose describes an Indigenous system of understanding and interpreting the seasons according to a range of interrelated events.

Rather than being based on a projection of an annual cycle, seasonal changes are forecast through awareness of changes in flora and fauna and responded to as they occur. “The system is widespread, the content is local. All of it – system and content – is built from extremely longterm observations that have accommodated variability and patchiness and identified precise concurrences.” (2005: 40) Such a system, Rose argues, is impossible to correlate with the European calendar without losing the dynamism that makes it so suited to Australian seasonal conditions. It holds the seeds of a world-view that challenges the European seasonal mind-set and represents a way forward for spiritual ecologists. Rose holds the Indigenous system up as an example to us all of how we can live “in this vulnerable continent.” We can seek to build a relationship with what is happening in the natural world around us by allowing observation to be the basis of ritual.

So as I alluded in my response to some questions on my previous post the notion of ‘indigenous seasons’ is problematic. The familiar 4 season calendar introduced from the north was shaped by an agrarian relationship to the land. There’s a sense in which the whole concept of seasons don’t apply to Australia because of nonannual cycles like El Nino/ La Nina. However the idea of basing rituals on observation presents a great opportunity, particularly as climate change begins to show its teeth.

How this might work in practice I don’t know, I’d love to explore. I imagine a semi-structured ritual that provides space for call and response, litanies of experiences or free flowing physical expression, there’s no limit to the ways you could gather observations. A system of continuously adapting and responding to changes in seasonal patterns is really the only way to maintain a genuine relationship with the land. It also has to be more than human somehow though, we have to allow space for the Earth to speak to us, to feel our small selves within that larger self.

4 thoughts on “The trouble with Australian seasons

  1. This is great Kiri. I’ve been thinking about old skool Almanacs, as I watch the flora change about me in ‘spring.’ Recording little things I notice and the dates and synchronicities. Deb is great on this, very informative. I recall something like, when the yam daisies flower, the crocodile eggs are ready for some gathering. What a great way to connect!

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