Don’t Keep History A Mystery: Reconciliation Week 2018

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National Reconciliation Week in Australia commemorates two significant milestones in recent Australian Aboriginal rights history — the successful 1967 referendum to recognise Aboriginal people in the census, and the High Court Mabo decision respectively. Its purpose is to  dedicate a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

The theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) is “Don’t Keep History A Mystery: Learn. Share. Grow”.  It focuses on some of the many achievements of Aboriginal people in Australia as farmers, activists, warriors, families, inventors and successful sports people, just to name a few!

We are slowly getting to know about the true history and environmental, and cultural knowledge of Australia’s diverse First People.

Here in South West WA, we are learning more about local Noongar knowledge such as the Noongar seasonal calendar, which is comprised of six seasons.  The Noongar seasons are not divided into six 2-monthly periods but are defined by what weather is happening and changing around us.

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The Great Professor and Noongar elder Leonard Collard

 

The Noongar Seasons

  • Birak (Dec-Jan): Dry and hot. Also known as Season of the Young.
  • Bunuru (Feb-Mar): Hottest part of the year. Also known as Season of Adolescence.
  • Djeran (Apr-May): Cooler weather begins. Also known as Season of Adulthood.
  • Makuru (Jun-Jul): Coldest and wettest time of the year; more frequent gales and storms. Also known as Fertility Season.
  • Djilba (Aug-Sept): Mixture of wet days with increasing number of clear, cold nights and pleasant warmer days. Also known as Season of Conception.
  • Kambarang (Oct-Nov): Longer dry periods. Also known as Season of Birth.
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A comparison of various Aboriginal seasons from around Australia with the Western four season calendar (Source: Bureau of Meterology, 2016)

Perhaps this would be a more useful system than one that was imported from the other side of the world!

Aboriginal environmental and meteorological information consists of an intimate knowledge of plant and animal cycles and contains details of the intricate connections in the natural world (BoM, 2016). Communities all over Australia continue to enhance this information and have adapted to changes in language and cultural conditions. This knowledge represents a precious and irreplaceable heritage, the value of which is being increasingly recognised, considered and appreciated by all Australians.

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Moodjar, Noongar Christmas trees, flowered early in the south-west in 2015 indicating an early start to the Kambarang/summer season (Source: ABC News, 2015/ Flickr: enjosmith).

Some of this knowledge is of a purely observational type which records how various plants and animals react to the weather and environment around them. But even more intriguing are other types of observations which are linked to seasonal expectations, some examples of which are:

  1. To the Yanyuwa people rolling coastal clouds indicate that flying foxes and certain bird species are about to start their seasonal migration.
  2. To the Wardaman people the appearance of march-flies in September or October indicate the end of the dry season.
  3. To the Walabunnba people when the mirrlarr (rain bird) calls out, it indicates that there will be a lot of rain.
  4. During the Djilba season in Nyoongar country, the flowers of the balgas (grass trees) emerge in preparation for the coming Kambarang season.
  5. The flowering of the boo’kerrikin (Acacia decurrens) is an indication for the D’harawal people, an end to the cold, windy weather, and the beginning of the gentle spring rains

With example (4), a meteorological scientific explanation could be that falling humidity associated with the beginning of the dry season triggers the flowering response noted. This illustrates the concept that plants and trees, when viewed by the educated eye, can be read in the much the same way as an automatic weather station, with their appearance a direct result of past, present and even future weather. The other examples noted are far less direct, and result from millennia of observations of the plant and animal kingdoms.

More recently the development of ‘Noongarpedia’ – Australia’s first Indigenous Wikipedia has been an exciting new source of Aboriginal knowledge. There are roughly 35,000 Noongar people today according to the Noongar Boodjar Language Centre, making it one of the largest Indigenous groups in Australia. The Noongarpedia project began in 2014 by a team from the University of Western Australia led by school of Indigenous studies professor and Noongar elder Leonard Collard, with Curtin University’s John Hartley and the Miles Franklin award-winning novelist Kim Scott.  Although not yet formally launched, the site is live and users can create an account and contribute by writing or editing articles. It also includes translations of AFL team names, which will definitely be used in our office:

Mia or AFL teams

  • Walyallup / Fremantle Dockers
  • Aalitjs / West Coast Eagles
  • Koolbardis / Collingwood Magpies
  • Gilgils /Hawthorn
  • Djenaks / Melbourne Demons
  • Wardungs / Adelaide Crows
  • Babanginy / Port Adelaide
  • Marlees / Sydney Swans
  • Wooyans / Carlton
  • Yongas / North Melbourne Kangaroos
  • gaanks / Gold Coast Suns
  • Brisbane Lions / Brisbane Lions
  • Djurditjs / Geelong Cats
  • Koomba Chuditj / Essendon Bombers
  • Richmond Tigers / Richmond Tigers
  • Wiern / St Kilda
  • Dwerdas / Western Bulldogs

There will certainly be a WALYALLUP / AALITJS / BABANGINY show down in our office!

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Freo’s 2018 Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round guernsey worn by Michael Walters. The guernsey was designed by respected Nyoongar figure Richard Walley with help from Dale Kickett to reflect the six Nyoongar seasons (https://thewest.com.au/sport/afl/dockers-draft-dale-kickett-for-nyoongar-jumper-design-ng-b88410429z).

 

 

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