We live in northern Australia in a tropical savanna climatic zone, with a hot humid ‘summer’, and warm dry ‘winter’, although you will rarely hear anyone here use ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ to describe our seasons. We more commonly refer to ‘wet season’, ‘dry season’, and ‘build up’ (although the latter is sometimes left out). Other tropical savannas, experiencing climates similar to ours, are found in regions of Africa and South America, mainland South East Asia, and India.
Being in the Southern Hemisphere, our wet season typically lasts from December until around April, leading into the dry season that runs through until August. September to November are our hottest months, as the temperature and humidity builds, clouds return to our skies (along with bushfire smoke and dry lightning storms), and everyone gets a little impatient waiting for that first tropical downpour. Once the wet season arrives, we don’t experience the regular afternoon downpour you may be familiar with in the monsoonal tropics, but, instead, our rainfall is dependent on the presence of low pressure systems and cyclonic activity nearby. Without them, our weather remains hot, sunny and humid.
A typical 'wet season' day is sunny, hot and humid. Note the deep blue sky, puffy white clouds and lush green grass.
As well as the obvious changes in temperature, humidity, and the presence or absence of clouds in the sky, a multitude of signals in the natural environment herald the change in seasons. Magpie geese flock together in big ‘V’s across the sky in the build up, the deafening roar of the frogs means the wet season has arrived, and locals all profess that swarms of dragonflies signify the start of’ the dry’. Once you start to look closer, you observe smaller, more subtle changes. You start thinking to yourself, has the wind shifted? There’s a new bird in your garden that you don’t recall seeing for months. The scent of flowers fills the air as you walk the dog though your neighbourhood at dusk, or perhaps a waft of salt as you cycle up the hill home from the shops. You begin to realise that the three seasons we’ve been discussing really aren’t enough to fully explain the natural cycles taking place each year.
Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people celebrate one of the oldest living cultures in the world. Over 60 000 years, as custodians of the land, Aboriginal people have lived lives intricately intertwined with the natural environment, and hold vast repositories of traditional ecological knowledge in their stories, songs, paintings and lore. The Larrakia people, one of over 250 distinct language and cultural groups spread across Australia, are the Traditional Owners of the area where we currently live.
The Larrakia people recognise, not three, but seven different seasons. They have generously shared this knowledge with CSIRO (Australia’s peak government research body) to create a ‘seasonal calendar’. In addition to being on display in the middle of our city’s central shopping mall, this calendar (and examples from other regions of northern Australia) may be accessed here: https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Environment/Land-management/Indigenous/Indigenous-calendars/Gulumoerrgin
Whenever I feel a change in seasons, I look to the copy of this calendar that we have stuck to our lounge room wall and, almost always, confirm that a new season has, indeed, arrived. Even in the city, these shifts can be observed, although if you head out bush you will be greeted by even more significant changes.
Early mornings out bush can get close to freezing in the dry season. This is when our 'winter clothes' get put to use.
Spending much of our lives outdoors, we are in constant flux with the seasons. Planting, pruning and harvesting cycles in the garden are dictated by the rain, the camping season comes to an abrupt end that first humid evening in August, and the location of the sun throughout the year (whether it’s coming from the north or south) dictates which beach we’ll go to or even which stairs we’ll use to enter our house (the house runs ‘east-west’ so this changes significantly).
Whilst the stories I share on this blog are shaped by the season we are presently in, I hope you are able to adapt many of these activities to add to your own seasonal rhythms, whenever they may occur throughout the year.