Teacher background information


Foundation Year Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Earth and space sciences

Daily and seasonal changes in our environment affect everyday life (ACSSU004 - Scootle )

  • learning how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ concepts of time and weather patterns explain how things happen in the world around them (OI.3, OI.5)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have observed the daily and seasonal weather patterns in the world around them for millennia and used these phenomena to inform aspects of daily life. Many thousands of years of unbroken meteorological observations have resulted in a deep understanding of environmental changes that form a predictable annual cycle. Weather patterns have an impact on everyday life activities; daily and seasonal changes affect when and where to travel, clothing choices and the type of shelter required. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to learn how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long used meteorological events such as temperature, precipitation, wind and humidity, to explain the world around them and inform aspects of daily life.

The geographical vastness of Australia means that daily and seasonal changes can vary significantly across the Australian continent and seasonal cycles differ substantially depending on location. The diversity of seasons and seasonal indicators such as weather events is evidenced in the ecological (seasonal) calendars of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Language Groups. For example, the seasonal calendar of the Miriwoong Peoples whose Country encompasses the east Kimberley region of Western Australia and extends into the Northern Territory comprises three seasons, whereas the seasonal calendar of the D'harawal Peoples of the region north of Sydney encompasses six seasons. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have a deep scientific understanding of the complexities and interrelationships between seasonal, meteorological and astronomical changes and have long used observations of these changes to inform life in a particular Country or Place. These changes contain important information that influences when to travel to particular locations to access and harvest resources and the times to prepare clothing and shelters appropriate for impending weather or seasonal change.

Weather indicators have long been used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as signs of resource availability. Often, travel to a particular geographical region for a period of time was necessary to access a resource while it was abundant. The Djab Wurrung and the Jardwadjali Peoples of the Grampians region in Victoria know that hot, dry weather indicates kooyang, the time of the eel season. Prior to colonisation, stone huts were occupied during eel harvest time to provide relief from the heat of the sun. The Nyangumarta People of the north-western coast of Western Australia understand that the cold south-east winds indicate the time that threadfin are running. The Erubam Le Peoples of Erub Island in the Torres Strait observe the sky for the rapid appearance and disappearance of lid lid (small clouds); these clouds indicate the end of the monsoon season, the time when turtles and frigate birds are plentiful, and sorbi (Syzygium branderhorstii) and mangos are ready for harvest. The ‘morning glory’ cloud is a rare meteorological phenomenon that occurs at predictable times; it only appears in the Gulf of Carpentaria due to the configuration of land and sea. This cloud pattern, observed by Aboriginal Peoples of the region for millennia, is associated with seasonal changes. The Yanyuwa Peoples of the Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria know that the morning glory clouds indicate the beginning of the wet season. They also mark the arrival of flying foxes, the Torres Strait pigeon, various species of parrots, and the time when seagulls and sea turtles lay their eggs in the sand. The Kaiadilt Peoples of the South Wellesley Islands in north-west Queensland know that kambudanda, the north wind, indicates that the Pandanus fruit is ripe and will fall with the onset of the winds. 

Weather indicators also provide information about the type of shelter that will be required or when to time movement to a particular part of the Country due to impending seasonal conditions. The Wardaman Peoples of the Katherine region in the Northern Territory know that yijilg (wet season, December–January) brings heavy rainfall. Prior to colonisation, the Wardaman Peoples constructed rain shelters that were covered with wolon (spear grass; Heteropogon contortus), to provide protection from rainfall. The Masigalgal Peoples of Masig (known as Yorke Island in English) in the Torres Strait know that naigai, the season of hot dry weather and calm winds, is the time for house maintenance in readiness for the coming wet season. At this time, knowing that rainfall is coming, gardens are also prepared by burning plant litter and fertilizing the soil with the ashes. The Peoples of the Gundjeihmi Language Group in the Kakadu region of the Northern Territory look to the late afternoon storm clouds during gunumeleng to know when to move from the floodplains to the stone country, to shelter from the coming monsoon.

Prior to colonisation, clothing was manufactured to suit environmental conditions; consequently, it varied greatly across the Australian continent. The daily and seasonal temperature and precipitation level informed the wearer of the most suitable clothing for that time of year. The Kaurna Peoples of the Adelaide Plains region of South Australia know that pukarra (north-west winds) and kudmu (dew on the ground) indicates the time to prepare skin rugs and seaweed cloaks for the impending cold weather season. In wet weather, the Wiradjuri Peoples of central New South Wales wore animal furs with the fur side facing outwards, as this orientation protected the wearer from rainwater. In cool, dry weather the Gunditjmara Peoples of western Victoria wore possum furs with the fur side facing inwards, as this orientation provided thermal insulation through warm air trapped between the fibres. The Noongar Peoples of south-west Western Australia manufactured buka, kangaroo skin cloaks; in makaru, the coldest and wettest time of the year, these were also worn with the fur side facing inwards for warmth. The D'harawal Peoples of the southern Sydney region know at the time of marrai'gang, the cool, wet weather, it is time to make or repair cloaks for warmth, and to begin the travel to the coastal areas.   

For millennia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have used weather patterns associated with daily and seasonal changes to inform aspects of daily life. Knowing when rainfall is imminent or cold weather is approaching provides information about the type of shelter required or the clothing that needs to be worn or manufactured. Such weather indicators, including wind and cloud presence, have long been monitored by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples so that appropriate preparations can be made. Annual weather patterns indicated by meteorological phenomena such as the strength and direction of wind, the type of cloud, and temperature, have long been correlated with seasonal events. Seasonal patterns, and the important environmental changes that accompany these events, inform many aspects of everyday life, including when and where resources can be accessed. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to learn how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ knowledge of weather patterns in daily and seasonal cycles has long been used to understand changes in the environment and inform aspects of daily life.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Australian Government. Department of the Environment and Energy. (n.d.). The six seasons.   Retrieved from https://www.environment.gov.au/topics/national-parks/kakadu-national-park/natural-environment/six-seasons

Bureau of Meteorology. (2016). Indigenous weather knowledge. Retrieved from http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/index.shtml

Evans, N. D. (2011). A grammar of Kayardild: With historical-comparative notes on Tangkic. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Green, D., Billy, J., & Tapim, A. (2010). Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate. Climatic Change, 100(2), 337-354.

Kakadu National Park. (2019). Six seasons. Retrieved from https://parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/discover/nature/seasons/

McNamara, K., Sibtain, J., & Parnell, K. (2010). Documenting and sharing the seasonal calendar for Erub Island, Torres Strait: Final project report to the Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited: Cairns.

Memmott, P. (n.d.) The seasonable factor in Lardil life. Retrieved from http://scan.net.au/scan/journal/images/0905/memmott/table1.html

Phillips, G. (2003, March 13). Secrets of the stones. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/national/secrets-of-the-stones-20030313-gdgf3f.html

Prober, S., O'Connor, M., & Walsh, F. (2011). Australian Aboriginal peoples’ seasonal knowledge: A potential basis for shared understanding in environmental management. Ecology and Society, 16(2).

Webb, E. K. (1997). Windows on meteorology: Australian perspective. Collingwood, Vic.: CSIRO publishing.