Teacher background information


Year 7 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Earth and space sciences

Predictable phenomena on Earth, including seasons and eclipses, are caused by the relative positions of the sun, Earth and the moon (ACSSU115 - Scootle )

  • Investigating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ calendars and how they are used to predict seasonal changes (OI.3, OI.5)

This elaboration provides students with opportunities to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ understandings of seasons through the investigation of seasonal calendars pertaining to various cultural groups. These calendars reflect Australia’s varying climatic conditions, ecological diversity and expansive geographic locations inhabited by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They include detailed understandings of recurring weather patterns and seasonal cycles. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities hold knowledge that links events in the natural world to cycles that are used in many facets of everyday life.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups devised highly intricate and comprehensive seasonal calendars based on thousands of years of detailed observation of the environments of which they form an integral part. The gathering and dissemination of this scientific knowledge continues to enable many First Nations’ communities to make accurate predictions about recurring seasonal changes. 

While the seasonal calendar used in most Western societies is based on specific dates to mark each season, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples observe the position of stars in the sky and follow water, plant and animal cycles as ways of identifying seasonal phenomena. 

Seasons vary based on the relative positioning of the Earth and sun. According to the contemporary Western calendar, Australia’s summer occurs at the end of the year, because the Southern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun at that time. Days are longer and hotter during this time, as not only are more daylight hours spent facing the sun, but sunlight is also more direct as opposed to being on an angle. The opposite happens during the winter where the Southern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. During the spring and autumn, the Earth is not tilted towards or away from the sun but side-on. Despite this, the expanse of the Australian continent and range of latitudes make Australia’s climatic conditions extremely diverse.  

The seasonal calendars of discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural groups demonstrate an understanding of the interdependence and interrelationships amongst living things. These calendars can be used to predict seasonal changes and weather patterns to determine the availability of particular resources or the timing of journeys. 

Seasonal calendars are not interchangeable throughout First Nations’ communities, but vary according to geographic location, ecological context and cultural interpretation. Specific biotic events, usually referred to as bio-indicators, can occur locally or over vast distances and enable accurate predictions of seasonal changes. For instance, in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ seasonal calendars the appearance of particular insect species is an indication that the rainy/wet season is approaching, thus marking the correct time to commence the harvesting of yams 

Also forming part of some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander seasonal calendars are observations of cyclical animal behavioural patterns. One example can be found in the seasonal calendar of the people of D'harawal Country regarding the cries of tiger quolls in search of mates. When this is heard, it is an indication that the lilly pilly fruit has started to ripen. Once the lilly pillys start to fall, it is a sign for the people of the D’harawal Country to begin their annual journey to the coast in search of other seasonal resources.  

Seasonal calendars continue to be used by many First Nations groups today. The publication of these calendars has revealed the immense scientific knowledge held by the respective communities and has informed Western scientific understandings across a wide range of disciplines, for example, botany, zoology, ecology, meteorology and many more. The publication of First Nations’ seasonal calendars in collaboration with scientific institutions throughout Australia is a good example of how First Nations’ extensive ecological science knowledge is gaining respect and awareness and has contributed to the dissemination of that knowledge amongst school communities and the general public. 

Through the investigation of calendars used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, students will gain an understanding of how seasonal cycles and weather changes are predicted by many First Nations’ groups. Students can also gain an in-depth awareness of how these Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups interpret and utilise ecological patterns and seasonal phenomena

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.

Bureau of Meteorology. (2014a). Indigenous seasonal descriptions. Retrieved from http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/climate_culture/Indig_seasons.shtml

Bureau of Meteorology. (2014b). Wujerrijin: Dry season April to September. Retrieved from http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/wardaman/wujerrijin.shtml

Cane, S. (1996). Australian Aboriginal subsistence in the Western Desert. In D. G. Bates, S. H. Lees (Eds.), Case Studies in Human Ecology (pp. 17-53). Boston, MA: Springer. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4757-9584-4_2


City of Belmont. (2014). Celebrating people and culture. Retrieved from http://www.belmont.wa.gov.au/Community/Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders/Pages/Celebrating-People-and-Culture.aspx

Davis, J., Street, M., Malo, H., Cherel, I., & Woodward., E. (2011). Mingayooroo-Manyi Waranggiri Yarrangi: Gooniyandi Seasons (calendar), Margaret River, Fitzroy Valley, Western Australia [Poster]. Retrieved from https://publications.csiro.au/rpr/download?pid=legacy:379&dsid=DS1

Hamacher, D. W. (2015). Identifying seasonal stars in Kaurna astronomical traditions. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 18(1), 39-52.

The Lab ABC Science Online. (2003, August 14). The Lost Seasons. ABC Science. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/science/features/indigenous/default.htm

Lawson, V., & McKaige, B. (2016). Ngurrungurrudjba (Yellow Water) seasons calendar. Retrieved from https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Environment/Land-management/Indigenous/Indigenous-calendars/Ngurrungurrudjba

McNamara, K., Sibtain, J., & Parnell, K. (2010). Documenting and sharing the seasonal calendar for Erub Island, Torres Strait. Retrieved from https://rrrc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/131-JCU-McNamara-K-et-al-2010-Documenting-and-sharing-Erub-Island-seasonal-calendar.pdf

Narndal, J., Nadjamerrek, D., Nayinggul, C., Nadjamerrek, L., Nadjamerrek, M., Nadjamerrek, J., . . . Ligtermoet, E. (2015). Kunwinjku Seasons, Kunbarlanja (Gunbalanya) seasons calendar. Retrieved from https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Environment/Land-management/Indigenous/Indigenous-calendars/Kunwinjku

O’Connor, M. H., & Prober, S. M. (2010). A calendar of Ngadju seasonal knowledge: A report to Ngadju people. Floreat, WA: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Sustainable Ecosystems.

Roth, H. L. (1890). The Aborigines of Tasmania. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

Tipiloura, B., Wilson, J., Johnson, L., Tipungwuti, J., Orsto, E., Puruntatameri, J., & McKaige, B. (2014). Tiwi Seasons, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory, Australia. Darwin, NT: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Land and Water.

Williams, L., Williams, J., Ogden, M., Risk, K., Risk, A., & Woodward, E. (2012). Gulumoerrgin Seasons (calendar): Larrakia, Darwin - Northern Territory. Darwin, NT: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Ecosystem Sciences.

Woodward, E., Jackson, S., Finn, M., & McTaggart Patricia, M. (2012). Utilising Indigenous seasonal knowledge to understand aquatic resource use and inform water resource management in northern Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration, 13(1), 58-64. doi:10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00622.x

Woodward, E., Lindsay, B., Kuwarda, H., Miljat, F., Pirak, R., & Waliwararra., K. (2010). MalakMalak and Matngala plant knowledge: Daly River, Northern Territory, Australia. Darwin, NT: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Sustainable Ecosystems.

Woodward, E., McTaggart, P. M., Yawulminy, M., Ariuu, C., Daning, D., Kamarrama, K., . . . Wawul., M. (2009). Ngan’gi seasons, Nauiyu: Daly River, Northern Territory, Australia. Darwin, NT: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Sustainable Ecosystems.