Jordan Ah Chee from the School of Indigenous Knowledges explains the environmental and cultural significance of the new season.
As the weather begins to heat up and the rains ease, we know that we are entering the first of the Noongar summers, Birak.
Unlike their western counterparts, which are marked by dates on a calendar, the Noongar seasons are dynamic, and their beginnings and ends are marked by the changes in the world around us.
The changes in the plants and animals, and even the placement of the stars in the sky, told our people about the changing of the seasons.
Also known as the ‘Season of the Young’, and symbolizing heat, the sun, and Karla (fire), Birak is a time of celebration when Noongar people would gather together as they moved towards the coast where the ocean provided plenty of fresh food.
The flowers are developing seeds and nuts, snakes and reptiles shed their skins, chicks leave the nest and young animals are transitioning into adulthood, making their way out into the world.
It’s beginning to get hot, but unlike the heat of Bunuru, the warmth is more comfortable and broken up by the easterly winds in the morning and the coastal breeze in the afternoons, which brings the smell of the ocean with it.
Noongar people used the knowledge of these wind patterns to their advantage when carrying out controlled burning, which would take place in the season of Birak.
This burning of the land was beneficial for Country in many ways. It cleared away dry debris and undergrowth to help prevent the onset of massive wildfires. This clearing also made way for new growth to take place and made travelling through Country easier.
In fact, some plants have formed a bond with fire, needing it to seed and grow. There are some banksias for instance whose seeds capsules, though they may be ready and waiting, won’t open until they feel the intense heat of a fire. The iconic Balga, or Grasstree, flowers more after a fire has passed through.
Fire also carves out new homes in trees like the mighty Tuart for birds and small mammals.
This is just one example of how our people have been living alongside Country for countless generations, while practicing sustainable living. It is just one part of a complex web of knowledge fostered in part by that connection.
This knowledge that has been refined and passed on through the generations for over 65,000 years and forms the structure of our Indigenous Knowledge systems. It is important that this knowledge continues to be passed on, and our Elders and knowledge holders are acknowledged.
As a lecturer for Two-Way Science in the School of Indigenous Knowledges, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to share my culture and our ways of knowing with students at Murdoch University and the wider community.
This has happened through tens of thousands of years of careful observation, hypotheses and experimentation, as well learning from Indigenous Elders and knowledge holders. Our people can be considered some of the first scientists.
Students learn how Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing can help tackle some of the difficult challenges that the world is facing.
To celebrate the beginning of the new season, the Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre hosts the Birak Festival on the 7th of December at Boola Katitjin. Twilight stalls, performers and dance groups, cultural workshops and plenty of food will all be on show.
In the spirit of Birak and coming together, everyone is welcome to join in as we celebrate the changing of the season.
- By Jordan Ah Chee, Lecturer, School of Indigenous Knowledges