You’re probably familiar with northern Australia’s tropical summer (November to March) and dry season (April to October).
Based on thousands of years of Aboriginal knowledge, in Kakadu we recognise six different seasons. There are subtle variations that signpost the transition from one season to another – changes in the weather, which plants are in flower, and which bush foods are abundant.
Gudjewg – Monsoon season
December to March 24°C – 34°C
This is the ‘true’ tropical summer – thunderstorms, heavy rain and flooding. The heat and humidity generate an explosion of plant and animal life. Spear grass grows to over two metres tall and creates a silvery-green hue throughout the woodlands. Magpie geese nest in the sedgelands. Flooding may cause goannas, snakes and rats to seek refuge in the trees. Eggs and stranded animals are a good bush food source for local Aboriginal people during this time.
Banggerreng – Knock ‘em down storm season
April 23°C – 34°C
The rain clouds have dispersed and clear skies prevail. The vast expanses of floodwater recede and streams start to run clear. Most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young. Violent, windy storms early in this season flatten the spear grass – they are called ‘knock ‘em down’ storms.
Yegge – Cooler but still humid season
May to mid-June 21°C – 33°C
This is a relatively cool time with low humidity. Early morning mists hang low over the plains and waterholes. The shallow wetlands and billabongs are carpeted with water lilies. Drying winds and flowering Darwin woolly butt tell local Aboriginal people that it’s time to start burning the woodlands in patches to ‘clean the country’ and encourage new growth for grazing animals.
Wurrgeng – Cold weather season
Mid-June to mid-August 17°C – 32°C
This is the ‘cold weather’ time. Humidity is low, daytime temperatures are around 30°C and nighttime temperatures are around 17°C. Most creeks stop flowing and the floodplains quickly dry out. Burning continues, extinguished by the dew at night. By day, birds of prey patrol the fire lines as insects and small animals try to escape the flames. Magpie geese, fat and heavy after weeks of abundant food, and a myriad of other waterbirds crowd the shrinking billabongs.
Gurrung – Hot dry weather
Mid-August to mid-October 23°C – 37°C
Gurrung is hot and dry. It is still ‘goose time’ but also time for local Aboriginal people to hunt file snakes and long-necked turtles. Sea turtles lay their eggs on the sandy beaches of Field Island and West Alligator Head and goannas rob their nests sometimes. White-breasted wood swallows arrive as thunderclouds build, signalling the return of Gunumeleng.
Gunumeleng – Pre-monsoon storm season
Mid-October to late December 24°C – 37°C
Gunumeleng can last from a few weeks to several months. It is the pre-monsoon season, with hot weather that becomes more and more humid. Thunderstorms build in the afternoons and showers bring green to the dry land. As the streams begin to run, acidic water that washes from the floodplains can cause fish to die in billabongs with low oxygen levels. Waterbirds spread out as surface water and new growth become more widespread. Barramundi move from the waterholes downstream to the estuaries to breed. This was traditionally when Aboriginal people moved camp from the floodplains to the stone country, to shelter from the violent storms of the coming tropical summer.