The Gooniyandi people of the Fitzroy Valley in the tropical Kimberley region of Western Australia know that the appearance of red dragonflies is a much better indicator of the march of seasons than a glance at the old wall calendar.

A city-dwelling Australian in the southern parts of the country might look to the calendar to see what season they’re in. First of March? It must be autumn. But beyond perhaps packing a jumper as we walk out the door, we don’t tend to change our behaviour all that much. We’re largely disconnected from the direct effects of nature.

Plants, animals and fungi don’t take their cues from the Gregorian calendar; they change in response to shifts in temperature, moisture in its various forms and length of day, as well as inherent factors in the organism. Certain fruits will ripen, some animals will produce young, while other animals change form or disappear.

When your day-to-day economy is intimately connected with the surrounding natural environment, it pays to take note of these changes. The Gooniyandi people of the Fitzroy Valley in the tropical Kimberley region of Western Australia look to the weather and changes in the behaviour of animals and plants to know what time of year it is and the resources that are available to them. Red dragonflies, commonly known as Scarlet Percher dragonflies, or Jarloomboo to the Gooniyandi, announce the start of Moonnggoowarla—the dry season and cold weather time.

Red dragonflies

The Scarlet Percher, or Jarloomboo, is an indicator of seasonal change in the Fitzroy Valley, WA. Bill & Mark Bell/Flickr

The temperature through the year doesn’t change greatly on the Fitzroy—it is nearly always warm by southern standards. What does change is the rain, with nearly all of it coming down in the short, sharp summer ‘wet season’. Water is important to a dragonfly, because for a large part of its life it lives in a stream or lake as a predatory nymph or ‘naiad’. When fully grown, this creature crawls out of the water and its skin splits to release a properly formed dragonfly, pale and shrivelled at first but soon in the air after expanding and drying its wings in the sun.

When Gooniyandi see Jarloomboo they know that the swordfish (Galwanyi) are fat. The fat of swordfish is very soothing to Gooniyandi, healing their aches and pains, and the soft meat is very good for children to eat.

Members of Muludja community in the Fitzroy Valley worked with us to produce their own calendar—the Gooniyandi Seasons Calendar—a wealth of Indigenous ecological knowledge. The development of the calendar was driven by a community desire to document seasonal-specific knowledge of the Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers in the Kimberley, including the environmental indicators that act as cues for bush tucker collection. The calendar also addresses community concern about the loss of traditional knowledge.

On the Fitzroy, the appearance of red dragonflies is a much better indicator of the march of seasons than a glance at the old wall calendar.

Come into season

Traditional knowledge, like that captured in these Indigenous seasons calendars, can tell us much about the ecology of Australia.

6 comments

  1. I just had one in my garden. Thank you for this information. I managed to get a couple of photos. But not sure how to upload them to share?

  2. this is fascinating, both the images and the explanations … the more time I spend in the bush here, paying attention to the plants, birds and insects, I am slowly starting to understand at the most basic level what the indigenous people are absolute experts at! So much knowledge, of the intricate connections of the ‘web of life’ leave me wide-eyed in awe! cheers!

  3. Thanks Chris,CSIRO are amazing and will always be welcome to use any images we have,

  4. Many thanks Chris we are ecstatic that you enjoyed them as much as we do your great work.

  5. A great read guys,please feel welcome to use any of our images on your blog.
    Ive often wondered how accurate our weather forecasting would be if we were to just take the time to look and listen to the natural cycles of plant animal and fungus.There words are soft and subtle sometimes loud and overwhelming yet some how along the way we have forgotten the language of evolution and taken the word of man and machine over one of the most complex-ed and accurate biological system ever devised.
    We look back to the past to predict the future trends of climate change.If it rains on o certain day in a year consistently that is no guarantee the next year will rain on that day.I think you have hit the nail on the head my friend it is the little things that can reveal the biggest of secrets.An ant will prepare for rain days before,birds are tuned to the slightest rumblings of an immanent earth quake even the simplest of life forms have the ability to listen look and react to the wrath of mother nature.
    We of the highly evolved have no need for such primitive methods conquers of space and yet we are no more than three monkeys,clothed are our ears,with muffled words we speak of things seen between the fingers ,through such evolutionary pride we have denied our selves to speak hear or see the simple answers.
    If a bird flies south that does not mean its winter but if a hole population flies south its probably time to dig out the winter clothes.The tricky bit is if they fly south in summer will you still dig out the warm clothes or assume they are wrong because we are smarter.
    One day perhaps entomologist,biologists and botanists will take up this challenge and the future will be a little more predictable,not through technological advancement but with a better understanding of the natural systems that have served so many species before us.
    Kim and Chris you guys are awesome.

    1. Thanks Bill! We loved your photos, the compilation shots are especially neat!

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