xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Spring has sprung...or has it?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Spring has sprung...or has it?

Today is September 1st. In Perth, Western Australia, it is the first day of Spring. Or is it?

Most countries mark the transition of the seasons on the 21st of the appropriate month. In the Northern Hemisphere of course, where the seasons are reversed, it is still Summer and will remain so until September 21st.  In the Southern Hemisphere, South Africa also uses the 21st as the date at which seasons change. So even though today is the first day of Spring in Perth and, indeed, across the entire continent of Australia, Spring will not arrive in Cape Town or Johannesburg until September 21st.

For some reason, in Australia, we mark the start of our seasons on December 1st, March 1st, June 1st and September 1st. The North Americans, The Europeans and the South Africans choose to mark their seasonal transitions according to the times when the sun is over the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer in December and June on the 21st day of those months and over the Equator on  the 21st day of March and September. The Equinoxes.

Of course, as a primary school boy growing up in Perth, I always knew when it was Spring. I had an after school job. My Aunty May owned the Lucky Bunny lottery kiosk at 119 Barrack Street. Each afternoon, at about four thirty, I had to run the lottery ticket butts and money to the Lotteries Commission office in St Georges Terrace. I always knew when Spring was coming, because in late August, as I ran down Hay Street, near Plaza Arcade, a man would be yelling out, “Sweet scented Boronia, threepence a bunch.” Ah, yes, that man’s shouting and the sweet smell of Boronia were my harbingers of Spring.

Of course, in Perth we have a Mediterranean climate of cool to cold, wet winters and warm to hot, dry summers. The fact is our winters are short and our summers are long. You could say winter runs four for months from May through to the end of Àugust. Summer lasts about eight months from September through to to the end of April. Of course we can get rainy days in summers and warmish days in Winter. This Friday, September 6th, the Weather Bureau says it will be 27 degrees. Now in some parts of the world they would take that for a summer's day.

In fact, it wasn't till I was in my early twenties and I travelled to England that I really experienced four very distinct seasons. I arrived in winter. The days were short and gloomy and the trees had no leaves. In the following months I gloried in the fact that buds were appearing on the trees, birds were out and about and the days were increasingly less gloomy. Summer of course was wonderful. Very long days that extended till after 9-0'clock at night with the gardens luxuriant and in glorious technicolour.

Later on in Canada the four seasons were even more marked. Of course there was a lot of snow in winter but the Autumn was a treasure house of multi coloured maple leaves that transformed the landscape into masterworks of art. 

Whether we use the sun’s position for the summer and winter solstices and the equinoxes, or the first day of the months in which those event occur to mark the seasons, the flowers and the rain and the cold and the heat and the winds don’t always seem to follow the rules. In my garden flowers started blooming in early August, when Spring was weeks away.

Dr Tim Entwisle, the Director of the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens believes that in Australia we have the seasons wrong. Dr Entwistle, who was previously the Director of London’s Kew Gardens and Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and Domain, knows quite a bit about the blooming trees. He says that we need FIVE seasons, which he names Sprinter, Sprummer, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
According to Dr Entwisle Australia’s seasons should begin on the first day of the month as follows:

Sprinter.         August/September. Wattles in bloom and gardens filled with flowers.
Sprummer.     October/November. A second wave of flowering.
Summer.         December/March.  A summer of four months. Hot and dry.
Autumn.         April/May.  Still plenty of warm days.
Winter.           June/July. Short burst of cold and wet weather.

Well of course, Australia is a big country so Dr Entwisle is obviously referring to land south of a line across Australia from Carnarvon to Newcastle, because Southern Australia has hot, dry summers and cold wet winters while Northern Australia has hot wet summers and warm dry winters. It is for this exact reason that most of our politicians find the need to head north on some investigatory mission in the cold southern winter months.

Now, Dr Entwisle may know quite a lot about the weather and the flowers that bloom in the Spring but he, like me, is a relative newcomer to this land.  Our records only go back less than 200 years. The Noongar people of south western Australia have been here for over forty thousands years. Over that time they observed that there were SIX seasons along what  is sometimes called The Rainbow Coast. The Noongars divided their year as follows:

Birak;                         January. Hot and dry.
Bunuru:                      February/March. Warm easterly winds.
Djeran:                       April/May. Cool and pleasant.
Mahuru:                     June/July. Cold and wet.
Djilba:                        August/September. Cold with lessening rains.
Kambarang:              October/November. Warm with rains finishing.
Birak:                         December. Hot and dry.

So, maybe Doctor Entwisle is on the right track and we do need five seasons. Or maybe six, according to Noongar tradition.

Meanwhile over in South Africa, the South African Weather Service is expressing concern about 
South African seasons, which as mentioned earlier, commence on the 21st of the appropriate month as determined by the position of the sun over the equator and the tropics. In some respects the South African weather authorities seem to agree with Dr Entwisle that summer and winter are interspersed with shorter seasons of spring and autumn.The South African Weather Service says that Spring and Autumn are very short transitional seasons in South Africa, though it agrees that January is Mid Summer and July is Mid Winter. It has drawn up a proposal to reconfigure the seasons by not referring to the soltices and the equinoxes. It recommend the seasons be listed as follows:

Autumn.           March1 to May 31.
Winter.             June 1st to August 31st.
Spring.             September1st to November 30.
Summer:         December 1st to February 28/29th.

Hey, that’s what we have in Australia already. Maybe, we were right all along? It really is Spring after all.

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