The Yawuru people have been the traditional owners of the lands and seas in and around Broome (Nileribanjen) for tens of thousands of years now. They are the heart and soul of the Nileribanjen region, an area brimming with culture and rich with history. Still to this day, the present Yawuru community acknowledges and observes the traditional laws and customs laid out for them by their ancestors. This includes the Yawuru calendar in which the locals recognise 6 seasons characterised by changes in their surrounding environment – Man-gala, Marrul, Wirralburu, Barrgana, Wirlburu and Laja.
Broome is one of the most culturally rich and pristine places to visit in the world so before you pack up and jump on the first plane over, let’s take a closer look into the culture and lifestyle of the local Yawuru communities and the 6 seasons of the Yawuru calendar.
(December – March)
The wet season or ‘Man-gala’ as recognised by the Yawuru people typically occurs between December to March on the Yawuru calendar. Man-gala begins at the first sight of rain – as strong northwest winds usher the rains in from across the Indian Ocean. Glorious sunsets and spectacular storms illuminate the beautiful Nileribanjen sky throughout the duration of this season.
The appearance of Barn Swallows, ducks, snakes, and an abundance of flies signifies the transition from Laja into Man-gala. Yams are plentiful, cocky apples ripe and flying foxes can be seen soaring through the evening sky from the mangroves to the fruit trees in search of their next meal.
The local Yawuru people would seek shelter from the monsoonal weather inside their huts, generally built during Laja. Ropes were crafted out of Pindan Wattle to help secure these huts during intense storms and cyclones.
The weather tends to be hot, humid and wet during Man-gala so it’s advised if you are venturing out for a walk – to do so early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat and high humidity. It’s also important to avoid walking through thick grass as there are a large number of snakes in the area this time of year.
Marrul is considered the shortest season of the Yawuru weather cycle. It begins at the conclusion of the wet season generally around the start of April. Hot and humid conditions continue to span across the vast Nileribanjen landscape throughout this period. During Marrul the rain will end, the tide will rise, and the wind dies down. Seasonal watering holes are full of budding life and grasses high from preceding rainfall.
Dragonflies mark the beginning of this short season, along with the budding of the native inland Bloodwood trees found along river flats and scree slopes. The Yawuru people used parts of the Bloodwood trees to create traditional medicines, spears, digging bowls and transportation vessels.
Land based hunting would increase as the wet weather subsides and food is more plentiful. Lizards are fat due to the abundance of insects from the previous season, making them easier to catch and a popular food source. Birds flock to the land in search of food and shelter with over 325 species recorded throughout the region.
Marrul continues until the southeast winds start to strengthen marking the change of seasons.
Wirralburu transpires when the southeast winds strengthen, bringing cooler weather from the desert and dew in the evening. A cooling period in Broome, and a great time to visit, Wirralburu is very dry with warm to moderate temperatures during the day but cooling down during the night.
The salmon are biting and the native inland bloodwood trees flowering – marking the arrival of Wirralburu. Many species of native Acacias also flower during this period including the Pindan Wattle and Soap trees, spreading far and wide along the Nileribanjen landscape. The bush onion – an important food source for the Yawuru people for tens of thousands of years — ripens during this season, ready to be consumed once harvested from the ground.
Kangaroos, wallabies, and honey eaters provide the Yawuru locals with other food options as the lizards return underground to hibernate. Hunting is easier due to the drop in temperature on land during this period.
(June – August)
Cold days and even colder nights set in as the winter months blanket the Nileribanjen region during Barrgana. Fog tends to occur in the beginning and end of this season as the warmer air interacts with the cold. Dry south-easterly winds continue to strengthen, forcing cooler weather in from across the desert. Although dry, there is also a chance of winter rainfall.
It’s this time of year when the whales can be seen migrating north along the coast. One of the great spectacles of the Nileribanjen region and an absolute must see. During Barrgana seafood is plentiful as the salmon and mullet mature. Locals use hand crafted fish traps to capture them during this period.
Bunung and Conkerberries ripen, and bush onions are abundant. Land based animals such as the kangaroo, wallaby, and possums are popular menu items for locals during this season.
Wirlburu acts as the transition period from the cold into the hot season as the westerly wind starts to blow and the warmer weather starts to set in. Days become hotter and nights warmer as cloud cover begins to engulf the Nileribanjen sky. The mist trickles in from across the ocean as seaweed washes up against the shore.
Acacia pods begin to dry out, along with the remaining bush onions still submerged underground. The remaining onions become inedible while the wild pear starts to flower.
Reef fish such as sea perch, rock cod and various species of snapper and bream hit maturity along with a range of tasty shellfish such as mud cockles, mangrove crabs and pearl oysters. Low spring tides allow locals access to the reefs that house these animals.
On land during Wirlburu the Yawuru people would collect the eggs of popular bird species such as the turkey and snipes. The turkey’s themselves along with other small birds become prime targets and a valuable food source.
(October – November)
Laja is the build-up period before the much-anticipated rains start to fall. During this season temperatures soar, and humidity rises as the easterly winds bring hot air to the region from across the desert. Laja continues throughout October and into November and concludes at the sight of the first rains.
Shelters are made out of wood, bark, and other materials during Laja in preparation for the beginning of the wet season. The wild pear and cocky apples bear fruit but are not quite ripe for the picking just yet. The seed pods of a variety of native acacia trees including the pindan wattle and soap tree have split open and the white gum trees in the area begin to flower. The flower of the white gum trees attracts honey flies, which build honey nests in the Inland Bloodwood and Jigal trees before being collected by the Yawuru locals and eaten. Laja is also a time when the bush berries are ripe and ready to be picked.
Mating season begins for the various turtle species in the area this time of year as they venture up onto the shore to lay their eggs. An abundance of stingrays, including the cowtail and shovelnose stingrays are readily available and great eating for the Yawuru locals.