Princess Summerfall Winterspring in Oz

August 22nd, 2013, 8am

I suppose there are a few American baby boomers around who still remember Princess Summerfall Winterspring from Howdy Doody, the fifties TV show for children. Even if you do remember this counterfeit “Native American Princess”, you may well ask: what does she have to do with the seasons of the Australian bush? Nothing whatever! But I’ll get to that a little later.

The sad truth is that SummerFall WinterSpring doesn’t tell us anything about North American seasons either! Although the princess’s name no doubt was intended as a quick lesson for kids on the four seasons, for Native Americans her name directly signifies European colonialism, a form of cultural domination so powerful that it extends even to the re-naming and re-conceptualising of indigenous knowledge of nature. Native American seasons were well understood, and they conveyed a complex array of meanings associated with what we now call agriculture, meteorology, astronomy, ecology and religion. There were many more seasons than four, and each was described in terms such as specific full moons, rising insects, floral progression, faunal movement, and the variabilities of weather.

If Princess Winterspring Summerfall had visited Oz — even with her seasons reversed — she couldn’t come anywhere near capturing the quick movement of seasonal change in Australia. European seasons bear little relation to “bush” realities. The highly conventional four seasons have none of the descriptive or explanatory power of that provided by local knowledge. I have read that in the North Central parts of the southern continent, as many as 14 seasons can be delineated. As Sally Bidjibidji told Deborah Bird Rose: “March Flies are telling you the Crocodile eggs are ready,” and “When the Brolga sings out the Jarlalka (dark catfish associated with flood waters) starts to move.”

In southern Australia (where I live) a nearby Aboriginal museum describes 7 seasons. So what is the season in the photo above that I took the other morning? Well, we see Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia) in full bloom in the lower right quadrant; and that’s Prickly Moses Wattle (Acacia verticillata) ready to bloom just left of centre. The dark, and probably wet, eucalyptus bark says it’s been raining; and the soft quality of light says short days and low angle of sun. Mate, I reckon the short-finned eels will soon be on the move!

Paul, Peter, Cassie, Laura and 1 more said thanks.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

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