Climatic Change

, Volume 100, Issue 2, pp 337–354 | Cite as

Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate

  • Donna GreenEmail author
  • Jack Billy
  • Alo Tapim


Although the last 200 years of colonisation has brought radical changes in economic and governance structures for thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in remote areas of northern Australia, many of these Indigenous people still rely upon, and live closely connected to, their natural environment. Over millennia, living ‘on country’, many of these communities have developed a sophisticated appreciation of their local ecosystems and the climatic patterns associated with the changes in them. Some of this knowledge is recorded in their oral history passed down through generations, documented in seasonal weather calendars in local languages and, to a limited degree, transcribed and translated into English. This knowledge is still highly valued by these communities today, as it is used to direct hunting, fishing and planting as well as to inform many seasonally dependant cultural events. In recent years, local observations have been recognised by non-Indigenous scientists as a vital source of environmental data where few historic records exist. Similar to the way that phenological observations in the UK and US provide baseline information on past climates, this paper suggests that Indigenous observations of seasonal change have the potential to fill gaps in climate data for tropical northern Australia, and could also serve to inform culturally appropriate adaptation strategies. One method of recording recent direct and indirect climate and weather observations for the Torres Strait Islands is documented in this paper to demonstrate the currency of local observations of climate and its variability. The paper concludes that a comprehensive, participatory programme to record Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge of past climate patterns, and recent observations of change, would be timely and valuable for the communities themselves, as well as contributing to a greater understanding of regional climate change that would be useful for the wider Australian population.


Climate Change Indigenous Community Indigenous Knowledge Torres Strait Islander Traditional Ecological Knowledge 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Science, Climate Change Research Centre, The Red CentreUNSWKensingtonAustralia
  2. 2.Torres StraitElder, Poruma IslandQueenslandAustralia
  3. 3.Torres StraitElder, Mer IslandQueenslandAustralia

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