Welcome to Noongar Season, Birak!

Dated: 13 December 2023


Seasons mark a shift in the rhythms of the natural world and tuning in to these natural shifts can help connect us to our environment. As we welcome the season of Birak (December and January), we wake to hot mornings with warm easterly winds, enjoy longer days and bright golden sunlight, and embrace the relief of cooling south-westerly winds coming from the ocean in the afternoons and evenings. 

For the Noongar people, the season of Birak is also known as the ‘season of the young’ and is marked by heat, sun and Karla (fire). Birak marked the annual burning practice, a controlled process where Noongar family groups used fire to manage the land. This practice facilitated hunting by ‘flushing’ out kangaroos and other animals, and enabled easier passage across the land as families moved towards cooler coastal areas. 

The management of fire during Birak also ensured that plants which require fire to germinate had a helping hand to flourish, and helped prevent more damaging fires from taking hold by reducing the amount of dry scrub and fuel for fires. This practice was intimately interwoven with the understanding that when we care for country, it cares for us. 

While Birak tends to line up with the hot months of December and January, the Noongar seasons are not based on a traditional calendar. They are dynamic seasons, based on changes and signals in the environment that can be consistently observed. Of course there is the intensifying heat that we all know too well, signalling Birak is here, but there are many other subtle changes in the flora and fauna around us that can be easily observed if we pay attention.

At this time of the year, the landscape blooms in the colours of sunshine itself. Tones of golden-yellow and orange emerge in celebration, shining like lights amidst the green, brown and grey of the Australian bush. The iconic Australian Christmas Tree (Nuytsia floribunda), known as Moodjar in the Noongar language, is now in full bloom, along with showy golden Banksias.  

The flowering of this tree is one of the natural rhythms that herald the beginning of Birak. Now in full bloom with its distinctive flowers, the Moodjar not only adds visual splendour to the landscape, but also plays a vital ecological role by providing nectar for various fauna. Its flowering signals environmental changes, influencing both plant and animal behaviour. 

For the Noongar people, the Moodjar tree is sacred. According to Noongar spiritual beliefs, the Moodjar is a powerful tree where the spirits of those passed can rest before continuing on to the afterlife. When the Moodjar blooms, as in Birak, the spirits continue their journey to the land of the dead, to be with their ancestors. In this way, the Moodjar’s blossoming signals a spiritual process as much as a physical one.

The Noongar seasons are dynamic, their beginnings and endings marked by the changes in the natural world. Have a look around you – what signs of Birak do you notice around your home and community? Have you seen young magpies venturing out of their nests, bobtail lizards resting in the sun or golden flowers blooming nearby? 

Revel in the joy of noticing some of these quiet and beautiful rhythms and know that you are a part of these rhythms too. Much like the world around us, Birak invites us to consider how we can blossom, venture out of our nests, and bring more colour and warmth to the world around us.