Bright blooms |signal change

Jason Barrow with some mooja, or Australian Christmas tree.
Jason Barrow with some mooja, or Australian Christmas tree.

Birak (December-January) is the start of the fire ban season these days, but traditionally it was the time for burning.

We can now see the many mooja ” commonly known as Australian Christmas trees ” in full bloom and this was a signal for the Nyoongar people to move closer to coastal areas for the coming hot weather.

Around the freshwater Joondalup, Goollelal, Gnangara, Mariginup and Jandabup lakes, fires would be lit in the morning with the easterly winds pushing them towards the coast. In the afternoon, the sea breezes would push the fires back on themselves.

These fires were used in mosaic patterns for several reasons ” including keeping the bush in a constant state of regeneration, formation of grazing pastures for game for ease of movement across the country, and fuel reduction in readiness for the bunuru (February and March) season’s lightning storms, which come from the north with extremely dry and hot winds.

As people started to make full use of the wetland environment, it was also a good time to make reed bags for carrying food stuffs that were collected throughout the banksia heathlands between the lakes.

With many plants having had their peek flowering period in the previous two seasons, this was a good time to collect bush honey made by the many different native bees.

As the days became longer and warmer and drier, being on the coast would provide some respite with the afternoon sea breezes helping to bring a cooler change, which is why the coast was, and still is, a well favoured place to be at this time of the year.

Moving to the coast also enabled Nyoongar people to hunt different animals. The crabbing and prawning season would begin in the estuaries, while in the freshwater lakes the long-neck turtle eggs would start to hatch. Frogs also emerge with the warmer and drier weather.

Plants to look out for in the local area during birak include candlestick banksias (B. attenuata), the florescent orange flowers of the mooja (Nuytsia floribunda), and to the eastern areas on the white-grey sands, the orange morrisons (Verticordianitens).