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For a warmer future, Australia employs Aboriginal wisdom

Faced with its worst drought in history, meteorologists are plumbing the Aborigines' 40,000 years of lore.

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To white Australians, the flocks of red-tailed black cockatoos which flap above tree canopies are a memorable highlight of any weekend hike. But to Aborigines, the parrots are living, squawking barometers.

"A month ago when the cockatoos were flocking and the wattle bushes were flowering, we saw that as signs of rain," says Jeremy Clark, chief executive of the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Grampian Mountains of Victoria State. "Sure enough, we've just had two weeks of rain."

Where meteorologists base their prognostications on satellites and synoptic charts, generations of Aborigines have observed the behavior of animals and the continent's flowering of plants.

More than two centuries after the first British settlement was established in 1788, there is a belated recognition that 40,000 years of Aboriginal lore may contribute to the complicated science of Australia's capricious climate.

After seven years of scant rainfall – the worst drought on record – have left vast swathes of the country parched and barren, the Bureau of Meteorology's Indigenous Weather Knowledge Project hopes to harness Aborigines' ancient understanding of weather patterns.

"Our primary focus is mapping the seasons as they are understood by indigenous people," says Harvey Stern, the head of the project. "From there could emerge all sorts of gems which will help us better understand the weather and how it impacts on the environment."

Aborigines claim 90 percent accuracy

For millennia, Aborigines have known that subtle changes to plants and animals provide clues about the weather. Aboriginal weathermen claim that their predictions are 90 percent accurate and as reliable as the evening television forecasts watched by millions of Australians.


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