Feature by Carolyn Beasley

High on the grassy hill of Kings Park (Kaarta Koomba), a light afternoon breeze wafts with perfume; the heady scent of just-emerging Boronia blooms.

The Noongar season of Djeran, during April and May, is a time when the bush around Perth (Boorloo) is delightfully aromatic as nature recovers from the sweltering summer months. Steven Jacobs, Noongar man and owner of In Culture Tours, says that in modern times, Boronia has been used in perfumes, but this use is nothing new.

“Before colonisation, we didn’t have deodorants, so the women would take a heap of Boronia down to the river and bathe in that stuff to attract men,” Steven says. “It’s always been a perfume.”

Couple on a tour with In Culture Tours in Perth

In Culture Tours, Perth

Steven’s tours cover Kings Park, Fremantle (Walyalup), or the old ceremonial grounds at Point Peron, Rockingham. All his tours feature bush tucker and cultural sites, but the season of Djeran is a feast for the senses.

“You can smell the beautiful rains coming,” Steven says. “It’s similar when you’re in the bush, the beautiful aroma of all the new plants that are coming through.”

Some of these smells even have a medicinal benefit.

“We will boil down native peppermint leaves with some balga (grass tree) resin and beeswax and we’ll make a Vicks Vapour Rub out of it,” he says.

While the scents of Djeran are subtle, the weather change is unmissable.

“You see the cooler mornings, you see the dew on the grass, and even on the cars,” Steven says. “It’s totally different compared to the hot nights and hot days where you’ve got the air-conditioning on.”

Steven explains nature always fed his people, and in Djeran, the bulbs of the bulrush, or yanget, were at their best.

Tour with In Culture Tours in Perth

In Culture Tours, Perth

“There’s also wild potatoes out there, called yams,” Steven says. “You dig down and come across all these small potatoes, like a little grapevine.”

In the animal kingdom, Djeran sees reptiles retreating into hibernation, a change Steven relished.

“As a young boy I always used to love walking around the bush with my Grandad, hunting,” he explains. “I’d be walking barefoot, so it was really good to be able to freely walk around in Djeran without worries of snakes attacking you.”

Justin Martin is an Whadjuk Noongar artist, and owner of Djurandi Dreaming tours. Justin’s walking tours explore the Rockingham region, including significant lakes, caves and shelters, interwoven with authentic dreamtime stories.

As Justin explains, Aboriginal culture also lives and breathes in the heart of Perth, and he also guides visitors through Yagan Square, where the nine-metre-high sculpture of the Noongar warrior dominates. For a different perspective of the Perth CBD, guests join Justin for the Dreaming in the Quay tour. Starting during sunset at Elizabeth Quay (Goomup), the tour combines modern installations of the foreshore with the cultural significance of the Swan River (Derbarl Yerrigan).

“I generally talk about the art works, and also get people to experiment by experiencing the atmosphere of the Quay itself,” Justin says. “It’s a place of importance, it was created by our dreaming creature called the rainbow serpent.”

And even in the city, bush tucker can be found during Djeran, if you know where to look.

Justin from Djurandi Dreaming leading a tour in Rockingham

Justin from Djurandi Dreaming, Rockingham

“There’s the sap of the wattle trees, but also there’s some large bardis or grubs that you can eat out of the wattles as well,” Justin says. “People can try them, if they’re brave enough!”

Historically, the diets of Noongar people along the river would have changed during Djeran.

“When the rain comes down, we’re probably heading towards the waterways,” Justin says. “Traditionally families would have collected the turtles, crustaceans, ducks and geese.”

Djeran, was also a time for Aboriginal people to prepare for the upcoming winter.

“They’d be out on country, trapping kangaroos and possums for their skins,” Justin explains, adding it’s also an important time for making hand tools. “There are five different boomerangs for hunting different water bird species, and that all happens before winter.”

While Djeran is a season to smell the bush, feel the rains and hear the frogs, its greatest sensory stimulus is visual, arriving in the form of the colour green. 

Aerial view of a tour with Djurandi Dreaming in Rockingham

Djurandi Dreaming, Rockingham

“That’s when the new sprouts are coming through,” Steven explains. “That’s when we would do our control burning, where there was a bit of green coming in.”

Justin agrees, explaining that for him, green is the unmistakable symbol of Djeran.

“When the rain drops, scientifically it’s the photosynthesis, but everything is green and it visually captures you,” he says. “It’s almost like hyper-colour.”

Published March 2024.