George Gershwin would turn in his grave, but if a Sydney botanist gets his way, Australians could find themselves humming "Sprummertime and the living is easy" come October.
Tim Entwisle, executive director of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, wants the traditional four seasons to be abolished. Or rather, he wants to tinker with them and add two new seasons: sprummer and sprinter.
Dr Entwisle believes the model of four three-month seasons, which Australia inherited from Britain, is unsuited to the rhythms of a continent with vastly different weather patterns. If the seasonal calendar was adjusted, he says, people would become more attuned to their environment and better able to observe signs of climate change.
Although spring officially begins on 1 September, for instance, Australia's national flower, the wattle, always starts blooming in August, or even July. "Every year people say spring has come early, but in fact it happens every year," Dr Entwisle said yesterday.
He is advocating that spring be brought forward to August and last only two months, to be followed by a new pre-summer season, spanning October and November. Summer would start in December, as it does at present, but would last four months rather than three. There would be a short autumn in April and May, followed by a brief winter in June and July.
"Sprummer" is Dr Entwisle's light-hearted suggestion for the pre-summer season, while the early spring months, he proposes, could be "sprinter". A competition could be held to decide names, he says. As a botanist, though, he would be delighted if October-November was called "wattle" or "wattle season".
"It's very odd that we carry across arbitrary seasons from Europe and don't respond to what's going on around us," he said. "Five or six seasons would better reflect what we experience. If we're going to detect changes due to climate change, it's important that we get our seasons a little more in tune with the environment."
While Dr Entwisle's new model would apply to much of southern Australia, the weather across the continent ranges from temperate to tropical, with desert conditions in between. He believes every region should adopt a seasonal structure that suits it. "It sounds confusing, but it needn't be," he said.
Aboriginal Australians recognise six to eight seasons. In the tropical north, for instance, the Jawoyn people of the Northern Territory have Jiorrk (wet season, January and February), Bungarung (end of the rains, March to mid-April), Jungalk (hot start of the dry period, mid-April to late May), Malaparr (cooler dry period, June to end of August), Worrwopmi (humid dry period, September to late October) and Wakaringding (start of the rains, November to end of December).
By contrast, non-indigenous people in northern Australia acknowledge only two seasons: the dry and the wet. However, the humid build-up to the rains – a period even locals find intolerable – is informally known as "Mango Madness" season, and roughly corresponds to Worrwopmi.