With worst drought in history, weathermen looking at Aborigines' 40,000 years of lore

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SYDNEY -- 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.

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