Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal)

Micheal Heffernan
Note by Micheal Heffernan, updated more than 1 year ago More Less
Andrea Leyden
Created by Andrea Leyden over 5 years ago
Micheal Heffernan
Copied by Micheal Heffernan over 5 years ago


This Note provides an overview of the core characteristics of the Indigenous Australian or Aboriginal culture, along with a quiz to test how much you already know, or find out how much you have learned.

Resource summary

Page 1

History and Origins

Australian Aboriginal culture varies throughout the continent, with separate regions having unique Ancestral Beings, tools, weapons, arts and crafts. Since the arrival of Macassan (Indonesian) on northern Australian shores after 1700 AD, and later European colonisation in 1788, Aboriginal culture has continued to evolve and change. There were about 600 different clan groups or 'nations' around the continent when Europeans arrived. Many had their own distinctive cultures and beliefs.

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The Indigenous cultures of Australia are the oldest living cultural history in the world – they go back at least 50,000 years and some argue closer to 65,000 years.

One of the reasons Aboriginal cultures have survived for so long is their ability to adapt and change over time. It was this affinity with their surroundings that goes a long way to explaining how Aboriginal people survived for so many millennia.Cultural heritage is seen as 'the total ways of living built up by a group of human beings, which is passed from one generation to the next', given to them by reason of their birth.In Australia, Indigenous communities keep their cultural heritage alive by passing their knowledge, arts, rituals and performances from one generation to another, speaking and teaching languages, protecting cultural materials, sacred and significant sites, and objects.

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The Creation or "Dreaming" stories, which describe the travels of the spiritual ancestors, are integral to Aboriginal spirituality.

In most stories of the Dreaming, the Ancestor spirits came to the earth in human form and as they moved through the land, they created the animals, plants, rocks and other forms of the land that we know today. They also created the relationships between groups and individuals to the land, the animals and other people. Once the ancestor spirits had created the world, they changed into trees, the stars, rocks, watering holes or other objects. These are the sacred places of Aboriginal culture and have special properties. Because the ancestors did not disappear at the end of the Dreaming, but remained in these sacred sites, the Dreaming is never-ending, linking the past and the present, the people and the land. For Aboriginal people all that is sacred is in the land. Knowledge of sacred sites is learned through a process of initiation and gaining an understanding of Aboriginal law. It is, by definition, not public knowledge. This is why the existence of many sites might not be broadcast to the wider world unless they are threatened.Source: Australian Government.

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Art and Visual Culture

The quality and variety of Australian Indigenous art produced today reflects the richness and diversity of Indigenous culture.

It also highlights the distinct differences between tribes, languages, dialects and geographic landscapes.The emergence of 'dot' paintings by Indigenous men from the western deserts of Central Australia in the early 1970s has been called the greatest art movement of the twentieth century. Prior to this, most cultural material by Indigenous Australians was collected by anthropologists. Consequently, collections were found in university departments or natural history museums worldwide, not art galleries. That all changed at a place called Papunya and with what became known as the Papunya Tula art movement of the Western Desert.Today Indigenous art ranges across a wide variety of mediums from works on paper and canvas to fibre and glass.The story of the way these art forms runs parallel to the history and experiences of the artists themselves. It reflects customary trading patterns, a struggle for survival and the influence of governments and churches.Source: Australian Government.

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Land is fundamental to the well-being of Aboriginal people.

The land is not just soil or rocks or minerals, but a whole environment that sustains and is sustained by people and culture. For Indigenous Australians, the land is the core of all spirituality and this relationship and the spirit of 'country' is central to the issues that are important to Indigenous people today.All of Australia's Aboriginals were semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, with each clan having its own territory from which they 'made their living'. These territories or 'traditional lands' were defined by geographic boundaries such as rivers, lakes and mountains. They understood and cared for their different environments, and adapted to them. We cultivated our land, but in a way different from the white man. We endeavoured to live with the land; they seemed to live off it. I was taught to preserve, never to destroy. Aborigine Tom DystraIndigenous knowledge of the land is linked to their exceptional tracking skills based on their hunter and gather life. This includes the ability to track down animals, to identify and locate edible plants, to find sources of water and fish.Source: Australian Government.

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Take a Quiz

Take the quiz to test how much you know and find out how much have learned about Australian Aboriginal people.

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