The ABORIGINALS settled the Australian continent more than 40,000 years ago. They lived in total isolation from the rest of the world, existing by hunting and gathering. In the 18th century, the Europeans arrived, forcing the Aboriginals off their territories. Today, many feel isolated from white society, but still try to preserve their tribal identity.
Aboriginals first reached Australia during the last Ice Age. Sea levels were low, and they were able to cross from southeast Asia over land bridges and small stretches of water. When the ice melted and sea levels rose again, the continent was completely cut off. Initially, the settlers clung to the coasts and rivers, but gradually moved across the continent.
By the time Europeans arrived, there were about 500 different tribal groups living in Australia.
Ways of Life
Traditionally, Aboriginals lived by hunting and gathering. They were nomadic, roaming over large stretches of territory, setting up temporary camps near watering places, and moving on when food supplies were exhausted. They traded with other tribes, exchanging goods such as spears.
Hunting and Gathering
Aboriginals lived by hunting animals such as kangaroos, and supplemented their diet with wild plants, nuts, and berries. The hunters used spears with stone blades and wooden boomerangs, a type of missile that flies back to the thrower. Some tribes developed an elaborate sign language, so that they could send silent messages to each other when they were stalking game.
Aboriginal hunters used silent signals to avoid disturbing the game. The sign for kangaroo starts with a dosed hand and moves to an open shape.
Aboriginal peoples have handed down stories, songs, and traditions from generation to generation. This culture is kept alive at corroborees, ceremonial dances where tribes gather together to retell the tales of Australia’s past through songs, music, and dance.
European colonists arrived in Australia in 1788, and displaced Aboriginal tribes from their territory. Today, there are about 250,000 Aboriginals in Australia, many of whom live in urban areas. Although there is still discrimination,Aboriginals are beginning to benefit from government aid, and to assert their civil rights.
When the Europeans arrived in Australia they claimed that the land was Terra nullius, that it belonged to no one, and that they were entitled to occupy it. More recently, the Aboriginals have campaigned to regain their lost territory and sacred sites. In 1993, the Australian government reversed its Terra nullius policy.
During early contact with the Europeans, Aboriginal languages were lost or fell into disuse. In 1972, the government established a bilingual education programme. Many children are now taught in their tribal languages before learning English. Books, radio, and television broadcasts are all available in many Aboriginal languages.
The Aboriginals believe that Dreamtime is a period when Ancestral Beings shaped the land, creating all species and human beings. These beings are thought to live on eternally in spirit form. Human beings are believed to be a part of nature, closely associated with all other living things. Images of spirits of Dream time, such as Lightning Man, cover sacred cliffs and caves in tribal areas.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Aboriginals believe that the Ancestral Beings created the Australian landscape, and established customs and traditions still followed today. They have left evidence of their presence in the many sacred places, such as Uluru in central Australia. This is revered as a sacred place by the local Aranda people. Once called Ayers Rock by the Australian government, the rock regained its Aboriginal name in 1988.