Indigenous Australians, or Aboriginal Australians, have inhabited Australia for more than 50,000 years. What’s interesting to know is that there are now over 250 linguistic communities dispersed over Australia.

Two distinct groups of indigenous Australians exist: the Aboriginal peoples, who trace their ancestry back to the indigenous population of Australia before British colonisation in 1788, and the Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are descended from the original inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands, which are now a part of the Australian state of Queensland. You can discover more here


History Of Aboriginal Australians After White Settlement

In 1788, with the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook and later Arthur Phillip, the “white settlement” officially began.

Beginning in 1788, the British viewed Australia as a colony to be settled rather than conquered. The British colonists assumed that Aboriginal land belonged to no one (‘terra nullius’), and hence decided to take it over. When Cook set off on his exploratory mission, he was given orders to take control of the Southern Continent if it was uninhabited. If it was already populated, however, he needed the approval of the native people to do so.

But it was mandatory to take it in either case. It didn’t bother Lt. Cook that the area he named New South Wales was already densely populated when he arrived and declared it to be British territory under King George III. The legal illusion that Australia was waste and unoccupied began with his failure to even try to acquire the agreement of the natives.

You should know that Aboriginal peoples had occupied and utilised the entire continent by the time of European colonisation in 1788, having successfully adapted to a wide range of ecological and climatic circumstances.

In the rich riverine and coastal areas, the population density was about 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometres) per person, but in the vast inland deserts, the population density was more than 35 square miles (90 square kilometres) per person. The number of indigenous people is estimated to be anything from 300,000 to over 1,000,000.

Most Aboriginal people were bilingual, or multilingual, and more than 200 distinct languages were spoken by the Aboriginal population (along with hundreds of dialects). There was a correlation between specific geographical regions and the languages (or dialects) spoken there.

People organised themselves primarily into linguistically identified groupings, which Europeans sometimes described to as “tribes.” As many as five hundred distinct communities with well-defined borders existed.

Traditional academia asserts that Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers who did not cultivate crops or domesticate animals (apart from the dingo), and thus relied only on the resources of the wild. Some modern historians and archaeologists, however, have maintained that Aboriginal people did not subsist solely by hunting and gathering but rather engaged in complex farming practises.

Despite their nomadic lifestyle, the prevalent view argues that Aboriginal people felt a deep connection to certain locations within their traditional homeland. People were typically spread out into smaller food-gathering groups so that population could be kept in check with available resources.

However, huge gatherings would be organised several times a year when food resources permitted, and most of the social and religious work of the society would be conducted during these two to three weeks. Although the ebb and flow of aggregation and dispersal was crucial, ecological conditions rendered dispersal the norm across much of this dry continent.

Moreover, there were no chiefs or other centralised institutions among Aboriginal people, therefore there was no social or political authority. Although hierarchical and egalitarian tendencies were present in Aboriginal civilisations, class distinctions didn’t exist within them. Egalitarianism was the prevailing value system, notwithstanding the lowly position of women in Aboriginal societies.

Another important thing to know is that their members were culturally similar and socialised with one another more frequently than with those of other groups. However, most Aboriginal Australians were defeated by massacres and economic devastation as British immigrants seized their lands, with estimates putting the number of indigenous deaths at 20,000 along the colony’s frontiers.

Religion was the one setting where age and gender were not the primary factors in determining one’s social standing. Women were not allowed to participate in the most important sacrosanct rituals performed by men, and different levels of initiation were used to define different spheres of privilege for different ages of men.

However, Aboriginal communities were essentially “open,” meaning that a man may rise to the position of religious leader via his own efforts without facing social obstacles. Learning about and becoming skilled at leading or conducting ritual was a path to prestige for both sexes. Read more on this page.

Most senior men took on leadership responsibilities at some point during the lengthy ritual proceedings in the Great Sandy Desert, but these roles were established by the specific circumstances of each ceremony. There was a ritual rank hierarchy among desert women, even though they were far more similar to one another. Everywhere women were submissive to the authority of initiated men in religious matters.

Government assimilation programmes in Australia between 1910 and 1970 resulted in the removal of 10%-33% of Aboriginal children from their families. Many members of these “Stolen Generations” were institutionalised or adopted by white families and forbidden to speak their native tongues. They frequently had their names changed, as well.

You should also know that Australians didn’t vote to make aboriginal people subject to federal law until 1967. Before 1965, most Aboriginal Australians didn’t enjoy the same privileges as other Australian citizens.

Resources About Aboriginals

By learning about the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we can have a better appreciation for cultural variety and the role it plays in our daily lives.

The complexity of the Indigenous connection to Country is only one of the many unique aspects of Aboriginal culture that is little unknown by the general Australian public.

The first step towards effective communication is learning, and frequently unlearning, how to include others.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources, either in the forms of books, artwork, videos, and educational programmes that can help you understand their culture better! The more you discover about different cultures, histories, and traditions, the richer you become as a person!

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