Learn more about Indigenous Australians
|Regions with significant populations|| New South Wales|
|Language||Several hundred indigenous Australian languages (many extinct or nearly so), Australian English, Australian Aboriginal English, Torres Strait Creole, Kriol|
|Religion|| various forms of Christianity, Traditional belief systems based around the Dreamtime <tr>
<th style="background-color:#fee8ab;">Related ethnic groups</th> <td style="background-color:#fff6d9;">see List of Indigenous Australian group names</td>
Indigenous Australians are the first human inhabitants of the Australian continent and its nearby islands. The term includes both the Torres Strait Islanders and the Aborigines. The latter term is usually used to refer to those who live in mainland Australia, Tasmania and other adjacent islands (although Tiwi Islanders have sometimes said they prefer to be known as such rather than as Aboriginal people). The Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous Australians who live in the Torres Strait Islands between Australia and New Guinea. They differ from the Aboriginal people in that they possess distinct facial variations, have different customs and culture. They are generally considered to be a distinct ethnic group preferring to be known as Torres Strait Islanders rather than as Aboriginal people.
The term "Indigenous Australians" encompasses a large number of diverse communities and societies, with different modes of subsistence, cultural practices, languages, technologies and inhabited environments. However, these peoples also share a larger set of traits, and are otherwise seen as being broadly related. A collective identity as Indigenous Australians is recognised and exists alongside the identity and membership of many local community and traditional groups.
There are various names from the indigenous languages which are commonly used to identify groups based on regional geography and other affiliations. These include: Koori (or Koorie) in New South Wales and Victoria; Murri in Queensland; Noongar in southern Western Australia; Yamatji in Central Western Australia; Wangkai in the Western Australian Goldfields; Nunga in southern South Australia; Anangu in northern South Australia, and neighbouring parts of Western Australia and Northern Territory; Yapa in western central Northern Territory; Yolngu in eastern Arnhem Land (NT) and Palawah (or Pallawah) in Tasmania.
These larger groups may be further subdivided; for example, Anangu (meaning a person from Australia's central desert region) recognises localised subdivisions such as Yankunytjatjara, Pitjantjatjara, Ngaanyatjara, Luritja and Antikirinya.
The word aboriginal, appearing in English since at least the 17th century and meaning "first or earliest known, indigenous," has been used in Australia to describe its indigenous peoples as early as 1789. It soon became capitalised and employed as the common name to refer to all Indigenous Australians. Strictly speaking, "Aborigine" is the noun and "Aboriginal" the adjectival form; however the latter is often also employed to stand as a noun. Note that the use of "Aboriginal(s)" in this sense, i.e. as a noun, has acquired negative, even derogatory connotations among some sectors of the community, who regard it as insensitive, and even offensive. The more acceptable and correct expression is "Australian Aborigines," though even this is sometimes regarded as an expression to be avoided because of its historical associations with colonialism. "Indigenous Australians" has found increasing acceptance, particularly since the 1980s.
The Torres Strait Islanders possess a heritage and cultural history distinct from mainland indigenous traditions; the eastern Torres Strait Islanders in particular are related to the Papuan peoples of New Guinea, and speak a Papuan language. Accordingly, they are not generally included under the designation "Australian Aborigines." This has been another factor in the promotion of the more inclusive term "Indigenous Australians."
The once-common abbreviation "Abo" is now widely considered highly offensive, roughly equivalent to "nigger" in the United States. Use of the word "native", common before about 1960, is also regarded as offensive.
The term "blacks" has often been applied to indigenous Australians. This owes rather more to racial stereotyping than ethnology, as it categorises indigenous Australians with the other black peoples of Asia and Africa, despite the relationships only being ones of very distant shared ancestry. However, in recent years young indigenous Australians have increasingly adopted aspects of black American and Afro-Caribbean culture, creating what has been described as a form of "black transnationalism."<ref name="gibson">Chris Gibson, Peter Dunbar-Hall, Deadly Sounds, Deadly Places: Contemporary Aboriginal Music in Australia, pp. 120-121 (UNSW Press, 2005)</ref>
The indigenous languages of mainland Australia and Tasmania have not been shown to be related to any languages outside Australia. In the late 18th century, there were anywhere between 350 and 750 distinct groupings and a similar number of languages and dialects. At the start of the 21st century, fewer than 200 indigenous languages remain in use and all but about 20 of these are highly endangered.
Linguists classify mainland Australian languages into two distinct groups, the Pama-Nyungan languages and the non-Pama Nyungan. The Pama-Nyungan languages comprise the majority, covering most of Australia, and is a family of related languages. In the north, stretching from the Western Kimberley to the Gulf of Carpentaria, are found a number of groups of languages which have not been shown to be related to the Pama-Nyungan family or to each other: these are known as the non-Pama-Nyungan languages. While it has sometimes proven difficult to work out familial relationships within the Pama-Nyungan language family many Australianist linguists feel there has been substantial success.<ref>Bowern, Claire and Harold Koch (eds.). 2004. Australian Languages: Classification and the comparative method. John Benjamins, Sydney.</ref> Against this some linguists, such as R. M. W. Dixon, suggest that the Pama-Nyungan group, and indeed the entire Australian linguistic area, is rather a sprachbund, or group of languages having very long and intimate contact, rather than a typical linguistic phylum.<ref>Dixon, R.M.W. 1997. The Rise and Fall of Languages. CUP.</ref>
Given their long occupation of Australia, it has been suggested that Aboriginal languages form one specific sub-grouping. Certainly, similarities in the phoneme set of Aboriginal languages throughout the continent is suggestive of a common origin. A common feature of many Australian languages is that they display so-called mother-in-law languages, special speech registers used only in the presence of certain close relatives. The position of Tasmanian languages is unknown, and it is also unknown whether they comprised one or more than one specific language family, as only a few poor-quality word-lists have survived the impact of colonisation and social dislocation.
- See also: Prehistory of Australia
The minimum widely-accepted timeframe for the arrival of humans in Australia places this at 40,000 to 45,000 years ago. The upper range supported by others is up to 70,000 years ago. There is no clear or accepted origin of the indigenous people of Australia. Although it is thought some Indigneous clans migrated to Australia through Southeast Asia they are not demonstrably related to any known Asian or Polynesian population. There is evidence of genetic and linguistic interchange between Australians in the far north and the Austronesian peoples of modern-day New Guinea and the islands, but this may be the result of recent trade and intermarriage.<ref>Diamond, J. (1997). "Guns, germs, and steel". Random House. London. pp 314-316</ref>
 Migration to Australia
It is believed that first human migration to Australia was achieved when this landmass formed part of the Sahul continent, connected to the island of New Guinea via a land bridge. It is also possible that people came by boat across the Timor Sea. The exact timing of the arrival of the ancestors of the Indigenous Australians has been a matter of dispute among archaeologists. The most generally accepted date for first arrival is between 40,000 - 50,000 years BP. A 48,000 BC date is based on a few sites in northern Australia dated using thermoluminescence. A large number of sites have been radiocarbon dated to around 38,000 BC, leading some researchers to doubt the accuracy of the thermoluminescence technique. Some estimates have been given as widely as from 30,000 to 68,000 BC.<ref>Bowler, JM et al, (20 February 2003), Letters: New ages for human occupation and climatic change at Lake Mungo, Australia, Nature 421, pp. 837-840</ref>
Thermoluminescence dating of the Jinmium site in the Northern Territory suggested a date of 200,000 BC. Although this result received wide press coverage, it is not accepted by most archaeologists. Only Africa has older physical evidence of habitation by modern humans.
Humans reached Tasmania approximately 40,000 years ago by migrating across a land bridge from the mainland that existed during the last ice age. After the seas rose about 12,000 years ago and covered the land bridge, the inhabitants there were isolated from the mainland until the arrival of European settlers.<ref>Mulvaney, J. and Kamminga, J., (1999), Prehistory of Australia. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.</ref>
Mungo Man, whose remains were discovered in 1974 near Lake Mungo in New South Wales, is the oldest human yet found in Australia. Although the exact age of Mungo Man is in dispute, the best consensus is that he is at least 40,000 years old. Stone tools also found at Lake Mungo have been estimated, based on stratigraphic association to be about 50,000 years old. Since Lake Mungo is in south-eastern Australia, many archaeologists have concluded that humans must have arrived in north-west Australia at least several thousand years earlier.
 Before the European arrival
At the time of first European contact, it is estimated that between 250,000 and 1 million people lived in Australia. Population levels are likely to have been largely stable for many thousands of years. The common perception that indigenous Australians were primarily desert dwellers is false: the regions of heaviest Indigenous population were the same temperate coastal regions that are currently the most heavily populated. The greatest population density was to be found in the southern and eastern regions of the continent, the Murray River valley in particular. In all instances, technologies, diets and hunting practices varied according to the local environment.
Post-colonisation, the coastal indigenous populations were soon absorbed, depleted or forced from their lands; the traditional aspects of Aboriginal life which remained persisted most strongly in areas such as the Great Sandy Desert where European settlement has been sparse.
The mode of life and material cultures varied greatly from region to region. While Torres Strait Island populations were agriculturalists who supplemented their diet through the acquisition of wild foods the remainder of Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers. Indigenous Australians along the coast and rivers were also expert fishermen. Some Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders relied on the dingo as a companion animal, using it to assist with hunting and for warmth on cold nights.
Indigenous Australians did not practice agriculture, although some writers have described some mainland Indigenous food and landscape management practices as "incipient agriculture". In present-day Victoria, for example, there were two separate communities with an economy based on eel-farming in complex and extensive irrigated pond systems; one on the Murray River in the state's north, the other in the south-west near Hamilton, which traded with other groups from as far away as the Melbourne area (see Gunditjmara).
On mainland Australia no animal other than the dingo was domesticated, however domestic pigs were utilized by Torres Strait Islanders. The typical Indigenous diet included a wide variety of foods, such kangaroo, emu, wombats, goanna, snakes, birds, many insects such as honey ants and witchetty grubs. Many varieties of plant foods such as taro, nuts, fruits and berries were also eaten. (see Bush Tucker).
A primary tool used in hunting was the spear, launched by a woomera or spear-thrower in some locals. Boomerangs were also used by some mainland Indigenous peoples. The non-returnable boomerang (known more correctly as a Throwing Stick), more powerful than the returning kind, could be used to injure or even kill a kangaroo.
Permanent villages were the norm for most Torres Strait Island communities. In some areas mainland Indigenous Australians also lived in semi-permanent villages, most usually in less arid areas where fishing could provide for a more settled existence. Most Indigenous communities were semi-nomadic, moving in a regular cycle over a defined territory, following seasonal food sources and returning to the same places at the same time each year. From the examination of middens, archaeologists have shown that some localities were visited annually by Indigenous communities for thousands of years. In the more arid areas Indigenous Australians were nomadic, ranging over wide areas in search of scarce food resources.
The Indigenous Australians lived through great climatic changes and adapted successfully to their changing physical environment. There is much ongoing debate about the degree to which they modified the environment. One controversy revolves around the role of Indigenous people in the extinction of the marsupial megafauna (also see Australian megafauna). Some argue that natural climate change killed the megafauna. Others claim that, because the megafauna were large and slow, they were easy prey for human hunters. A third possibility is that human modification of the environment, particularly through the use of fire, indirectly led to their extinction.
Indigenous Australians used fire for a variety of purposes: to encourage the growth of edible plants and fodder for prey; to reduce the risk of catastrophic bushfires; to make travel easier; to eliminate pests; for ceremonial purposes; for warfare and just to "clean up country." There is disagreement, however, about the extent to which this burning led to large-scale changes in vegetation patterns.
There is evidence of substantial change in Indigenous culture over time. Rock painting at several locations in northern Australia has been shown to consist of a sequence of different styles linked to different historical periods.
Some have suggested, for instance that the Last Glacial Maximum, of 20,000 years ago, associated with a period of continental wide aridity and the spread of sand-dunes, was also associated with a reduction in Aboriginal activity, and greater specialisation in the use of natural foodstuffs and products. The Flandrian Transgression associated with sea-level rise, particularly in the north, with the loss of the Sahul Shelf, and with the flooding of Bass Strait and the subsequent isolation of Tasmania, may also have been periods of difficulty for affected groups.
Harry Lourandos has been the leading proponent of the theory that a period of hunter-gatherer intensification occurred between 3000 and 1000 BC. Intensification involved an increase in human manipulation of the environment (for example, the construction of eel traps in Victoria), population growth, an increase in trade between groups, a more elaborate social structure, and other cultural changes. A shift in stone tool technology, involving the development of smaller and more intricate points and scrapers, occurred around this time. This was probably also associated with the introduction to the mainland of the Australian dingo.
Many Indigenous communities also have a very complex kinship structure and in some places strict rules about marriage. In traditionally societies, men are required to marry women of a specific moiety. The system is still alive in many Central Australian communities. —To enable men and women to find suitable partners, many groups would come together for annual gatherings (commonly known as corroborees) at which goods were traded, news exchanged, and marriages arranged amid appropriate ceremonies. This practice both reinforced clan relationships and prevented inbreeding in a society based on small semi-nomadic groups.
It has been asserted, for example by Walter Roth in his 1897 study The Queensland Aborigines, that cannibalism was practised by traditional Indigenous societies. Others have disputed this assertion. <ref>Roth says: "Though the prima facie evidence of the practice of cannibalism is very meager, and any information concerning particulars is but charily given by the aboriginals, there is no doubt that this custom, though gradually becoming more and more obsolete, certainly does take place within certain limitations throughout North-West-Central Queensland." Roth, W. (1984) The Queensland Aborigines, 1984 facsimile edition, Queensland Government Printer, paragraph 293, "Cannibalism", p. 166, vol. 1, originally published as Ethnological Studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines (1897). The then Queensland Commissioner of Police, William Parry-Okeden, commented in an official report QSA A/19898 (Roths Estrays), "It is important also to exercise caution as to Roth's reports on cannibalism". </ref>
 Impact of European settlement
Great damage has been caused to the social fabric of Indigenous Australia by colonisation. It was realised that refusal to work with Indigenous people when researching and writing about Indigenous culture resulted in more damage so the new wave of researchers now ensure co-operative arrangements are in place and followed, with culture and Indigenous people being given the primary voice.<ref>Du Cros, H. (2002) 'Much More than Stones and Bones', Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, p 367</ref>
In 1770, Lieutenant James Cook took possession of the east coast of Australia in the name of Great Britain and named it New South Wales. British colonisation of Australia began in Sydney in 1788. The most immediate consequence of British settlement - within weeks of the first colonists' arrival - was a wave of European epidemic diseases such as chickenpox, smallpox, influenza and measles, which spread in advance of the frontier of settlement. The worst-hit communities were the ones with the greatest population densities, where disease could spread more readily. In the arid centre of the continent, where small communities were spread over a vast area, the population decline was less marked.
The second consequence of British settlement was appropriation of land and water resources. The settlers took the view that Indigenous Australians were nomads with no concept of land ownership, who could be driven off land wanted for farming or grazing and who would be just as happy somewhere else. In fact the loss of traditional lands, food sources and water resources was usually fatal, particularly to communities already weakened by disease. Additionally, Indigenous Australians groups had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land, so that in being forced to move away from traditional areas, cultural and spiritual practices necessary to the cohesion and well-being of the group could not be maintained. Unlike in New Zealand, no treaty was ever entered into with the indigenous peoples entitling the Europeans to land ownership. Proximity to settlers also brought venereal disease, to which Indigenous Australians had no tolerance and which greatly reduced indigenous fertility and birthrates. Settlers also brought alcohol, opium and tobacco and Substance abuse has remained a chronic problem for indigenous communities ever since. The combination of disease, loss of land and direct violence reduced the Aboriginal population by an estimated 90% between 1788 and 1900. Entire communities in the moderately fertile southern part of the continent simply vanished without trace, often before European settlers arrived or recorded their existence. The indigenous people in Tasmania were particularly hard-hit, with the last full-blood indigenous Tasmanian, Truganini, dying in 1876, although a substantial part-indigenous community survived.
In Tasmania some non-Aboriginal people were so horrified by what was happening to the Indigenous people they wrote to England seeking action to stop it, from the British Government. The governor of Tasmania, Governor Arthur, declared martial law against the Aboriginal people in 1828 and this was considered a war declaration.<ref>Bourke, C.,Bourke, E. & Edwards, B. (eds.) (2002) 'Aboriginal Australia'2nd ed. University of Queensland Press, p.60</ref>
Dr Lang said "There is black blood at this moment on the hands of individuals of good repute in the colony of New South Wales of which all the waters of New Holland would be insufficient to wash out the indelible stains." <ref>Lang, 1834. History of NSW p.38</ref>
A wave of massacres and resistance also followed the frontier of European settlement. In 1838, twenty eight indigenous people were killed at the Myall Creek massacre and the hanging of the white convict settlers responsible was the first time whites had been executed for the murder of indigenous people. Many indigenous communities resisted the settlers, such as the Noongar of south-western Australia, led by Yagan, who was killed in 1833. The Kalkadoon of Queensland also resisted the settlers, and there was a massacre of over 200 people on their land at Battle Mountain in 1884. There was a massacre at Coniston in the Northern Territory in 1928. Poisoning of food and water has been recorded on several different occasions. The number of violent deaths at the hands of white people is still the subject of debate, with a figure of around 10,000 - 20,000 deaths being advanced by historians such as Henry Reynolds. Nevertheless, disease and dispossession were always the major causes of indigenous deaths. By the 1870s all the fertile areas of Australia had been appropriated, and indigenous communities reduced to impoverished remnants living either on the fringes of European communities or on lands considered unsuitable for settlement.
Governor Bourke was so alarmed by reports of barbarism against black British subjects concerning non-Indigenous men taking Aboriginal women to rape, chaining them to beds in their huts that in 1837 he outlawed the forced detention of Aboriginal women by whites.<ref>Broome, R.(2001)'Aboriginal Australians', 3rd edition, Allen & Unwin, p.60</ref>
Anthropologist Walter Roth asserted in 'The Bulletin' in 1880 about the situation in Queensland thus:
- The blacks have been murdered by thousands ... there is ... wholesale massacre of human beings; a relentless violation of women. [I have] seen the brain of an infant dashed out against a tree after another had been murdered. This is not fiction but the statement of one who, not three years ago, saw in Queensland scrub the sunburned corpses of men and women and children who had been murdered by officers of 'justice' and left for the crows<ref> Pollard, D (1988) Give and Take: the Losing Partnership in Aboriginal Poverty, Sydney, Hale and Ironmonger, p.24 in Colin Bourke, Eleanor Bourke and Bill Edwards (eds) (2002) Aboriginal Australia 2nd edition, University of Queensland Press, p.194</ref>
Indigenous man, Phillip Pepper recounted the terrible situation that faced his people when the missionaries moved into Gippsland in the 1850s:
- Only for the missionaries there wouldn't be so many Aborigines walking around today. They're the ones that saved the day for us. Old Hagenauer took them sick ones in and gave them medicine and food too. And they learnt to be Christian. Their tribal business was messed up before that.<ref>Grimshaw, P., Lake, M., McGrath, A. and Quartly, M. (1996) Creating a Nation: 1788-1900." Penguin Books, Ringwood.p.134</ref>
Some initial contact between indigenous people and Europeans was peaceful, starting with the Guugu Yimithirr people who met James Cook near Cooktown in 1770. Bennelong served as interlocutor between the Eora people of Sydney and the British colony, and was the first Indigenous Australian to travel to England, staying there between 1792 and 1795. Indigenous people were known to help European explorers, such as John King, who lived with a tribe for two and a half months after the ill fated Burke and Wills expedition of 1861. Also living with indigenous people was William Buckley, an escaped convict, who was with the Wautharong people near Melbourne for thirty-two years, before being found in 1835. Many indigenous people adapted to European culture, working as stock hands or labourers. The first Australian cricket team, which toured England in 1867, was made up of indigenous players.
However, the manager of this team, Thomas Wills lost his family when they were killed in what is known as the Cullin-La-Ringo massacre in 1861.<ref>http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au/things-to-see-and-do/cullin-la-ringo-massacre-site/index.cfm</ref>
As the European pastoral industries developed, several economic changes came about. The appropriation of prime land and the spread of European livestock over vast areas made a traditional indigenous lifestyle less viable, but also provided a ready alternative supply of fresh meat for those prepared to incur the settlers' anger by hunting livestock. The impact of disease and the settlers' industries had a profound impact on the Indigenous Australians' way of life. With the exception of a few in the remote interior, all surviving indigenous communities gradually became dependent on the settler population for their livelihood. In south-eastern Australia, during the 1850s, large numbers of white pastoral workers deserted employment on stations for the Australian goldrushes. Indigenous women, men and children became a significant source of labour. Most indigenous labour was unpaid, instead indigenous workers received rations in the form of food, clothing and other basic necessities. In the later 19th century, settlers made their way north and into the interior, appropriating small but vital parts of the land for their own exclusive use (waterholes and soaks in particular), and introducing sheep, rabbits and cattle, all three of which ate out previously fertile areas and degraded the ability of the land to carry the native animals that were vital to indigenous economies. Indigenous hunters would often spear sheep and cattle, incurring the wrath of graziers, after they replaced the native animals as a food source. As large sheep and cattle stations came to dominate northern Australia, indigenous workers were quickly recruited. Several other outback industries, notably pearling, also employed Aboriginal workers. In many areas Christian missions also provided food and clothing for indigenous communities, and also opened schools and orphanages for indigenous children. In some places colonial governments also provided some resources. Nevertheless, some indigenous communities in the most arid areas survived with their traditional lifestyles intact as late as the 1930s.
In general, the first European colonisers were at least not opposed , but there were violent conflicts from time to time frequently culminating in killings. In the Northern Territory, both isolated Europeans (usually travellers) and visiting Japanese fishermen continued to be speared to death occasionally until the start of the Second World War in 1939. It is known that some European settlers in the centre and north of the country shot indigenous people during this period. One particular series of killings became known as the Caledon Bay crisis, and became a watershed in the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
By the early 20th century the indigenous population had declined to between 50,000 and 90,000, and the belief that the Indigenous Australians would soon die out was widely held, even among Australians sympathetic to their situation. But by about 1930, those Indigenous Australians who had survived had acquired better resistance to imported diseases, and birthrates began to rise again as communities were able to adapt to changed circumstances.
By the end of World War II, many indigenous men had served in the military. They were among the few Indigenous Australians to have been granted citizenship; even those that had were obliged to carry papers, known in the vernacular as a "dog licence", with them to prove it. However, Aboriginal pastoral workers in northern Australia remained unfree labourers, paid only small amounts of cash, in addition to rations, and severely restricted in their movements by regulations and/or police action. On May 1, 1946, Aboriginal station workers in the Pilbara region of Western Australia initiated the 1946 Pilbara strike and never returned to work. However, this protest came as modern technology and management techniques were starting to dramatically reduce the amount of labour required by pastoral enterprises. Mass layoffs across northern Australia followed the Federal Pastoral Industry Award of 1968, which required the payment of a minimum wage to Aboriginal station workers. Many of the workers and their families became refugees or fringe dwellers, living in camps on the outskirts of towns and cities.
However, by the end of the period, certain White Australians were beginning to warm to indigenous culture, and this can be seen in the Jindyworobak Movement of the 1950s, which although composed of white people took a positive view of it. The name itself is deliberately aboriginal, and may be seen as part of the distancing of white Australia from its European origins. Detractors have accused the movement of hijacking native culture, but in some senses it spurred on white interest.
 The path to reconciliation: 1967 onwards
- See also: Stolen Generation
Indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections in Australia in November 1963, and in state elections shortly after, with the last state to do this being Queensland in 1965. The 1967 referendum passed in Australia with a 90% majority which allowed the Commonwealth to make laws with respect to Aboriginal people, and for Aboriginal people to be included when the country does a count to determine electoral representation. This has been the largest affirmative vote in the history of Australia's referenda.
In 1971, Yolngu people at Yirrkala sought an injunction against Nabalco to cease mining on their traditional land. In the resulting historic and controversial Gove land rights case, Justice Blackburn ruled that Australia had been terra nullius before European settlement, and that no concept of Native title existed in Australian law. Although the Yolngu people were defeated in this action, the effect was to highlight the absurdity of the law, which led first to the Woodward Commission, and then to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.
In 1972, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established on the steps of Parliament House in Canberra, in response to the sentiment among indigenous Australians that they were "strangers in their own country". A Tent Embassy still exists on the same site today.
In 1975, the Whitlam government drafted the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which aimed to restore traditional lands to indigenous people. After the dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor-General, a slightly watered-down version of the Act (known as the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976) was introduced by the coalition government led by Malcolm Fraser. While its application was limited to the Northern Territory it did grant "inalienable" freehold title to some traditional lands.
In 1992, the Australian High Court handed down its decision in the Mabo Case, declaring the previous legal concept of terra nullius to be invalid. This decision legally recognised certain land claims of Indigenous Australians in Australia prior to British Settlement. Legislation was subsequently enacted and later amended to recognise Native Title claims over land in Australia.
In 1998, as the result of an inquiry into the forced removal of indigenous children (see Stolen generation) from their families, a National Sorry Day was instituted, to acknowledge the wrong that had been done to indigenous families, so that the healing process could begin. Many politicians, from both sides of the house, participated, with the notable exception of the Prime Minister, John Howard.
In 1999 a referendum was held to change the Australian Constitution to include a preamble that, amongst other topics, recognised the occupation of Australia by Indigenous Australians prior to British Settlement. This referendum was defeated, though the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the preamble was not a major issue in the preamble referendum discussion, and the preamble question attracted minor attention compared to the question of becoming a republic (see republicanism in Australia for more details on the 1999 referendum).
Most recently, in 2004, the Australian Government has abolished The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), which had been Australia's peak indigenous organisation. The Commonwealth cited corruption and in particular, has made allegations concerning the misuse of public funds by ATSIC's chairman, Geoff Clark, as the principal reason. Indigenous specific programs have been mainstreamed, that is, reintegrated and transferred to departments and agencies serving the general population. The Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination was established within the then Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, and now with the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to coordinate a "whole of government" effort.
In June 2005, Richard Frankland, founder of the 'Your Voice' political party, in an open letter to Prime Minister John Howard, advocated that the eighteenth-century conflicts between indigenous and colonial Australians "be recognised as wars and be given the same attention as the other wars receive within the Australian War Memorial". In its editorial on 20 June 2005 the Melbourne Age newspaper, said that "Frankland has raised an important question" and asked whether moving "work commemorating Aborigines who lost their lives defending their land … to the War Memorial [would] change the way we regard Aboriginal history."
There are a large number of tribal divisions and language groups in Aboriginal Australia, and, corresponding to this, a wide variety of diversity exists within cultural practices. However, there are some similarities between cultures.
 Practices and ceremonies
- A Corroboree it is a ceremonial meeting for Australian Aborigines.
- Fire-stick farming, identified by Australian archeologist Rhys Jones in 1969, is the practice of using fire to regularly burn vegetation to facilitate hunting and to change the composition of plant and animal species in an area.
- Tjurunga or churinga are objects of religious significance by Central Australian Aboriginal Arrernte (Aranda, Arundta) groups.
- Walkabout refers to the belief of non-Indigenous Australians that Aborigines were prone to "go walkabout" (a pidgin or perhaps quasi-pidgin expression) meaning that they would stop doing their jobs and wander through the bush for weeks at a time. Usually Aborigines were fulfilling ceremonial and spiritual obligations, but could generally not convey this to white station owners, either due to its taboo nature, or the sheer clash of the two cultures which generally left misunderstanding on both sides.
The 1996 census reported that almost 72 percent of Aborigines practiced some form of Christianity, and 16 percent listed no religion. The 2001 census contained no comparable updated data.
In the world's oldest continent the creative epoch known as the Dreamtime stretches back into a remote era in history when the creator ancestors known as the First Peoples travelled across the great southern land of Bandaiyan (Australia), creating and naming as they went.<ref>Andrews, M. (2004) 'The Seven Sisters', Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, p. 424</ref>
Indigenous Australia's oral tradition and spiritual values are based upon reverence for the land and a belief in this Dreamtime. The Dreaming is at once both the ancient time of creation and the present day reality of Dreaming. There were a great many different groups, each with their own individual culture, belief structure, and language. These cultures overlapped to a greater or lesser extent, and evolved over time. The Rainbow Serpent is a major Ancestral being for Aboriginal people across Australia. The Yowie and Bunyip are also well known Ancestral beings.
Dingo Dreaming is a significant Ancestor in the interior regions of Bandiyan as Dingo formed the songlines that cross the continent from north to south and east to west.<ref>Andrews, M. (2004) 'The Seven Sisters', Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, p. 428</ref>
One version of the Dreaming story runs as follows:
The whole world was asleep. Everything was quiet, nothing moved, nothing grew. The animals slept under the earth. One day the rainbow snake woke up and crawled to the surface of the earth. She pushed everything aside that was in her way. She wandered through the whole country and when she was tired she coiled up and slept. So she left her tracks. After she had been everywhere she went back and called the frogs. When they came out their tubby stomachs were full of water. The rainbow snake tickled them and the frogs laughed. The water poured out of their mouths and filled the tracks of the rainbow snake. That's how rivers and lakes were created. Then grass and trees began to grow and the earth filled with life. 
Aborigines developed unique instruments and folk styles. The didgeridoo is commonly considered the national instrument of Australian Aborigines, and it is claimed to be the world's oldest wind instrument. However, it was traditionally only played by Arnhem Land people, such as the Yolngu, and then only by the men. It has possibly been used by the people of the Kakadu region for 1500 years. Clapping sticks are probably the more ubiquitous musical instrument, especially because they help maintain the rhythm for the song. More recently, Aboriginal musicians have branched into rock and roll, hip hop and reggae. One of the most well known modern bands is Yothu Yindi playing in a style which has been called Aboriginal rock.
Australia has a long tradition of Aboriginal art which is thousands of years old. Modern Aboriginal artists continue the tradition using modern materials in their artworks. Aboriginal art is the most internationally recognisable form of Australian art. Several styles of Aboriginal art have developed in modern times including the watercolour paintings of Albert Namatjira; the Hermannsburg School, and the acrylic Papunya Tula "dot art" movement. Painting is a large source of income for some Central Australian communities such as at Yuendumu today.
 Traditional recreation
The Djabwurrung and Jardwadjali people of western Victoria once participated in the traditional game of Marn Grook, a type of football played with possum hide. The game is believed by some to have inspired Tom Wills, inventor of the code of Australian rules football, a popular Australian winter sport. Similarities between Marn Grook and Australian football include the unique skill of jumping to catch the ball or high "marking", which results in a free kick. The word "mark" may have originated in "mumarki", which is "an Aboriginal word meaning catch" in a dialect of a Marn Grook playing tribe. Indeed, Aussie Rules has seen many indigenous players at elite football, and have produced some of the most exciting and skillful to play the modern game. Approximately one in ten AFL players are of indigenous origin. <ref></ref> The contribution the Aboriginal people have made to the game is recognised by the annual AFL "Dreamtime at the 'G" match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground between Essendon and Richmond football clubs (the colours of the two clubs combine to form the colours of the Aboriginal flag, and many great players have come from these clubs, including Essendon's Michael Long and Richmond's Maurice Rioli). Testifying to this abundance of indigenous talent, the Aboriginal All-Stars are an AFL-level all-Aboriginal football side competes against any one of the Australian Football League's current football teams in pre-season tests. The Clontarf Foundation and football academy is just one organisation aimed at further developing aboriginal football talent. The Tiwi Bombers began playing in the Northern Territory Football League and became the first and only all-aboriginal side to compete in a major Australian competition.
See the comprehensive study of Aboriginal people in sport: Aborigines in sport by Colin Tatz
- Capturing a dream team - Video of AGE Photographer John Donegan reveals how he created a single portrait of all the AFL's indigenous players.
 Issues facing Indigenous Australians today
The Australian Aboriginal population is a mostly urbanized demographic, but a substantial number live in settlements (often located on the site of former church missions) in what are considered remote areas. The health and economic difficulties facing both groups are substantial. Aboriginal people, particularly youths, are 11 times more likely to be imprisoned than the general population, and the rate of suicides in police custody remains quite high. Rates of unemployment, health problems and poverty are likewise higher than the general population; and school retention rate and university attendance is lower.
In 1998-2000, the life expectancy of an Indigenous Australian was 21 years less for males and 20 years less for females than that of an average Australian. This is attributed to poor health at all levels and all age-groups within the indigenous population (e.g. the indigenous infant mortality rate is four times that of average Australians). However, the primary cause of the problem is unclear, and the discussion of how to solve it generates heated debate. The following factors have been at least partially implicated:
- poverty (low income)
- poor education
- substance abuse
- remote locations with poor access to health services
- for urbanised Indigenous Australians, social pressures which prevent access to health services
- cultural differences resulting in poor communication between Indigenous Australians and health workers.
Successive Federal Governments have responded to the problem by implementing programs such as the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (OATSIH). There have been some small successes, such as the reduction of infant mortality since the 1970's, effected by bringing health services into indigenous communities, but on the whole the problem remains unsolved.
Additional problems are created by the reluctance of many rural indigenous people to leave their homelands to access medical treatment in larger urban areas, particularly when they have need for on-going treatments such as dialysis. Some have expressed the sentiment that leaving their homelands, with which they have a close bond, would be as serious as death.
Indigenous students as a group leave school earlier, and leave with a lower standard of education, compared to their non-indigenous peers. Although the situation is slowly improving, and the gap narrowing, both the levels of participation in education and training among Indigenous Australians and their levels of attainment remain well below those of non-Indigenous Australians.
The following statistics mainly from the ABS, and mainly refer to 2001 statistics.
- 39% of indigenous students stayed on to year 12 at high school, compared to 75% for the Australian population as a whole.
- 22% of indigenous adults had a vocational or higher education qualification, compared to 48% for the Australian population as a whole.
- 4% of Indigenous Australians held a bachelor degree or higher, compared to 21% for the population as a whole. While this fraction is increasing, it is increasing at a slower rate than that for non-Indigenous Australians.
While some of these statistics reflect cultural differences, it has been claimed that they also reflect the poorer quality of some schools in low-income areas, rather than being due to any explicitly discriminatory policies.
In response to this problem, the Commonwealth Government formulated a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy. A number of government initiatives have resulted, some of which are listed by the Commonwealth Government's Indigenous Education page.
An Indigenous Australian is 11 times more likely to be in prison than a non-Indigenous Australian, and in 2003, 20% of prisoners in Australia were Indigenous. (Source: ABS). This over-representation of Indigenous Australians in prisons was drawn to public attention by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. An Indigenous Australian is twice as likely to be a victim of violence than a non-Indigenous Australian. <ref>http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/a3c671495d062f72ca25703b0080ccd1</ref>
Violent crime, in particular domestic and sexual abuse, is a problem in many Aboriginal communities. An estimated three in five children have suffered some kind of sexual abuse in the southeast Queensland Aboriginal community of Cherbourg (source: The Australian). In May, 2006, Alice Springs crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers publicly declared child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities a "National problem" <ref>http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,19164035-601,00.html</ref>
According to the 2001 Census, an Indigenous Australian is almost three times more likely to be unemployed (20.0% unemployment) than a non-Indigenous Australian (7.6%). Perhaps surprisingly, the difference is more marked in urban and regional centres than in remote areas, although this needs to be considered in context of lower labour force participation in remote areas and the role of CDEP. (Source: ABS)
 Substance abuse
A number of Indigenous communities suffer from a range of health and social problems associated with substance abuse of both legal and illegal drugs.
Alcohol consumption within certain Indigenous communities is seen as a significant issue, as are the domestic violence and associated issues resulting from the behaviour. A large 2004-05 health survey by the ABS found that the proportion of the Indigenous adult population engaged in 'risky' and 'high-risk' alcohol consumption (15%) was comparable to that of the non-Indigenous population (14%), based on age-standardised data.<ref>Template:Cite paper The percentage-point difference between the two figures quoted is not statistically significant, and a similar result was obtained in the earlier 2000-01 survey. The definition of "risky" and "high-risk" consumption used is 4 or more standard drinks per day average for males, 2 or more for females.</ref>
One study<ref>Template:Cite paper</ref> by the Australian National Commission on Drugs (ANCD) published in 2002 attributes the "public misperception of high alcohol use [in indigenous communities]" to "the disproportionate level of harm caused (to the individual and community) by those drinking at very high levels in public" (ANCD 2002:p.2). Even so, other studies have indicated that those in the Indigenous communities who do drink excessively are at greater risk of harm (to themselves and others) than similar-level alcohol consumers in the wider population<ref>Template:Cite paper, p.32 et. seq.</ref>
To combat the problem, a number of programs to prevent or mitigate against alcohol abuse have been attempted in different regions, many intiated from within the communities themselves. These strategies include such actions as the declaration of "Dry Zones" within indigenous communities, prohibition and restriction on point-of-sale access, and community policing and licensing. Some communities (particularly in the Northern Territory) have introduced kava as a safer alternative to alcohol, as over-indulgence in kava produces sleepiness, in contrast to the violence that can result from over-indulgence in alcohol. These and other measures have met with variable success, and while a number of communities have seen decreases in associated social problems caused by excessive drinking, others continue to struggle with the issue and it remains an ongoing concern. The ANCD study notes that in order to be effective, programs in general need also to address "...the underlying structural determinants that have a significant impact on alcohol and drug misuse" (Op. cit., p.26).
Petrol sniffing is also a problem among some remote Indigenous communities. Petrol vapour produces euphoria and dulling effect in those who inhale it, and due to its relatively low price and widespread availability, is an increasingly popular substance of abuse. Proposed solutions to the problem are a topic of heated debate among politicians and the community at large.<ref> </ref><ref></ref> In 2005 a new fuel Opal began to be rolled out across the Northern Territory to combat the problem. Opal fuel does not give the 'high' that regular fuel does. (Source Health Ministry )
 Political representation
The current and former governments have repeatedly refused to apologise to Aboriginal communities for policies such as that of the stolen generation. Geoff Clark, ATSIC, the representative body of Aborigine and Torres Strait Islanders, was disbanded and replaced by a network of 30 Indigenous Coordination Centres that administer Shared Responsibility Agreements and Regional Partnership Agreements with Aboriginal communities at a local level.<ref name="rcc">Template:Cite web</ref>
 Mainland Australia
 Clans, groups and communities
Before the British colonisation, there were a great many different Aboriginal groups, each with their own individual culture, belief structure, and language. At the time of European settlement there were well over 200 different languages (in the technical linguistic sense of non-mutually intelligible speech varieties).<ref>Australian Aboriginal languages. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 28, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9109808</ref> These cultures overlapped to a greater or lesser extent, and changed over time. Indigenous Australian Aboriginal communities are often called tribes, and there are several hundred in Australia, although the exact number is unknown, because in many parts of Australia, there are no clear tribe, nations or boundaries. The word 'community' is often used to describe Aboriginal groups as a more acceptable word. Sometimes smaller communities are referred to as tribes, and other times many communities are included in the same 'tribe'. Sometimes the different language groups are called tribes, although it can be very difficult to distinguish between different languages and dialects of a single language. The situation is complicated by the fact that sometimes up to twenty or thirty different names (either spelled differently in English, or using a different word altogether) are used for the same tribe or community. The largest Aboriginal communities today are the Pitjantjatjara, the Arrernte, the Luritja and the Warlpiri, all from Central Australia.
 Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt
The Tiwi islands are inhabited by the Tiwi, an Australian Aborigine people culturally and linguistically distinct from those of Arnhem Land on the mainland just across the water. They number around 2,500. Groote Eylandt belongs to the Anindilyakwa Aboriginal people, and is part of the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve.
The Tasmanian Aborigines are thought to have first crossed into Tasmania approximately 40,000 years ago via a land bridge between the island and the rest of mainland Australia during an ice age. The original population, estimated at 8,000 people was reduced to a population of around 300 between 1803 and 1833 mainly due to the actions of white settlers. Almost all of the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples today are descendants of two women: Fanny Cochrane Smith and Dolly Dalrymple. A woman named Truganini, who died in 1876, is generally considered to be the last first-generation tribal Tasmanian Aborigine.
 Torres Strait Islanders
Between 6% and 10% of Indigenous Australians identify themselves as Torres Strait Islanders. There are more than 100 islands which make up the Torres Strait Islands where they come from. There are 6,800 Torres Strait Islanders who live in the area of the Torres Strait, and 42,000 others who live outside of this area, mostly in the north of Queensland, such as in the coastal cities of Townsville and Cairns. Many organisations to do with Indigenous people in Australia are named "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander", showing the importance of Torres Strait Islanders in Australia's indigenous population. The islands were annexed by Queensland in 1879. The Torres Strait Islanders were not given official recognition by the Australian government until the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission was set up in 1990. Eddie Mabo is from Murray Island in the Torres Strait, which the famous Mabo decision of 1992 involved.
As at June 2001, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated the total resident indigenous population to be 458,520 (2.4% of Australia's total), 90% of whom identified as Aboriginal, 6% Torres Strait Islander and the remaining 4% being of dual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parentage. The proportion of indigenous adults married (de facto or de jure) to non-indigenous spouses was 69%, up from 46% in 1986, and the majority of Aborigines are now of mixed descent.
In the 2001 census the Aboriginal population in different States was:
- New South Wales - 134,888
- Queensland - 125,910
- Western Australia - 65,931
- Northern Territory - 56,875
- Victoria - 27,846
- South Australia - 25,544
- Tasmania - 17,384
- ACT - 3,909
- Other Territories - 233
While the State with the largest total Aboriginal population is New South Wales, as a percentage this constitutes only 2.1% of the overall population of the State. The Northern Territory has the largest Aboriginal population in percentage terms for a State or Territory, with 28.8%. All the other States and Territories have less than 4% of their total populations identifying as Aboriginal; Victoria has the lowest percentage (0.6%).
The vast majority of Aborigines do not live in separate communities away from the rest of the Australian population: in 2001 about 30% were living in major cities and another 43% in or close to rural towns, an increase from the 46% living in urban areas in 1971. The populations in the eastern states are more likely to be urbanised sometimes in city communities such as at Redfern in Sydney, whereas many of the populations of the western states live in remote areas, closer to a traditional Aboriginal way of life.
 Prominent Indigenous Australians
There have been many distinguished Indigenous Australians, in politics, sports, the arts and other areas. These include senator Neville Bonner, olympic athlete Cathy Freeman, tennis player Evonne Goolagong, rugby league immortal Arthur Beetson, rugby union legend Mark Ella, AFL star Michael Long, actor Ernie Dingo, musician Jimmy Little, painter Albert Namatjira, singer Christine Anu and many others.
 See also
- Aboriginal deaths in custody
- Australian Aboriginal art
- Australian Aboriginal avoidance relationships
- Australian Aboriginal kinship
- Australian Aboriginal enumeration
- Bindibu Expedition
- Bush tucker
- Day of Mourning
- Gurindji strike
- History wars
- List of English words of Australian Aboriginal origin
- List of Australian place names of Aboriginal origin
- List of massacres of Indigenous Australians
- Marn grook
- Message stick
- National Indigenous Times Australia's largest circulating Indigenous Affairs newspaper
- Native title
- Possum-skin cloak
- Prominent Indigenous Australians
- Roderick Flanagan "The Aborigines of Australia" George Robertson and Co, Sydney, 1888 and reprinted 1988 by Boolarong Publications, Mosman, Queensland
- Stolen Generation
- Totem and Taboo by Sigmund Freud
- Woomera (spear-thrower)
- Yolngu seasons
- European Network for Indigenous Australian Rights
- UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation)
See www.nit.com.au - Australia's Largest circulating Indigenous Affairs Newspaper
 External links
- ABC Message Stick Indigenous News Online
- ABC Message Stick Indigenous Gateway
- Indigenous Australians - State Library of NSW
- Aboriginal Links International - Australian Links
- Aboriginal Studies WWW Virtual Library
- ABS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population
- ABS estimates
- National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Website
- Bibliography for Aboriginal Studies
- Convict Creations ("revisionist" pov)
- DFAT Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
- European Network for Indigenous Australian Rights
- Indigenous Australia - Australian Museum educational site
- Norman B. Tindale's Catalogue of Aboriginal Tribesbs:Aboridžini
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