Australian Aboriginal culture

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Australian Aboriginal culture includes a number of practices and ceremonies centered on a belief in the Dreamtime. Reverence and respect for the land and oral traditions are emphasized. Language groupings and tribal divisions exhibit a range of individual cultures. Australian Aboriginal art has existed for thousands of years and ranges from ancient rock art to modern watercolor landscapes. Aboriginal music has developed a number of unique instruments. Contemporary Australian aboriginal music is predominantly of the country music genres. Indigenous Australians did not develop a system of writing.

  • A Bora is an initiation ceremony in which young boys (Kippas)[1] become men.
  • A corroboree is a ceremonial meeting for Australian Aboriginal people.
  • Fire-stick farming, identified by Australian archaeologist Rhys Jones in 1969, is the practice of regularly and systematically burning patches of vegetation used in Central to Northern Australia to facilitate hunting, to reduce the frequency of major bush-fires, and to change the composition of plant and animal species in an area. "Burning off", as it is often called, reduces the fuel-load for a potential major bush fire, while fertilizing the ground and increasing the number of young plants, providing additional food for kangaroos and other fauna hunted for meat. It is regarded as good husbandry and "looking after the land" by Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory.[2]
  • A smoking ceremony is a cleansing ritual performed on special occasions.
  • Tjurunga or churinga are objects of religious significance by Central Australian Aboriginal Arrernte (Aranda, Arundta) groups.
  • Walkabout refers to a commonly held belief that Australian Aboriginals would undergo a rite of passage journey during adolescence by living away from their family group area.

Indigenous Australians' oral tradition and spiritual values build on reverence for the land and on a belief in the Dreamtime. The Dreaming is considered to be both the ancient time of creation and the present-day reality of Dreaming. There are many different groups, each with their own individual culture, belief structure and language.

These cultures often overlapped, and evolved over time. The Rainbow Serpent is a major ancestral being for many Aboriginal people across Australia. Baiame or Bunjil are regarded as the primary creator-spirits in South-East Australia. 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.[3] The Yowie and Bunyip are other ancestral beings.

[Aborigines] perceived death as a transition to another life that is not completely different from the one they have left when they died. This appears to apply even to cases where a person is believed to have more than one spirit or soul. After death, the new situation was seen as not too different from the person's earthly life in which he or she had many roles. In death, [...] part of him may move to the Land of the Dead, or return to the site where spirit children await rebirth, or merge with the great ancestral and creative beings, etc., while another part of him or her may play the role of a spirit trickster.[4]


Traditional healers (known as Ngangkari in the Western desert areas of Central Australia) were highly respected men and women who not only acted as healers or doctors, but also generally served as custodians of important Dreamtime stories.[5]

Newer belief systems[edit]

In principle, census information could identify the extent of traditional Aboriginal beliefs compared to other belief systems such as Christianity; however the official census in Australia does not include traditional Aboriginal beliefs as a religion. For example, the 2001 census form listed Catholic, Anglican (Church of England), Uniting Church, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Islam, Greek Orthodox, Baptist, "No religion", "Other - please specify", and Buddhism.[6] The following census information is therefore likely to over-represent the listed beliefs compared to traditional Aboriginal beliefs.

In the 1991 census, almost 74 percent of Aboriginal respondents identified with Christianity, up from 67 percent in the 1986 census. The wording of the question changed for the 1991 census; as the religion question is optional, the number of respondents reduced.[7] The 1996 census reported that almost 72 percent of Aboriginal people practised some form of Christianity, and that 16 percent listed no religion. The 2001 census contained no comparable updated data.[8]

The Aboriginal population also includes a small but growing number of Muslims.[9] This Islamic community has seen high-profile members such as the boxer, Anthony Mundine.[10][need quotation to verify]


A didgeridoo, or yidaki

Aborigines have developed unique instruments and folk styles. The didgeridoo is commonly considered the national instrument of Australian Aborigines. It was traditionally 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 rhythm. More recently, Aboriginal musicians have branched into rock and roll, hip hop and reggae. Yothu Yindi is one of the most well known modern bands playing in a style known as Aboriginal rock. In 1997 the State and Federal Governments set up the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA) to preserve and nurture aboriginal music and talent across all styles and genres from traditional to contemporary.


Australian Aboriginal art has a history spanning thousands of years. Aboriginal artists continue these traditions using both modern and traditional materials in their artworks. Aboriginal art is the most internationally recognizable form of Australian art.[citation needed] 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.


A depiction of the Emu in the sky, which is an Australian Aboriginal constellation consisting of dark clouds rather than stars. The time of year in which the Emu in the sky stands upright in the evening marks the time when emu eggs are ready to be collected.

For many Aboriginal cultures, the night sky is a repository of stories and law. Songlines can be traced through the sky and the land. Stories and songs associated with the sky under many cultural tents.[11]

Traditional recreation[edit]

An Indigenous community Australian rules football game

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 commentators, including Martin Flanagan,[12] Jim Poulter and Col Hutchinson, to have inspired Tom Wills, inventor of the code of Australian rules football.

Similarity between Marn Grook and Australian football include jumping to catch the ball or high "marking", which results in a free kick. Use of the word "mark" in the game may be influenced by the Marn Grook word mumarki, meaning "catch".[13] However, this is likely a false etymology; the term "mark" is traditionally used in Rugby and other games that predate AFL to describe a free kick resulting from a catch,[14] in reference to the player making a mark on the ground from which to take a free kick, rather than continuing to play on.[15]

There are many indigenous players of Australian Rules Football at professional level, with approximately one in ten AFL players being of indigenous origin.[16][17] The contribution of the Aboriginal people to the game is recognized by the annual AFL "Dreamtime at the 'G" match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground between Essendon and Richmond football clubs (the colors of the two clubs combine to form the colours of the Aboriginal flag). .

Testifying to this abundance of indigenous talent, the Aboriginal All-Stars, 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 all-Aboriginal side to compete in a major Australian competition.

A popular children's game in some parts of Australia is weet weet or throwing the play stick. The winner throws the weet weet furthest or the most accurately.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland". Retrieved 30 June 2010.
  2. ^ Kakadu Man, by Big Bill Neidjie, Stephen Davis, and Allan Fox, 1986, ISBN 0-9589458-0-2
  3. ^ Andrews, M. (2000) 'The Seven Sisters', Spinifex Press, North Melbourne, p. 428
  4. ^ Monroe, M. H. (23 October 2010). "Death and the afterlife among Australian Aborigines". Retrieved 18 June 2017. [Aborigines] perceived death as a transition to another life that is not completely different from the one they have left when they died. This appears to apply even to cases where a person is believed to have more than one spirit or soul. After death, the new situation was seen as not too different from the person's earthly life in which he or she had many roles. In death, [...] part of him may move to the Land of the Dead, or return to the site where spirit children await rebirth, or merge with the great ancestral and creative beings, etc., while another part of him or her may play the role of a spirit trickster.
  5. ^ Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari. Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Women's Council Aboriginal Corporation. 2013. Magabala Books, Broome, WA, pp. 15-19.
  6. ^ "2001 sensus form, published by ABS" (PDF).
  7. ^ "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people". 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1994. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 27 May 1994. Retrieved 2 November 2006.
  8. ^ "2901.0 - Census Dictionary, 1996". Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  9. ^ Mercer, Phil (31 March 2003). "Aborigines turn to Islam". BBC News. Retrieved 12 December 2007.
  10. ^ Marks, Kathy (28 February 2003). "Militant Aborigines embrace Islam to seek empowerment". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2008. Retrieved 12 December 2007.
  11. ^ Peter D'Arcy (1994). Margo Sutton (ed.). The Emu in the Sky: Stories about the Aboriginals and the day and night skies. The emu in the sky is shown in the dark space between stars° - The Emu. The National Science and Technology Centre. pp. 15, 16. ISBN 978-0-64618-202-5.
  12. ^ Martin Flanagan, The Call. St. Leonards, Allen & Unwin, 1998, p. 8 Martin Flanagan, 'Sport and Culture'
  13. ^ "Early History".
  14. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Australian Game, Australian Identity:(Post)Colonial Identity in Football". Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies, Monash University. 2007. p. 10. Archived from the original on 17 June 2013.
  17. ^ "Australian rules football and improving Indigenous relations". The Roar. 22 May 2013.
  18. ^ "Weet weet" (PDF). Australian Sports Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 March 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2012.

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