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WR Thomas, A South Australian Corroboree, 1864, Art Gallery of South Australia

A corroboree is a generic word for a meeting of Australian Aboriginal peoples. It may be a sacred ceremony, a festive celebration, or of a warlike character. A word coined by the first British settlers in the Sydney area from a word in the local Dharug language, it usually includes dance, music, costume and often body decoration.

Origin and etymology[edit]

The word "corroboree" was adopted by British settlers soon after colonisation from the Dharug ("Sydney language") Aboriginal Australian word garaabara, denoting a style of dancing. It thus entered the Australian English language as a loan word.[1]

Corroboree, a ballet performance based on the corroboree

It is a borrowed English word that has been reborrowed to explain a practice that is different from ceremony and more widely inclusive than theatre or opera.[2]


In 1837, explorer and Queensland grazier Tom Petrie wrote: "Their bodies painted in different ways, and they wore various adornments, which were not used every day."[3][4][5] In 1938, clergyman and anthropologist Adolphus Elkin wrote of a public pan-Aboriginal dancing "tradition of individual gifts, skill, and ownership" as distinct from the customary practices of appropriate elders guiding initiation and other ritual practices (ceremonies).[6]

The word is described in the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia: Second Edition as "an Indigenous assembly of a festive, sacred or warlike character".[1]

Throughout Australia the word "corroboree" embraces songs, dances, rallies and meetings of various kinds. In the past a corroboree has been inclusive of sporting events and other forms of skill display.[2]

Another description is "a gathering of Aboriginal Australians interacting with the Dreaming through song and dance", which may be a sacred ceremony or ritual, or different types of meetings or celebrations, which differ "from mob to mob".[7]

Associated later meanings[edit]

The Macquarie Dictionary (3rd ed, 1997) gives secondary meanings "any large or noisy gathering" and "a disturbance; an uproar". It also documents its use as a verb (to take part in a corroboree).[8]

The Macquarie Atlas documents a 2003 sports carnival in the Northern Territory which was described by the president of the Yuendumu community council as "a modern day corroboree".[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Arthur, Bill; Morphy, Frances, eds. (2019). "Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia". Google Books (Second ed.). Macquarie. p. 79,134,267. ISBN 9781760786946. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b Sweeney, D. 2008. "Masked Corroborees of the Northwest" DVD 47 min. Australia: ANU, Ph.D.
  3. ^ "Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland". Google Books. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  4. ^ Petrie, Tom; Petrie, Constance Campbell (1932), Tom Petrie's reminiscences of early Queensland : (Dating from 1837) / recorded by his daughter [Constance Campbell Petrie], Queensland Book Depot ; Angus & Robertson
  5. ^ First two chapters only (not including this cite), available here.
  6. ^ Elkin, A. P. 1938. The Australian Aborigines: how to understand them. Sydney, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson
  7. ^ "Corroboree [ceremonies explained]". Aboriginal Incursions. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  8. ^ Delbridge, Arthur; et al., eds. (1997). Macquarie dictionary: Australia's national dictionary. North Ryde, N.S.W: Macquarie Library. p. 434. ISBN 1-876429-32-1. OCLC 223149725.
  9. ^ "Corroboree". Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2012.

External links[edit]