Australian Aboriginal culture

Australian Aboriginal culture

Aboriginal Australia comprises hundreds of tribal divisions and language groups, with a diverse range of cultural practices.


Practices and ceremonies

  • 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 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 fertilising 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.[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 an unconfirmed but commonly held belief that Australian Aborigines would undergo a rite of passage journey during adolescence by living in the wilderness for six months.[citation needed]

Belief systems

Indigenous Australians' oral tradition and spiritual values are based upon reverence for the land and 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.

In principle, census information could identify how widespread are 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.[4] 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 wa changed for the 1991 census; as the religion question is optional, the number of respondents was reduced.[5] 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.[6]

The Aboriginal population also has a small but rapidly growing number of Muslims.[7] This Islamic community has seen high profile members such as the boxer, Anthony Mundine.[8]


A didgeridoo, or yidaki

Aborigines have 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. 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.


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 underpin many cultural tenets.

Traditional recreation

An Indigenous community Aussie Rules 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[weasel words] to have inspired Tom Wills,[citation needed] inventor of the code of Australian rules football.

Similarities 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".[citation needed] However, the term "mark" is traditionally used in Rugby to describe a free kick resulting from a catch,[9] in reference to the player making a mark on the ground from which to take a free kick, rather than continuing to play on.[10]

There are many indigenous players of Australian Rules Football at professional level, with approximately one in ten AFL players being of indigenous origin.[citation needed] The contribution of the Aboriginal people 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). .

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.

See also


External links

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