The History of the Aborigines. Religion and Culture before and after the European Settlement

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2001

11 Pages



History of the settlement of the aborigines in Australia Scientists do not all agree about when people first arrived in Australia, but current archaeological estimates generally range from 40 000 to 60 000 years ago. The geography of the south-western Pacific Ocean region at that time suggests how people might have migrated to Australia from Southeast Asia.

Sea levels around the Australian continent have fluctuated widely over time due to expansion and contraction of the polar ice caps during and between ice age glaciers. When sea levels have dropped, the ocean distances between Southeast Asia and Australia have shrunk considerably. People may have first migrated to Australia by boat during one of these periods.

When they arrived, the original Australians provided themselves by gathering plant foods, hunting birds, reptiles, land and marine mammals and fishing. Many aboriginal groups lived along coasts and fresh waterways, which were the areas of richest natural abundance. But they soon migrated throughout the continent.

The Australian continent consists of many diverse regional environments. As the spread across the continent, Aboriginal populations had to adapt to living in new climates with different kinds of plants and animals. When people first arrived in the tropical and subtropical northern region of the continent , it consisted of rain forests, mangrove swamps , coral atolls and savannahs. Migrants from Southeast Asia probably found this region similar to the one they had left, with similar plant and marine animal species. However, most if the land animal species of Australia - including large relatives of the emu and marsupials such as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and koalas- lived only on that continent. Migrant groups had to learn about the characteristics of these species to determine which one might be dangerous an which could be successfully hunted for food.

When people came to the centre of the continent it consisted of arid desert surrounded by temperate regions with forests, grasslands, rivers and lakes. People who migrated to these areas had to learn which plants they could safely eat.

Archaeologists and anthropologists think that several waves of people migrated to Australia over thousands or ten thousands of years. Different groups of migrants probably brought different cultural traditions from the mainland. As they spread across Australia, Aboriginal groups also developed many regional differences in language, religion, social organisation, art economy and material culture. Each individual group carried on a partially nomadic life within an established, well-known area, or territory. Except for ceremonies and trading exchanges that periodically brought groups together, groups kept largely to their own territories.

Aboriginal life before European contact

From the time Aborigines arrived first to Australia until Europeans arrived slightly over 200 years ago, the Aboriginal way of life was centred on hunting and gathering practices. Like other hunting and gathering peoples, Aborigines had a detailed knowledge and a great appreciation of their environment, including the plants and animals upon which they depended for survival. the deep connection between Aborigines and the natural world shaped every part of their culture, including their economy, religion, art, language and social organisation. Many Aborigines have maintained ate least some aspects of their way of life as it was before Europeans arrived, but other have lost most of their cultural heritage.

Economy :

Within specific environmental regions, Aborigines developed characteristic methods of obtaining and preparing foods and medicines and they made different kinds of tools, clothing and shelter. Thus the Aboriginal economy varied from region to region. Aborigines also created extensive networks of trade.

1.) Food: Aborigines generally enjoyed a mixed and abundant diet of plant and animal foods that varied according to time of year and local environmental conditions. They understood the beneficial nutritional and medicinal properties of the natural resources in their surroundings. When it was necessary they developed methods of extracting beneficial substances and eliminating harmful. The earliest groups relied on fish for food. To maximise their catches, they built large underwater stone-walled traps, they also made broad nets of plant fibres for catching fish and other aquatic animals. Inland groups also eat a variety of plant and animal foods. Some common plant foods included acacia seeds, a type of wild tomato and several types of tubers. Animal foods in the diet of the inland aborigines often included wallabies, ostrich eggs, insects, lizards, snakes, rodents, frogs and birds. Scientists are sure that they have never practised any sort of agriculture, probably because they had other adequate food resources and fairly small populations.
2.) Tools and crafts : Aborigines also used regional natural resources to manufacture many kinds of tools and crafts. To obtain desirable materials for making these items, groups traded with each other over long distances. They made simple spears, knives or sticks for hunting. Later on they also learned how to make string spun from vegetable fibre and animal fur to manufacture ropes, nets and bags. All Aboriginal groups made personal ornaments including armbands, headbands, pendants, necklaces or bracelets. Depending on available resources they made these decorative objects from shell, bone, animal teeth and tufts of feather.
3.) Trade: In order to get natural resources and manufactured items from distant regions Aboriginal groups established extensive networks of trade. Some traderoutes eventually spanned the entire continent. In addition to material goods populations also exchanged regional culture, including songs, artistic motifs, stories and accounts of important events. But the Aborigines did not only trade with their groups. From the early 1700’s to the early 1900’s Indonesian fishermen sailed to northern Australia to fish for sea slugs. The Chinese imported these marine animals as a popular food. The fishermen exchanged such items as tabacco, iron, glass and some technological know- how for the privilege of fishing in Aboriginal territorial waters.


The religion of the Aborigines is based on the stories of their origin, the so called dreamtime. The Expression “Dreamtime” is most often used to refer to the “time before time” or the “time of the creation of all things”.

Ancestral spirits came down to earth in human or other forms and the land, the plants and animals were given their form as we know them today.

These spirits also established the relationships between groups and individuals ( whether people or animals) and where they travelled across the land, or came to a halt, they created rivers, hills, etc. and there are often stories attached to these places.

Once their work was done, the ancestral spirits changed again; into animals or stars or hills or other objects. For indigenous Australians, the past is still alive and vital today and will remain so into future. The Ancestral Spirits and their powers have not gone, they are present in the forms into which they changed at the end of the Dreamtime, as stories tell. The stories have been handed down through the ages and are an integral part of an Indigenous person’s “Dreaming”. From early age storytelling plays a vital role in educationing children. The stories help to explain how the land came to be shaped and inhabited; how to behave and why, where to find certain foods, etc. Gathered around the camp in the evening, on an expedition to a favourite waterhole or at a landmark of special significance parent or Elders use the stories as the first part of a child’s education. Then as children grow into young adults, more of the history and culture is revealed. Adults then take responsibility for passing on the stories to the following generations. In this way the stories of the Dreaming have been handed down over thousand of years.

Because the stories of the Dreaming have been handed down through the generations, they are not owned by individuals. They belong to a group and the storytellers of that group are carrying out an obligation to pass the stories on. The Elders of a group might appoint a particularly skilful and knowledgeable storyteller as “Custodian” of the stories of the people.

Many stories are considered to be of a secret nature and only to be told to certain people. Some stories are only for men, some for women and some are even only for the Elders.

Every aboriginal clan had an ancestral figure or totem. A totem had the form of one of the creatures, plants or natural features associated with one or more dreamings. Certain group members could encounter totemic spirits and learn their stories by such acts as entering a trance or a deep sleep. Stories of the Dreaming and totemic characters served as subjects for paintings or other works of art.

Aborigines regarded death as an event caused by an angry spirit or a curse from another person. In extended rituals, group members encountered and pacified spirits or symbolically killed the offending person, ensuring the return of the spirit of the dead to its totemic home.

Aborigines have buried their dead for over 30 000 years. In many graves the corpses were symbolically decorated with pigments, ornaments or clothing. Some bodies were also buried with tools. these practices grew more elaborate over time, indicating that aboriginal religious beliefs also envolved over time.


Aborigines produced some of the earliest art in the world and art continues to play a major role in aboriginal culture, particularly as it relates to spirituality. Aboriginal art has also recorded in vivid detail many aspects of Aboriginal life in the distant past. Works of art were important parts of totemic and burial rituals. Rock Art is the artistic tradition for which Aborigines are perhaps best known. In different regions and at different times in the past, they painted and engraved rocks in a variety of styles with diverse motifs and subject matter. The earliest Aboriginal petroglyphs may date from more than 40 000 years ago. Aboriginal petroglyphs usually depicted stylised shades and symbols as well as human faces and bodies. The meanings of most of these petroglyph designs remain unknown. Aboriginal rock painters used many types of pigments in their environment, e.g. mineral oxides, beeswax and other earth colours. Many works of Aboriginal art painted stories of the Dreaming, hunting scenes and animals may also figure prominently in Aboriginal rock paintings. Northern Aboriginal groups developed a later but long-standing artistic tradition of making colourful stencils of parts of their bodies by spraying pigment from their mouth in the manner of modern spraypainting.


Before European settlers arrived in Australia, Aborigines may have spoken up to 250 distinct languages, not including the different dialects. The Aboriginal groups compose their own distinct linguistic group with no close links to any mainland Southeast Asian group.

Most Aboriginal languages belong to the language family classified as Australian. The largest group within this family is Pamanyungan.

In the past, neighbouring Aboriginal groups could generally communicate well with each other and many other people were multilingual. In some cases many groups living across a vast range of territory all spoke dialects of one language. Although two groups at each end of such a range might find little similarity between their languages.

Social Organisation:

Before the arrival of the Europeans, Aboriginal societies organised themselves in a variety of ways, differing in terms of what roles individual members and subgroups performed in work, decision making, ceremonies and many other aspects of their daily life. However all Aboriginal societies also had several characteristics in common. They were essentially egalitarian, no one had significantly higher status than anyone else. With this egalitarian system people with the most knowledge ( usually Elders ) earned the most respect and commanded the most authority. All aboriginal groups exchanged relationships with other groups to whom they had ties by blood or marriage. Popular writers often describe Aboriginal groups as tribes. However their traditional groups lacked the political unity usually associated with other groups that anthropologists call tribes. Aborigines generally lived in extended-family-based clans, each with its own totemic spirit ancestor. Clan membership defined pattners of kinship and descent and determined what rights a person had, for instance, use a particular area of land or recite a unique story of the Dreaming.

Several clans with the same language and cultural heritage often organised themselves into a loosely structured kind of tribe and occupied a defined territory. When clan members ranged over into neighbouring estates for food gathering, trading or ceremonial purposes they maintained high principles of reciprocity, proprietary rights and neighbourly behaviour. two or more tribes came together for important ceremonies, to trade or to exchange in warfare with other tribes, but otherwise they stayed basically independent.

Traditionally an important site such as a watering hole, outcropping of high quality rock or grove of fruit trees served as the focal point of the activities of a group. Aborigines commemorated such sites in stories of the Dreaming, and each site was associated with a particular spirit.

The role of Women in Aboriginal society:

There are basically two interpretations of the role of aboriginal women in society. The first was chauvinistic in both senses of this word: 1) proud, patriotic and boastful and 2) dominated by males. These was written by Victorian-age European males… The second interpretation about the role of females in Aboriginal society are probably best understood in the context of the social continuum.

Birth: The birth of female children was a welcome event in aboriginal society. At birth all babies were given a personal name and were valued members of the group. From a spiritual perspective birth was considered to be part of the plan that had been developed by the creators. The creators included females. For example the Djanggau sisters who were considered to be daughters of the sun who had arrived in a bark canoe with their brother Braglu where they created the land and gave birth to the first people to live there.

Growing up: Young girls and boys participated in experimental learning at appropriate stages of their personal development. Females accompanied and helped their mothers and other women as they gathered food, learned to identify food, as well as the life-cycles of the food chain, the methods of collecting it and the preparation and cooking of foods. They also learned about bush medicines and how to use, make and repair utensil such as digging sticks and baskets from wood, bark and plant fibres.

While these facts tend to indicate a “stay pregnant and in the kitchen” role for women, the fact is that males and females had interdependent roles. Females collected yams, berries and fish and males were the hunters and killed game such as kangaroos and were active in food preparation. A fact is that women provided more food than the men.

Puberty and Marriage: At puberty girls participated in rituals which prepared them for life. they did not participate in initiation rites, but were usually betrothed to a male at birth and left the kinship unit at puberty, to live with their husbands and other wives. Aboriginal males were permitted to have a number of wives but married men were forbidden by law, from extramarital affairs. The rituals would have included bathing and a smoking ceremony or ceremonies involving the lightening of leaves bundled together and the resulting smoke being wafted around the girls. The rituals have also been said to have included a young woman being covered in mud. while this is possible it is more likely that ceremonies included bodydecoration using coloured ochre, feathers and bones. Also being shown how to gather and use flax as menstrual pads.

It is likely that the rituals were conducted in stages rather than a once only event, the rituals were probably conducted over several months and included isolation from the main camp. These ritual were led by an older woman although a number of other females would have participated. However the timing was closely allied with the commencement of a girl’s menstrual cycle. That means that female rituals included sexual instruction and marriage preparation. At that time the young girls were told Dreamtime stories they had not heard before.

Motherhood: During pregnancy women were required to obey certain food taboos. At least some of which were based on superstition while others were based an what is called Common sense.

Child raising is a parental role which has responsibilities for caring for children both physically and emotionally. Aboriginal mothers played the predominant role in child raising and were assisted by other females within the social unit. But also by a child’s father as well as other males such as uncles. The level of involvement of Aboriginal men in raising children hasn’t been well documented but it would be realistic to say that fathers are involved in this. A normal day for Aboriginal women was raising children and gathering food. They often accompanied their husbands on hunting expeditions.

Old age: In old age men and women were generally highly respected in aboriginal society. Great respect was particularly shown to those who were credited with having great knowledge and experience in particular affairs. Those who were considered to have full knowledge of the sacred stories and lore of the tribe were particularly admired.

The relationship between men and women in Aboriginal society was not based on dominance and subservience. Men and Women saw themselves as interdependent and this was to be expected in a society which saw everything as belonging to a unity, each element being part of the other. Masculine and feminine ancestral heroes played a part in the creation period in most Dreamtime stories and this was a guide to the partnership of the sexes in aboriginal life.

Aboriginal lore:

Lore specifically identifies the facts and stories about particular subject or topic. On the other hand law is a body of rules which a community recognises as being binding on their members. Traditional Aboriginal people learnt the laws of their tribe through their lores. In other words the rules and regulations which governed their lives were learned by individual Aboriginal people in the process of socialisation.


Aboriginal people were social beings who belonged to a tribe, but also to smaller social units variously called bands, clans, sub tribes or family groups. The essential point is that individuals were born into a social group where they learned acceptable and non- acceptable behaviour from their parents and other adults.

At appropriate stages of development “behavioural messages” were also learned through Dreamtime myths, which involved the characters in them, committing such misdemeanours as: lying, trickery, uncooperative behaviour and food taboos. Other stories detailed crimes such as: stealing, incest, rape, murder, revealing secrets and damaging the personal possessions of others. the stories also detailed punishment that was metered out to the perpetrators such as being banished from the group, beaten, speared or killed. Significantly the stories were considered to have originated in the Dreamtime when the ancestors or creation heroes an heroines had created the land and it all contained. In other words, the ancestors were considered to be the source of a tribe’s laws. they were also considered to punish those who offended particular laws.

The fact of the matter is that all tribes had lores which stipulated the rules and regulations which members were expected to comply with. In many cases the laws were exactly the same in all tribes, although they were related in stories which were unique to a particular tribe. However there were variations between different tribes.

There are two types of laws in the Aboriginal society: 1) those which were offences against individuals an 2) those against the tribe.

Stealing of personal property, sexual promiscuity, assault and murder are examples of breaches against individuals.

Breaches against the tribe included: elopement, kidnapping of women and children, attacks against camps by another tribe, trespassing on tribal land and the disclosure of secrets.

Now I want to describe some of the most important Aboriginal lores.

Inheritance lore: A.W. Howitt gives a good explanation of this law - When a child was born among the Yuin ( an aboriginal clan ) the father pointed out some hills, lakes or rivers to the other men and women of the tribe identifying the boundaries of his child’s country, being that where his father lived, or where he himself was born and had lived. It was just the same with a girl, who had her mother’s country and also that which she was born into. Besides this the father took the country where his child was born, if away from his locality and a mother took that where her daughter was born under similar circumstances.

These Yuin claims to ownership of land on the basis of where a person was born, was contrary to other Aboriginals.

Leadership lore: Aboriginal tribes did not have a leadership in the sense of a form of government. Corporate governance was democratic, all people were equal and as such, had authority to make decisions. For example a family who considered that a member of their group should be punished, did so. However Elders were regarded as people who had wisdom and were respected by others. Old age was not a criterion for someone to be considered to be an Elder, but such persons were considered to be a principal authority on matters of lore in all tribes.

Marriage lore: All tribes had marriage lores. They regulated or decided which people could marry and those who couldn’t. The system has been described as marriage moieties but basically it prevented fathers from marrying their daughters, mothers their sons and brothers their sisters. The system divided a tribe into two main divisions, for example A and B. People from one section could not intermarry. In other words A people had to marry B people. However the system was more complex because the main sections also had a number of sub-sections. For example A1, A2, A3 and B1, B2, B3. A1 could marry B2, A2 could marry B3 and A3 could marry B1, matters that were decided in accordance with traditions that had developed over centuries. Aboriginal people identified these divisions using the names of birds, reptiles or other animals that scientists call totems.

Land ownership lore: There were basically two types of laws regarding land: The first involved ownership and the second the concept of taking care.

The land belonged to them because it had been created by the ancestors for the. An individual was considered to own a land in a system of inheritance as a form of custodian, who was responsible for ensuring that the land and all it contained was treated in accordance with certain standards.

Food taboos: For certain groups some food was forbidden. For example pregnant women were forbidden to eat fish, or to chew or use dried or powdered leaves of the wild tobacco bush nicotiana. Other food taboos involved the allocating of certain parts of animals to particular members of a group. Uninitiated males were often forbidden from eating a particular species.

Punishment: Differences in opinion, sibling rivalry and misbehaviour were punished with being denied food, receiving pain or threatened with pain.

Punishment for personal or individual breaches involved verbal accusations, hitting or clubbing people or a trial by spears. Clubbing or a trial by spears involved the accused and his relatives gathering together with those who were seeking revenge. Some disputes were settled when blood was draw. In other words when the accused had been wounded. When a person was not available for punishment, the challenge was made to one of his or her relatives. Punishment in the Aboriginal society was also just because individuals were forbidden from seeking revenge in a sneaky or devious way European Settlement and its effects

Dutch, Spanish, French and British ships first sailed into Australian waters in the 16th and 17th centuries. The British continued to survey Australian territories into the 18th century. From 1768 to 1771 the British explorer James Cook surveyed many regions of Australia and when he landed on an island off the South-eastern coast, he claimed for Britain all of the mainland territory of New south Wales- then designated as the entire western half of the continent. The legal doctrine on which Britain claimed Australian territories, terra nullius ( land belonging to no one ) denied that Aborigines had any rights of ownership of land, because they didn’t build permanent houses or practice agriculture. The first British settlement which served as a penal colony and consisted primarily of convicts and soldiers was founded in 1788 in the newly claimed territory.

Unlike earlier visitors the British settlers immediately disrupted Aboriginal life, taking over good sources of water, productive land and fisheries. Aborigines responded in a variety of ways to the presence of Europeans. Some welcomed the newcomers ( in some cases because they thought whites were the spirits of the dead). Others reacted with hostility. sometimes the British responded by killing Aborigines living near their settlement. Guns gave the British a significant advantage in fights. Illnesses such as smallpox, venereal diseases, measles and influenza also devastated Aboriginal groups who lacked immunity to these diseases. The British also introduced several new animals to Australia including wild rabbits, cats and foxes, as well as domesticated sheep and cattle. Some of these animals muddied waterholes, making them unusable for the Aborigines. All these things quickly killed a large portion of the indigenous Australian population.

Conflicts and relation on the Frontier:

The British colonists intended to remain in Australia, so they began to alter the landscape by clearing trees and building fences. Over several decades, the British established colonies across the continent.

Aborigines wanted to resist the taking over of their territories by the British colonists. As a result many Aborigines died in fights. As settlements expanded the colonists destroyed natural resources to the point that Aboriginal groups could not practice their traditional hunting and gathering ways.

Fighting broke out between the Aborigines and the British settlers along most parts of the expanding boundary of the white settlers. In some areas white farmers took the initiative and formed the so called “native police”. These groups often responded with the killing of sheep and cattle by murdering Aboriginal women and children.

In a few places, however, Aboriginal people came into settlements seeking work in order to earn rations and living quarters. whites also sought out aborigines and brought them to settlements to work. However the majority of settlements kept Aborigines from engaging in any traditional practises and from keeping close bonds to their kin. Whites forbade Aboriginal ceremonial gatherings on settlements and did not allow individual Aborigines to move among settlements to be with their kin.

Control and Exploitation of Aborigines:

As European colonies expanded in Australia they began to exert more forced control over the Aborigines and exploit them for various kinds of slave labour. The colonies established missions to which they sent as many Aborigines as they could support. A primary goal of the missions was to convert Aborigines to Christianity. Some accepted it, but most of them tried to flee back to wilderness if they could find a way to escape. Missions varied considerably in their approach to converting and controlling Aborigines. Some missions had an active policy of destroying aboriginal culture, they outlawed Aboriginal languages and ceremonies and prevented Aborigines from maintaining kinship ties. Missionaries also often dressed Aborigines in European clothing and made them work for no pay as servants or on farms. But there were also some missions who tolerated traditional values and adapted religious teachings and practices to suit local conditions. In a few regions Aborigines managed to maintain a hunter-gatherer existence . New economic opportunities for white settlers motivated more conflicts with Aborigines. In the 1850’s a gold rush began in Australia and the White destroyed aboriginal sacred sites. In southern Australia whites working as seal hunters stole aboriginal women and killed men and children. In the North pearl divers abducted young aboriginal boys and forced them into dangerous labour, making them dive for long periods in deep and treacherous waters. White men also coerced or forced many Aboriginal women into providing sexual services. Between 1850 and 1900 all of the Australian colonies established parliamentary governments and constitutions with firm policies aimed at controlling their Aboriginal populations; new laws restricted the movement of aboriginal people to official government-controlled reservations by the late 1800’s; these reservations were small territories in which the groups could usually practise a little of their traditional way of life. Bur officials controlled the reservations.

The colonial governments also instituted policies of Aboriginal child removal. Child- removal policies grew out of the desire of the governments to assimilate mixed-race individuals into white society and prevent Aboriginal families from staying together. Their aim was to destroy Aboriginal culture and eventually the entire race. Many Aboriginal children were taken away from their parents and housed in faraway dormitories. Officials also removed light-skinned children from their parents and put them up for adoption by white families. Many of these children came from relations between white slavemasters and their slaves.

In 1901 the Australian colonies became states and territories of a federated nation called the Commonwealth of Australia. Both, the state and the commonwealth governments, enacted legislation that restricted the rights of the Aborigines. The states created laws called the Aborigines Protection Acts, which based the treatment of Aborigines on how much white ancestry they had. Only so called full blooded and half-caste Aborigines could remain on reservations. Others moved off the reservations and many became homeless, but laws also denied them rights to welfare support. Conditions on Aboriginal reservations deteriorated and more and more people lived in destitution in urban areas. These poor, uprooted Aborigines often became alcoholics and new laws were established to return them to reservations.

The rise of Aboriginal rights

In 1938 a group of aborigines gathered in Sydney, New South Wales, to declare a Day of Mourning for the fate of their people. This action began an era of Aboriginal activism and a rights movement that had continued until today. Several decades passed before the Commonwealth and state governments adopted Aboriginal rights policies. A long history of disenfranchisement has left may Aborigines poor, unemployed, uneducated, sick and homeless.

The demise of assimilation policies:

In the 1950’s the federal government drafted a formal policy of Aboriginal assimilation aimed at having Aborigines adopt the values and ways of the dominant European based culture of Australia. The policy aimed to achieve its goal by dividing intact Aboriginal communities and thus ending traditional lifestyles.

Strong child welfare laws also allowed the removal of Aboriginal children from homes with their mothers and fathers deemed unfit for parenthood. Reasons of removal included joblessness, poverty and requests for welfare support by Aboriginal parents. Public sentiment for a change in national policy toward the Aborigines voiced most strongly by young-adult Aboriginal and white Australians. In 1967 after a national referendum, the Commonwealth government recognised Aborigines as citizens on the Australians census and formally dropped assimilation in favour of integration between Aborigines and whites as a government the power to create laws regarding the rights and welfare of Aborigines.

In 1972 the Australian government began providing money and legal means for Aboriginal parents to challenge the removal of their children. In 1973 the government established a Department of Aboriginal affairs. This agency sponsored or promoted programs dealing with Aboriginal housing, education, health, land ownership, business and legal and administrative reform. In the 1980’s Aboriginal rights groups increased awareness among welfare workers of the continuing disproportionate and unfair removal of Aboriginal children from their families. All the Australian states and territories have since revised their child welfare laws in an effort to correct this problem. In 1991 the Department of Aboriginal affairs was replaced by a new governmental agency, the Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander Commission.

Land Rights:

In the 1980’s and 1990’s legal issues concerning the rights of Aborigines to their ancestral lands have dominated the politics of relations between white Australians and Aborigines. Aborigines have pressured the federal government to grant them rights over territory of religious, cultural and historical importance to them.

In 1976 the government passed the Aboriginal land rights act, which was applied to the Northern Territory; as a result of this act, nearly 36 percent of the total area in the territory has reverted to aboriginal ownership under freehold title, meaning that Aborigines have lifelong rights to this land. In 1985 the government officially transferred Uluru to the Pitjantjatjarea and Yankunyjatjara Aboriginal peoples. This site is the most scared to these two groups. The transfer contained a condition that required the groups to guarantee public access to the monolith, one of the most popular tourist sites in Australia. Also in 1985 the federal government proposed legislation that would give Aborigines freehold title to national parks, vacant crow lands and former reservations all of which the federal government had previously controlled.

In a landmark 1992 ruling, the Australian High Court recognised that aboriginal land title existed before European settlement in 1788. The so called Mabo decision said that Aborigines could claim native title if they could show a close and continuing relationship with the land in question. The Mabo ruling overturned the concept of terra nullius and for the first time acknowledged the Aborigines as original owners of the Australian continent.

Human Rights:

while Aborigines have significantly advanced their land rights in the past few decades, they still suffer serious abuses of their human rights. Questions about human right abuses against Aborigines came to national and international attention in the late 1980´s when the Australian government faced scandals over a disproportionally high death rate among Aborigines in prison and alleged corruption in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1988 the United Nations published a report accusing Australia of violating international human rights standards in its treatment of Aborigines.

Aborigines are still seriously overrepresented in Australian prisons and among those who die in custody; advocates of Aborigines causes believe that the prison situation reflects or results from historical patterns of mistreatment of Aborigines and abuses of their human rights by whites. Man also believe that this history of mistreatment and particularly the legacy of child-removal policies relates the high rates of crime and abuse of alcohol and drugs among Aborigines, all of which contribute to their high incarceration rates.

Reconciliation or Separatism?

Most Australians and the state and national governments today recognise that Aborigines have suffered extensive racial prejudice, mistreatment and violence under more than two centuries of white rule. They have also acknowledged that present-day social ills among Aborigines, such as insufficient housing, poor health, high unemployment, low wages, lack of education and high rates of imprisonment, reflect a long history of severe disadvantage. The movement in Australia to atone for past wrongs and improve life for Aborigines has grown. Many organisations support the ideals of reconciliation between white Australians and Aborigines and betterment of Aboriginal life; these organisations include the Aboriginal and Torres State Islanders Commission, the Council for Aboriginal Affairs (CAR), established in 1991, various land councils and the Native Title tribunal, and many health, legal, education and welfare organisations. CAR has been working to achieve tangible goals of reconciliation between indigenous and other Australian peoples by 2001, the centennial of the country.

However, separatist sentiment among some Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders has given rise to sovereignty movements among both peoples; the two indigenous peoples of Australia have established provisional governments and several political parties and each has adopted its own flag; Aborigines have also developed a renewed pride in their heritage and have revived many of their traditional practices. Thus, the future of relations between white Australian and Aborigines remains unclear.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The History of the Aborigines. Religion and Culture before and after the European Settlement
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
357 KB
Quote paper
Renate Binder (Author), 2001, The History of the Aborigines. Religion and Culture before and after the European Settlement, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 3/22/2007


    Dein Referat ist voll cool und bringt mir sehr viel! Ist sogar richtig gegliedert, was man sonst leider viel zu selten sieht!

  • guest on 11/24/2004


    Teilweise zu schwer verständlich

  • guest on 10/21/2002


    hey danke. ich muss ein referat darüber halten und deins hat mir echt geholfen!

Look inside the ebook
Title: The History of the Aborigines. Religion and Culture before and after the European Settlement

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free