Australian Aborigines Essay

This essay has a total of 2897 words and 11 pages.


Australian Aborigines




Until this paper, I never even knew there was such a word as “Aborigine” let alone it
being a race of people dating back to the prehistoric times. I thought that all
Australians were of Anglo decent, but I was wrong about that assumption. The Aborigines
were the first and only inhabitants of Australia, until the late 18th century when
European settlers came. Because of the Europeans, the Aborigines lives would change
drastically. In this paper, I am going to talk about the Aborigines, describing their
origins up to the present.


The Aborigines came originally from somewhere in Asia and have been in Australia for at
least 40,000 years. The first settlement occurred during an era of lowered sea levels,
when there was an almost continuous land bridge between Asia and Australia, allowing them
to cross over between the two continents. By 30,000 years ago most of the continent was
occupied, including the southwest and southeast corners as well as the Highlands of the
island of New Guinea (Mulvaney, 55-56). Archaeologists have found that much of the
interior of Australia was abandoned due to severe climatic conditions between 25,000 and
15,000 years ago and reoccupied after the conditions improved. Up until the time the
European settlers came in 1788, the Aborigines occupied and utilized the entire continent
and had adapted successfully to a large range of ecological and climatic conditions, from
wet temperate and tropical rain forests to extremely arid deserts. Population densities
ranged from about 1 to 8 square miles per person in the more fertile and coastal areas to
more than 35 square miles per person in the deserts. Estimates of the Aboriginal
population vary from 300,000 to more than 1,000,000 (Kepars, 15).

The Aborigines were hunter-gatherers and because of this, they were dependent on their
environment. They did not grow crops or domesticate animals so whenever food was scarce,
they were forced to move in order to find more (Blainey, 20). They were nomads who
traveled from site to site within their home territories. Most of the time they hunted
and gathered in small groups. When the food resources were high, though, they would
organize large gatherings. At these gatherings is where social and religious business of
the society would be transacted over a two- to three-week period of intense social
activity. This pattern of aggregation and dispersal was fundamental, but because of the
living conditions, they had no choice but to follow this pattern. Their food supply was
not always abundant (Tindale, 31).


Even though they were the only ones inhabiting Australia, the Aborigines spoke more than
200 different languages. Most of the Aborigines were bilingual or multilingual. Both
languages and groups of people were associated with stretches of territory. There may
have been as many as 500 such named, territories (Broome, 27-28). Their members shared
similar cultures and interacted more with one another than with members of different
groups. These groups were not, however, politically or economically tied to each other.
While language groups as labels may have commonly used names for one another, individual
and group identity differed greatly from how they were labeled by other groups. The
Aborigines were not aware that they shared a national identity. However, the Aboriginal
worldview tended to be expansive, with a perception of "society" as a community of common
under-standings and behaviors shared well beyond the confines of the local group (Broome,
30).

“Aboriginal society was the outcome of interplay between economic, ecological, social, and
religious forces” (Goldberg, 144-5). The territories that the different groups of
Aborigines occupied were called estates. The estate group was the group that shared
ownership of a territory. These groups consisted of people who traced connections with
one another by decent through males (Goldberg, 147). Members of an estate were scattered
in bands across their territory. A band consisted of two or more families. Each family
cooked and camped separately from the others in their estate. Even though they could
function alone, they preferred to live and travel together in bands, probably for
survival.


The Aborigines religion was centered on Dreamtime. They saw their way of life as already
ordained by the creative acts of the Dreaming beings and the "blueprint" that was their
legacy, so their mission was simply to live in agreement with the terms of that legacy
(Flood, 7). Because of this, there was no room for competing dogmas or rebellion against
the status quo. Everything that now existed was fixed for all time and all that they
were asked to do, in order to guarantee the continuance of their world, was obey the law
of the Dreaming and correctly perform all the rituals. Human creativity was not excluded
but was explained away. The Dreaming legacy was not a static, dead weight of tradition
but was forever being added to and enlivened, despite an ideology that proclaimed
non-change and the need only to reproduce existing forms (Flood, 10). This view of the
world gave precedence to spiritual powers and explanations over human intellect, and it
placed everyone squarely under the authority of Dreaming rather than that of other people.
Because of this, there were no leaders in the Aborigine society. Aborigines were
constantly surrounded by proofs of the existence and power of spiritual forces--the
landscape itself represented the Dreaming's reality. Everyday activities were in large
measure a reenactment of those of the creative beings, making religion inseparable from
the concerns of daily life. Outside the ritual arena, and notwithstanding the superior
rights of men over women and of older men over younger men, people valued their personal
affairs highly and were likely to react with anger and violence to any attempts by others
who denied it (Flood, 15).


The Aborigines also believed in totemism. A totem represented each family and even some
individuals. They were linked to things of nature and supernatural beings. Totemic
beliefs are more highly elaborated among the Aborigines than among any other people
(Tindale, 53). Basically, the totem was a symbol that provided a link between humans and
mythical beings. The Aborigines believed that these mythical beings were once human, but
then morphed into land features such as rocks or even animals. Totemism connects the
Aborigine family to a certain place or event that gives them an account of their origin.
It is individual to the family while at the same time linking them to other families that
share the same origins (Flood, 22). They valued their totems very highly, almost as much
as their religion.


Although not as important as the Dreamtime or totemism, music played a major role in the
Aborigine’s lives. Although the songs of each of the tribes sounded similar, they were
unique and each tribe knew that their songs were different from other tribes. They
really didn’t have any musical instruments. They sang and either stamped their feet or
clapped their hands to accompany the singing. For some songs, they hit sticks together
in order to give them rhythm (Tindale, 57). Some tribes used a didgeridoo, which was
probably the only real instrument they had. This instrument was made from a hollowed out
tree branch and could very long, sometimes up to 15 feet. It originated from the tribes
of Northern Australia and eventually spread to the other parts over time. The sound was
made by blowing into one end, which would produce a buzzing sound. The didgeridoo became
a national symbol for the Aborigines mainly because of its uniqueness. Their music would
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