OZ CITY AUSTRALIA - Australian Aborigines






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The first Australians were called “Aborigines” by the white colonists in 1788.The word “aborigine” literally means an original or native inhabitant of a country.
Many Aboriginal people prefer to be called “Kooris”, a word that comes from a north-coast language. The name “Murri” is also used in the north and north-west of New South Wales.”

Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years. According to Aboriginal beliefs, people have been in Australia since the beginning of time, which Aboriginal people call the Dreaming. The first people probably came from South-East Asia, but we can only guess where they landed, whether they came in one “wave” or in many migrations over the years, and which routes they took as they spread across the continent.

No one knows exactly how many people lived in Australia before the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, but recent studies estimate there were probably around one million Aborigines at that time.

When the First Fleet arrived, the Aborigines lived in small groups, which differed in many ways. Each had its own customs and beliefs, music, dance kinship systems, art forms and ceremonies. Likewise many communities spoke different languages. For instance, in the Northern Territory alone, over 100 different languages were spoken. These were separate languages, as unlike
one another as French and Russian are.

In some areas of Central Australia, one language (such as Warlbiri or Pitjantjatjara) was spoken by hundreds of people over a large area. In contrast, in areas such as central Arnhem Land, as many as ten distinct languages were spoken within a relatively small region.
Despite their differences, these groups were not isolated from each other. Different communities would often make contact to trade or intermarry, so people had to be able to speak the languages of neighbouring tribes to communicate. Groups often shared food and other resources during good seasons, and co-operated during drought or flood. The links between communities were very strong. Bonds were based on kinship and marriage ties, common ceremonies and shared responsibility for sacred sites and objects.

The Dreaming, or Dreamtime, is a system of knowledge, beliefs and practices
which were woven into the everyday lives of the Aborigines.
The Dreaming is an on-going, eternal process. The spirit of ancient ancestors
remain in the land and in the people themselves, providing each person with a
strong sense of belonging to his or her tribal territory.

Religious and spiritual beliefs once affected all aspects of Aboriginal life, including which foods people were allowed to eat, marriage laws, and the designs that were carved or painted on tools and weapons. Some religious beliefs and ceremonies varied between regions. They are of continuing importance to Aboriginal people today.

Knowledge of the law, of religion and of the Dreaming stories was acquired by Aboriginal people over the course of their lifetimes. The elders in each group taught the traditional knowledge to the younger generations at particular ceremonies, such as initiation, which marked the passage from childhood to adult-hood. Tooth avulsion (the removal of a particular tooth) and scarification (making cuts on various parts of the body to form raised scars, called cicatrices) were usually part of the initiation rites.

In a society which did not have reading and writing, markings on the body showed a person’s ritual progress through life. Today much detailed religious knowledge has been lost due to the effects of white settlement. However, many Aboriginal groups are reviving some of the traditional practices, and are asking that their sacred objects, used in ceremonies, be returned to them from museum collections.

The Aboriginal people had various burial practices. Bodies might simply be buried in the ground, or cremated before burial. Sometimes the bones were buried after the body had been left on a platform to decompose. Some bodies were placed in hollow trees. A mound of stone or earth, or in some areas a structure of logs or bark, was often built over the grave. Grave gods were
buried with some people.

Aboriginal people expressed themselves artistically in many different ways and on many different surfaces, such as, painted and scarified body decoration, painted and carved designs on wooden tools and weapons, incised designs on the inside of skin cloaks, woven designs in basketry,  paintings, drawings, stencils and engravings in rock shelters, engravings on open rock platforms, l carved designs on living trees, ground sculptures, bark and paintings.

Although some of this work was for decoration, much was associated with the ritual and ceremonial side of life. The designs and figures depicted varied across the country. Important examples of Aboriginal art survive in the form of rock paintings and engravings, carved trees and wooden artefacts.

Today, many of these ancient artistic traditions have been revived, although the designs, techniques and equipment used have changed. However, Aboriginal artists are still influenced by their bond with the land, and much modern  Aboriginal art makes important religious and political statements.

Over thousands of years, the Aborigines learned to manage the environment so that survival was guaranteed for future generations. Across Australia Aboriginal people lived by hunting animals, fishing and collecting plant foods. Labour was divided between the sexes.

Women looked after the children, and gathered food: vegetables, roots, herbs, fruits, nuts, eggs, honey, shellfish, crabs, fish and small land animals (such as snakes, goannas and freshwater tortoises). Men hunted large land animals, fish and birds. They also organised large-scale hunting drives to catch emus and kangaroos.

Australia contains a range of different environments, each offering a variety of bush food. The animals or plants eaten varied from region to region through-out the country. For people living on coastal plains, the sea, estuaries, rivers and the land all provided food, such as fish and shellfish. In most groups, fishing was done by men; however, in coastal south-eastern New South Wales, women also fished. The two sexes used different equipment: men used spears, while women fished
with hooks and lines.

Tools and weapons were made of wood, bark, reed and other plant materials, as well as stone, bone and shell. The design of the implements and the materials from which they were made varied according to regional traditions as well as the materials locally avail-able. Important materials (for example, certain types of stone) were some-times obtained by trade with groups in other regions.

All Aboriginal groups used the same basic items: spears, spearthrowers, clubs, shields, boomerangs, stone axes, digging sticks and containers (such as net bags, bowls and baskets). Fishing spears, fish traps and bark canoes were used in coastal and riverine areas; fishing hooks (of shell) and lines were used along the coast. The people of western New South Wales and the Murray River had special grinding dishes for grass seeds. Along the Murray, Murrumbidgee and lower Darling Rivers large nets of fibre were widely used for catching ducks, yabbies and fish. For carrying water, a piece of wood would be hollowed out to make a boat-shaped container — there were several sizes of these vessels, the smallest was used as a cup.

Huts were constructed using a frame of branches, with sheets of bark, leafy branches or grass laid across. In rocky country, overhangs in cliffs or under boulders were used as overnight campsites and shelter from the weather. The walls of these shelters were sometimes decorated with paintings or stencils.

Aboriginal people generally wore no clothing except for ornamental bands and belts made from hair or animal fur. In colder areas, people wore cloaks made from possum skins in winter. Hairstyles varied from group to group. Many people decorated their hair with small objects such as parts of plants, animal bones and teeth.

Aboriginal groups exchanged natural resources, such as ochres (a naturally occurring combination of fine clay and iron oxide used as a type of paint), tools, stone axes and boomerangs, thus creating extensive trading networks. Goods travelled hundreds of kilometres from their original source.

Some tribes had formal trade arrangements. Large gatherings of people came together for “exchange ceremonies” where regional specialties were traded. Sacred ceremonial objects, song verses and dance styles were also passed on from one group to the next at such gatherings.


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