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Australian Aboriginesaustralian aborigines

Aborigines are thought to have entered Australia from South East Asia at least 40 000 years ago when ice-ages had lowered sea levels to the point where it was possible to walk across between Asia, New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania.
At the time of James Cook's arrival they were estimated to number between half a million to three million, nowadays there are about 460 000 left, which is only about 2.4% of Australia's current population, this includes Torres Strait Islanders.
Reasons for their decline are disease introduced by settlers, the loss of traditional lands and food supplies, being shot by settlers (especially in Tasmania where Aborigines have been hunted to extinction), and generally not being taken care of by authorities for whom they officially did not exist.
They were not counted in the census, could not vote and had no citizens rights until 1967 when the government held a referendum in which Australians voted in an overwhelming majority to grant them the same rights as all other Australians.
Nowadays they have landrights and own more than a third of the Northern Territory, including all the major tourist icons like Kakadu, Katherine Gorge and Ayres Rock, and many other parts of Australia.
Aborigines and National Parks manage the parks together, creating some meaningful employment in remote areas where jobs are hard to come by.

aboriginal flag
The Aboriginal flag

The Aboriginals are divided into many tribes and clans with many different dialects and languages.
They are very spiritual people and have a complex system involving sacred sites and some of the knowledge passed on from generation to generation is "classified" as secret mans or womans business. Their laws and justice system are partly recognized by the Australian justice system and in certain cases Aborigines have been allowed to punish offenders with "payback" (which often involves bashing with lumps of wood and spears in the legs) instead of them being sent to jail. (Otherwise they'd be punished twice as after being released from jail they would still receive their payback).
They also believe that certain Aborigines have the power to kill by simply "pointing the bone" at somebody. One Aboriginal woman travelled to Canberra and pointed the bone at Prime Minister John Howard but several years later he was still cruising around ( much to the disappointment of some people.).
Aboriginal trackers are famous for their amazing tracking skills and are often called on in outback searches for missing people.
They have an extensive knowledge of bush survival skills being able to find water and food in the most unlikely barren places and obtaining medicinal plants from the bush.
Their most famous contributions to today's world from a tourist's perspective are the didgeridoo and boomerang that make very popular souvenirs.

Aboriginal Lawman Postcard

Baby Roo Large Postcard

Baby Wombat 1 Postcard

Their culture is difficult to discover and experience for the tourists as not many Aborigines live a truly traditional lifestyle nowadays and they would be in very remote places, often in reserves requiring permits. The Aborigines you see in the city are often not the best examples, some have chosen to live there but others might only be there because they broke traditional laws and were banished from their community, but their culture is now on display in various cultural centres, dance theatres and on tours around Australia where tourists can learn about their traditional music, bushtucker, rituals, sacred sites and dances.

In March 2005 Prince Charles toured the Alice Springs Desert Park and Arrernte women had dug up some witchetty grubs for him and collected sweet honey ants but palace staff told them not to give Charles any bush tucker to sample unless he asked for it.

witchetty grub
Witchetty grub

Aboriginal people from different parts of Australia have their own names for themselves such as Koori, Yamaji, Nunga, Murri etc; these names are specific to various regions. On your travels, another word for Aborigine you may come across is 'blackfella', some Aborigines refer to people as blackfellas and whitefellas, while they often use these terms it is not always appreciated if white people use them.
Another name you may come across is 'Abo', This word is NOT politically correct, you should not use it but at least now you know what it means in case you hear it. In a country full of ambos, avos, garbos, milkos, lilos, journos, biros, musos, servos, salvos, regos, thingos and preggo sheilas, it is a somewhat understandable abbreviation but be aware that it can be an offensive word and we do not encourage its use.
If you find yourself in the company of rednecks you may also hear the words 'coon' or 'boong', these are very derogatory terms, even worse than calling an Afro-American a nigger, and you should definitely not use them, but at least now you know what they mean now in case you hear them around you, and you can move on to find better company.

Some tours to learn about Aboriginal culture;

Around Uluru

aboriginal culture tours
Kata Tjuta
© Northern Territory Tourist Commission

Want to experience sacred sites known to the Aboriginal people, then dine under the stars of the Outback? This is a fantastic opportunity to explore unforgettable landscapes and feel the enchantment of the wilderness for yourself. Sit at your private dining setting in the middle of the desert and dine in the serenity of the Outback under a million stars, more info on this tour...



Dot painting workshop

aboriginal art at uluru ayers rock

A unique experience! Today you'll join Aboriginal artists at the Uluru Aboriginal Cultural Centre for a fascinating introduction to Aboriginal law and art. Learn the meaning of some of the symbols in the dot paintings that depict Aboriginal culture and lifestyle. Spend the afternoon with the artists and create your own Aboriginal dot painting, which you'll be able to take home as a momento of your experience at Ayers Rock (Uluru) More info....

Northern Territory, from Darwin

aboriginal culture tours
Aboriginal Rock Art
© Discovery Ecotours

Arnhem Land is a huge Aboriginal reserve, and normally difficult to access as entry permits are required, and they are not given to just anyone. This 2 day up-market camping safari takes the worry out of things for you and combines some of the best of Kakadu National Park with the special experience of traveling in Aboriginal Arnhem Land.
The highlights of the trip include pristine World Heritage wetlands, wilderness teeming with wildlife and unparalleled Rock Art away from the more popular sites. Travel in comfortable 4WD vehicles, dine on superb fresh food by candlelight, complemented by good Australian wine, either under the stars or in the rustic restaurant of Davidson's exclusive safari camp near Mount Borradaile in Arnhem Land , more info on this tour....

A shorter tour that does it all in one (long) day is also available; View Aboriginal rock art at the famous Ubirr artsite that is thousands of years old. Cruise the East Alligator River and by special permission, take a short walk into Arnhem Land. More info on this tour....

Queensland, Cairns / Port Douglas

Queensland, Gold Coast

aboriginal culture tours
Listen to the sounds of the Didgeridoo
© Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Seventy-five per cent of Australia'a wildlife is nocturnal, so when the sun goes down, the bush comes to life. The Wildnight Tour is a unique chance to see these amazing animals up close on a specially guided tour conducted by Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary's wildlife experts. There's also a chance to journey into the Dreamtime and experience a traditional Aboriginal corroboree. More info on this tour....

Western Australia, the north west

aboriginal culture tours
Geikie Gorge
© WA Tourism Commission

Considered one of the great marvels of the Kimberley, Geikie Gorge has long been one of the most visited icons of the region. This journey is brought to life with a memorable Aboriginal cultural tour that will leave you with a great respect for the people and the prehistoric geology surrounding this treasured gorge. More info on this tour....


Cape Leveque
© Australian Pinnacle Tours

Experience a 4WD adventure to the remote wilderness area of Cape Leveque. Visit the Beagle Bay and Lombadina Aboriginal communities to met the locals and perhaps purchase their arts and crafts. The days highlight is the unspoilt beach haven of Cape Leveque, where you have free time to swim, relax and explore its tranquil beauty.

You can also combine this tour with a flight to appreciate the ruggedness of this landscape from the air, more info...

Some of Australia's better known Aborigines;

Albert Namatjira
Heavitree Gap, Alice Springs, by Alfred Namatjira
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This section still needs some additions, if you feel inspired to write some for us please contact us...

Aden Ridgeway -

Albert Namatjira - the first Australian Aborigine to be recognized both nationally and internationally as an artist. He is now one of Australia's best-known artists. His landscape paintings capture the essence of the Australian outback. Albert Namatjira was born in the Arrernte tribe near Alice Springs in 1902 and died in 1959, he was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953. Some of his children also became succesful water color artists.

Bennelong - As a member of the Eora tribe that lived around Sydney harbour he was instrumental in the first contacts between European and Aboriginal people. He was one of the Aborigines captured in 1789 when Governor Philip thought it was time to learn more about them. Bennelong was treated well but still did not enjoy his imprisonment and disappeared half a year later. He turned up again after an incident where Philip had been speared and Bennelong said he had punished the offender. After this meeting the friendship between Bennelong's tribe and the settlers improved, and Philip even had a hut built for him. In 1792 Bennelong sailed to England with Philip and met with the king and many other nobles. He returned to Australia three years later and died in 1983.

Cathy Freeman - She was born in a fast family, her grandfather was a runner, her father was a runner and so she became a runner too. At the age of 16 she left home to move to the Gold Coast where she received training from a professional coach on a scholarship. She became the first Aboriginal woman to compete in the Commonwealth Games where she won a gold medal and became Australian of the Year. In the following years she continued to win numerous gold medals at Olympic and Commonwealth Games around the world.
Other awards included the Order of Australia Medal and in 2000 she was chosen to light the cauldron at the Sydney Olympics.

Charles Perkins -

David Gulpilil - well known actor who started his career with the 1971 film Walkabout.

David Unaipon -

Eddie Mabo - A Torres Strait Islander who became famous in in the 1980s with his landclaim that took ten years to settle, and he sadly died before he could hear the good news that he had won.
He was born on Mer Murray Island in the Torres Strait and together with some others lodged a land claim to win native title. The Queensland government tried to stop them from claiming title but the High Court of Australia ruled in the islanders' favour and decided that the 'terra nullus' (uninhabited land) theory of Australia at the time of James Cook's arrival was invalid and that indigenous people still owned the land as they had done before.

Ernie Dingo - forever exploring exotic locations in the Australian holiday TV show Getaway.

Geoff Clarke - not looking all that black, he was chairman of ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) for some time but was suspended for various things like being involved in a pub brawl and rape allegations, tried very hard to get his job back but John Howard abolished ATSIC and that was the end of that.

Jack Davis - Famous writer who was born and raised in Western Australia. Since the 1930s he has written several books of poems, four plays, and worked as the managing director of the Aboriginal Publications Foundation. Through his writing he was able to make the world aware of the plight of Aborigines, and he received an impressive number of awards, such as Aboriginal writer of the year in 1981, an honorary doctorate in literature and an order of Australia medal in 1985.

Lowitja O'Donoghue -

Mandawuy Yunupingu -

Noel Pearson -

Oodgeroo Noonucal -

Pat O'Shane -

Reginald Saunders -

Yothu Yindi - a Northern Territory band that had a world hit with their song Treaty.

Wandjuk Marika -

William Barak - When Aboriginal people were driven from their land around Melbourne in the 1830s they were moved to missions and reserves, and then moved again and again as white settlers needed more grazing land for their animals. William Barak rose as their leader and managed to convince the Victorian government to allow the Woiurrong people to stay on Coranderkerk Reserve.

William Cooper - A member of the Yorta-Yorta from Victoria who rose to be a political leader that demanded that Aborigines be treated equally to other Australians. He started his campaign of petitions and letters in 1933 and founded the Australian Aborigines League in 1936. When the settlers celebrated the colony being 150 years old he organized a Day Of Mourning to make everyone aware of what this 150 years had meant to Aborigines.
He wanted full citizenship rights for his people and introduced 'Aborignes Day' , the first one was held on 28 January 1939.

Windradyne -


aboriginal dance show
One of the Aboriginal dance shows you will find in Australia

The Pintupi nine - "The Lost Tribe"

In October 1984 Melbourne newspaper 'The Herald' ran a spectacular headline "We find the lost tribe! " A group of nine Aborigines was discovered in the forbidding Great Sandy Desert who still walked around naked and had never seen a car or shotgun before! They were in fact not lost at all but just living a nomadic lifestyle and surviving just fine. But their "discovery" was considered huge news in an age like 1984 where people considered the world fully explored and charted.
During the 1950's the British were firing rockets from Woomera direction west and thought it was best to move the local Pintupi tribe Aborigines out of the area so they relocated them up to the Northern Territory and north west Western Australia. They did not fare well there and alcohol did its damage.
But during the 1970s when Aborigines were given landrights they started making plans to return to their home lands and in 1981 the Pintupi traveled to Kintore near the Western Australia border to set up a community. Later they crossed the border as their actual homeland lay further west and so it happened that in 1984 when Pinta Pinta and his family were setting up a settlement at Winparrku that they were spotted by Piyiti and Warlimpirrnga, who were scared by their car, intrigued by their clothes, and angry about them invading their land.
They met but initially did not know they all originated from the same tribe and there was a tense stand-off where they were frightened of eachother and a gunshot was fired. This caused the settlers to flee and, on a flat tyre, they drove 60 km. back to the others to tell them what they had seen, still thinking they had seen ghosts or scorcerers.
Fortunately Freddy West Tjakamarra knew of a family that had never come in to let themselves be transported by the British and they felt sorry for 'the naked ones' as they called them and decided to look for them.
It took them some time as the two had gone on the run north, having been vary scared by the shotgun, and they tried to hide their tracks. The trackers even stripped naked as they thought the group might be scared by clothed people. They started finding more tracks of another seven people and eventually they found an exhausted older woman hiding in the spinifex, with a man nearby ready to throw a spear.
Finally as tensions settled the group was given the choice of coming in with them or staying there and they opted to come in. Most of them reluctantly climbed in the vehicle but several jogged behind the vehicles. The tiny settlement of Kiwirrkurra where they arrived was not exactly the highlight of civilization but still in comparison to their previous lifestyle there were many modern conveniences to discover, like matches, blankets, sugar, oranges, and within several days they all had colds and were coughing and sneezing.
The group was actually under threat from inbreeding at that time as the genepool had run dangerously low being isolated all that time, normally Aborigines have a complicated skin classification system to avoid this. Some of them died in the next few years due to medical problems and some moved on to become well known artists.

A selection of Aboriginal art prints

Aboriginal Bamburr-Kangaroo Art Print

Aboriginal Corroboree - Rust Art Panel by Gooses

Aboriginal Rock Art Print (Rust)

More Aboriginal art prints

A selection of Aboriginal posters;

Aboriginal Lawman Postcard

Baby Roo Large Postcard

Baby Wombat 1 Postcard

Baby Wombat 2 Postcard

Emu Chick Postcard

Koala Postcard

Mudlarks Postcard

A selection of Aboriginal music;

More Aboriginal music....


A selection of Aboriginal books;


Aboriginal T-shirts

These T-shirts make great souvenirs or presents and you can order them online

Aboriginal Boomerang T-Shirt (Black)

Aboriginal Boomerang T-Shirt (Bone)

Aboriginal Dance T-Shirt

See more T-shirts here




If you have more to add to this Aboriginal page, or have a related website to link to, please contact us.

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