The Australian Aboriginals are said to be one of the longest existing cultures in the world. Some put the culture as long as 60,000 years some around 40,000. That is a long time to survive in a land as harsh and unforgiving as Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are complex and diverse. The Indigenous cultures of Australia are the oldest living cultural history1 in the world – they go back at least 50,000 years and some argue closer to 65,000 years. One of the reasons Aboriginal cultures have survived for so long is their ability to adapt and change over time. It was this affinity with their surroundings that goes a long way to explaining how Aboriginal people survived for so many millennia.
Cultural heritage2 is seen as ‘the total ways of living built up by a group of human beings, which is passed from one generation to the next’, given to them by reason of their birth.
In Australia, Indigenous communities keep their cultural heritage alive by passing their knowledge, arts, rituals and performances from one generation to another, speaking and teaching languages, protecting cultural materials, sacred and significant sites, and objects.
Land – at the core of belief
APY Lands, Ku Arts Tours. Courtesy of Ananguku Arts.
Land3 is fundamental to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people. The land is not just soil or rocks or minerals, but a whole environment that sustains and is sustained by people and culture. For Indigenous Australians, the land is the core of all spirituality and this relationship and the spirit of ‘country’ is central to the issues that are important to Indigenous people today.
All of Australia’s Aboriginals were semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers4, with each clan having its own territory from which they ‘made their living’. These territories or ‘traditional lands’ were defined by geographic boundaries such as rivers, lakes and mountains. They understood and cared for their different environments, and adapted to them.
We cultivated our land, but in a way different from the white man. We endeavoured to live with the land; they seemed to live off it. I was taught to preserve, never to destroy. Aborigine Tom Dystra 5
Indigenous knowledge of the land is linked to their exceptional tracking skills6 based on their hunter and gather life. This includes the ability to track down animals, to identify and locate edible plants, to find sources of water and fish.
Travelling around Australia and reading the story of the Aboriginals in various museums we gained a great respect for them. In the past they have been terribly abused by the European settlers and only recently has their story been told and listened to.
At the local Wild Life Sanctuary at Currumbin near where I live on the Goldcoast of Australia a display of Aboriginal dancing and the fire lighting ceremony is shown. The Aboriginal people did not have a written language and their history and stories was passed down by song and dance.
Here are some photos of those customs…
Playing the didgeridoo
The Jabiru dance
Fire lighting is hard work so they take turns to keep the stick rotating
Where there is smoke there is fire