As to the Australian Bureau of statistics there are 517.000 (2006) Aborigines, which is 2,6% of Australia's population.

63% of Aborigines live in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria; 28% in Western Australia and the Northern Territory; and only 9% in Tasmania and Australian Capital Territory. 32% of all people in the Northern Territory are Aborigines. The percentage of Aborigines in all other parts of Australia is 4% or less.

First people arrived to Australia between 42.000 and 48.000 years ago. It is estimated that they arrived from what is now southeast Asia. Those people were hunter-gatherers.

Aborigine (photo by Steve Evans - babasteve)
Aborigine (photo by Steve Evans - babasteve)

The Aboriginal oral culture and spiritual world are based on the Dreamtime. The Dreamtime or the Dreaming includes a number of inter-related stories (myths). There are at least four aspects of The Dreamtime - the beginning of all things, the life and influence of the ancestors, the way of life and death and sources of power in life.

The Aborigines have various deities who created people and world they live in. There are no deities appearing in all communities. People believe that a deity takes form of an object existing in nature like for example a certain stone. Each Aboriginal deity has various functions. One of them is the dominant one. According to this function there are three groups of Aboriginal deities – Creational, Ancestral and Totemic ones.

There are about 100 Aboriginal languages. But only 20 of these have larger number of speakers. The most widely spoken Aboriginal language is Kriol. Some other Aboriginal languages are Yolngu with around 6000 speakers, Arrernte with around 3000 speakers and Warlpiri with around 3000 speakers. Most Aborigines today speak standard English and Aboriginal English which is their unique version of English language.

Music plays very important role in both everyday life and sacred ceremonies of Aborigines.Their music can be divided into three groups.

The first and largest one is used in sacred ceremonies. It is performed in a particular place and for particular purpose.

The second type of music is the semi-sacred. Good example are songs performed during the initiation ceremony of boys. These songs are sung by men. Women are present as dancers.

The third type of Aboriginal music include entertainment music. Very good example of the entertainment music is the corroboree where men dance for up to three or four hours while the women and children sing.

The most popular musical instrument used by Aborigines is didjeridu (didgeridoo) or yidaki. Experts think that didjeridu is less than 1000 years old. The name djeridu is not that old. It was first used in 1926 by Herbert Basedown (1881-1933). He used the word didjeridu to somehow describe the sound of this instrument.

Didjeridu - Aboriginal musical instrument

The didjeridu is made from a log. Fire or termites are used to hollow out the log. There are bamboo didjeridus too. A wax or resin mouthpiece is moulded to narrower end of the instrument.

The inside diameter is about 30 mm at the end which player puts in his mouth, and about 50 mm at the opposite end. The length of Didjerido (usually 100-160 cm) influence the sound.

Aborigines count in rather interesting way. Let's take for example Pitjantjatjara people of the Central Australian Desert.

They have a word for one, two and three; the word for four is two-two, five is three-two, and six is three-three. They usually don't go beyond six. For them there is no need to go beyond this. Any number after six for them is treated as "many".

For Aborigines time is related to stages in one's life or some important event. If asked when something happened the Aboriginal may say it was before the great flood.

Knowledge of plants and animal cycles represent key factors in for example understanding weather changes. Aborigines living in the northeast of Arnhem Land observe relations existing between two bird species. White breasted wood swallows (Artamus leucorynchus) are only found together with magpie larks (Grallina cyanoleuca) for two short periods each year. These birs that way show people the beginning of wet and dry seasons.

magpie lark
magpie lark

Until 50 or so years ago Aboriginal Gagudju people from the western part of Arnhem Land have been making fascinating rock paintings. Nowadays these paintings can be seen in the Kakadu National Park. The oldest paintings are less than 1,500 years old. The Gagudju people used to make them believing that they can help them in daily hunting activities. The rock paintings include various animals like fish, birds or reptiles.

It is believed that names, photos, videos or recorded voices of Aboriginal individuals who died should not be used. Why? That way you could recall and disturb their spirit.

This rule is more dominant in for example Northern Territory where Aborigines make higher percentage of population. Sometimes families decide to use a „substitute name“ like for example „Kumantjayi“ or „Kunmanara“ for the dead member of their family.

The way Aborigines are buried differ a lot. Aborginal burials are mainly performed close to lakes or rivers. When someone dies other members of the community often paint themselves white. Sometimes people even cut their body to show their feelings of remorse.

Various rituals, songs and dances are performed. People believe that the purpose of these acts is to enable the spirit to return the place of birth where it will later be reborn.

Aborigine burial usually has two stages. In the first one body of the deceased is placed on the wooden platform or even inside a log that was earlier hollowed by termites. People then cover the corpse with leaves and branches.

Due to rotting after several months only human bones are left. The second stage includes painting of bones with red ochre substance. In some communities close relatives are allowed to take some bones and temporarily keep them. Personal ornaments and other objects like stone tools, shells and animal bones can be found at the place of burial.

There are also communities where bones are wrapped in paperbark. Everything is then buried in the ground or taken to some cave or rock crevice.

The end of 19th century was the beginning of nightmare for the Australian Aboriginal people. Australian authorities started to steal Aboriginal children from their families. They were placed in girls and boys homes, foster families and missions. Many of those children suffered terrible traumas.

They are known as the Stolen Generation. The tragedy continued well into the 1970s. Some of the schools and missions with Aboriginal children were closed in the early 1980s.

On the 13th of February, 2008 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially apologized to the people of Stolen Generation. Is it enough? Some say that practice similar to the one in the past still exist. Just the way it is done has been changed.