Aboriginal Cultures

Evans, Steve. “Australia: Aboriginal Culture 001.” 19 January, 2011.

Aborigines are the indigenous peoples of Australia and as the native people they live “through” the natural environment and engage in place-making. They have been in Australia for over 50,000 years and there are over ” 250 distinct language groups spread throughout Australia” (Blakemore). How they got there is still up for debate, but the current supported theory is that they migrated out of Africa about 70,000 years ago, making “Aboriginal Australians the oldest population of humans living outside Africa” (Blakemore). To get to Australia the common theory is that they used very primitive boats that carried them from island to island until they reached northern Australia.

The British began to colonize Australia in 1788 when there were “between 750,000 and 1.25 Aboriginal Australians… estimated to have lived there” (Blakemore). Through a combination of epidemics caused by foreign diseases transmitted by British settlers and land seizures the population plummeted. This is a common trend in colonialism, it happened when Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World and when the British came to North America.

A 19th-century engraving showing natives of the Gweagal tribe opposing the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1770

Much of what we know about ancient Aboriginal culture comes from oral histories passed down through generations. In considering oral histories the Dominant Western Worldview sees them as inferior to written histories. Recently more western scholars have begun to consider oral histories as viable sources of knowledge about the past. They can even impact the future as Aboriginals have dealt with a changing environment in the past, thousands of years ago, through sea-level rise. Their oral histories tell how their ancestors dealt with the environmental problem, they show that “Aboriginal Australians were not just aware of sea-level rise, but prepared for and then adapted to it” (Heathcote). The main point of the stories regarding sea-level rise is “that people were very concerned about sea-level rise across the great plains (now underwater)” (Heathcote). These oral histories can inform how scientists and people look at climate change, and there have been recent initiatives to include Aboriginals in the fight against it. In Emily Gerrard’s paper “Towards a Carbon Constrained Future: Climate Change, Emissions Trading and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Australia“, she notes how Aboriginals are beginning to get more authority in the management of land in light of climate change. There are now more “opportunities for Indigenous people, whose knowledge, understandings and practices, not to mention landholdings, hold great potential for solutions to the problems facing our natural world” (Gerrard 136). 

Works Cited

Blakemore, Erin. “Aboriginal Australians.” National Geographic. Culture & History. January 31, 2019.

Gerrard, Emily. “Towards a Carbon Constrained Future: Climate Change, Emissions Trading and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Australia.” Country, Native Title and Ecology, edited by Jessica K Weir, vol. 24, ANU Press, 2012, pp. 135–174. JSTOR.

Heathcote, Angela. “How Indigenous knowledge might inform our response to climate change”. Australia Geographic. 2015.