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The Aborigines - History of Australia

Posted in Aborigines  by antiques

the-aborigines-history-of-australiaAustralia is a beautiful and rugged landscape teeming with animals that exist nowhere else on earth. Both a cultural and ethnographic isolate, the unique aboriginal culture that flourished here had to adapt to conditions that many would find difficult if not impossible to survive in.

The great Australian outback rises form the central plains of this giant island nation, developing into an incredibly dry and difficult environment to not only sustain life, but to simply eek out an existence. Regardless of this, several hundred Aboriginal tribes thrived here, and adapted to the challenges of this region. They shared amazing abilities to hunt, and could find water where none seemed to be found. Throughout this time they had a rich cosmology and belief system that culminated in the “Dreamtime”, the ancestral time from which all life began.

Origins of the Australian Aborigines

The literal translation of the word ‘Aborigine’ is: the people who were here from the beginning. It is not synonymous (doesn’t have the same meaning), as the word ‘indigenous’ as this means originating in an area (latin: indigena = in (in) + ginere (be born) in a particular place. There is no written record regarding prehistoric Aboriginal Australia. Knowledge of the past is found in archaeological evidence and Aboriginal oral traditions which have been handed down from generation to generation. Therefore using reliable dates derived from archaeological evidence, theories of the initial colonization of Australia have been determined.

Prior to colonization which began in January 1788, the Australian Aborigines lived a lifestyle based on their Dreamtime beliefs. They had survived as a race for thousands of years and their lifestyle and cultural practices had remained virtually unchanged during that time. We refer to this as the traditional period.

However colonization imposed changes on the Aborigines as people who lived in areas that were being settled by the Europeans, were forced off their land as towns and farms were developed. We identify the period in which the changes took place, as the historical period. The sort of changes that took place usually commenced with explorers entering the area of a tribe and being challenged by the people for trespassing on their land. The Europeans often (usually) responded by shooting at the people. Many were killed. When settlers followed the explorers and began felling trees and building farms, they restricted the ability of the Aborigines to move freely around their land. They also destroyed their traditional food sources.

These changes took place throughout the continent at different times. They began in the Sydney and Parramatta districts from 1788; in the Cow pastures (Campbelltown / Camden) area from the early 1800s and in the Illawarra district from 1815. Gradually - but with increasing speed colonization spread throughout the entire continent.

The settlers had arrived in this country to build a new life for themselves and their families and had ‘no time for the Dreamtime’. In other words most were not interested in the affects colonization was having on the Aborigines. In fact they were often considered to be a pest and a nuisance. Many were killed by diseases such as influenza. Thousands were massacred to make way for farms and settlements.

On the other hand some Aboriginal people adapted to the European’s laws and the new lifestyle. In doing so, many were reduced to pauperism and were beggars. Others broke the traditional tribal lore’s by accepting Brass Plates and by moving into the traditional lands of other tribes. In many cases they had no option in doing this as they were facing starvation or the gun.

Overall, the Australian Aborigines went through stages of being conquered through an ‘invasion’ and taking of their lands. Many adapted to the new lifestyle (when many became reliant on alcohol, tobacco and handouts of food and clothing. However the settlers were often contemptuous of the Aborigines and separated them from their society and the people became the fringe dwellers of society. Others were removed from their families and placed into institutions. From the late 1830s the remnants of the tribes in the settled areas were moved onto Reserves and Missions where they were ‘managed’ by settlers and were forbidden from teaching their children their language and customs.

During the 1900s separation was an official government policy which lasted for many decades and today, many Aboriginal people do not know their origins. In other words, which tribe they are descended from or the names of their parents and or grandparents. They are a lost generation.

Misconceptions about Aboriginal Australians

Australian Aborigines - the original inhabitants of the continent - are one of the best known and least understood people in the world. Since the nineteenth century they have been singled out as the world’s most primitive culture and the living representatives of the ancestors of mankind. Aborigines are therefore probably more familiar to the rest of the world than are the white Australians who immigrated to the continent from Britain and other European countries. In reality, Aboriginal culture, as anthropological work over the last hundred years has revealed, is a complex, subtle, and rich way of life. On our way toward describing and understanding Aboriginal art, we need to look briefly at this culture, what it was in the past and what it has become today.

Aborigines have occupied Australia for at least forty thousand years. They came originally from southeast Asia, entering the continent from the north. (Present-day Australia, including Tasmania, was then one continent with what is now New Guinea.) Although Aborigines are Homo-sapiens, biological isolation has meant that they are not racially closely related to any other people. Because of their relative cultural isolation, Aborigines were forced to develop their own solutions to the problems of human adaptation in the unique and harsh Australian environment. The result was a stable and efficient way of life. Probably because of its effectiveness, the society was slow to change, especially technologically. This gave to Aboriginal Australia the appearance of primitiveness. The archaeological record reveals, however, a number of innovations, among them the earliest known human cremations, some of the earliest rock art, and certainly the first boomerangs, ground axes, and grindstones in the world.

The stereotype of Aborigines passively succumbing to the dictates of their environment has also been recently questioned. We now know that they altered the landscape in significant ways, using what has been called “firestick farming” to control underbrush growth and to facilitate hunting. Aborigines also altered species occurrence of flora and fauna by resource management and possibly assisted in the extinction of prehistoric animals.

The notion of pristine natives with a “pure” culture was an artificial one - many Aborigines had considerable contact with Melanesians and Indonesians long before the European colonists arrived in Australia. Aboriginal groups also influenced each other. Waves of change swept the entire continent - changes in tools and implements, in social organization, and in ceremonial practices and mythological concepts. Aboriginal culture was dynamic, not static. The Aboriginal culture of the last two hundred years, the period after the arrival of the colonists, has also been dynamic. This is why it is difficult to speak of a hard and fast dichotomy between Aborigines “before” and “after” contact with the Europeans. Nevertheless, it is useful to look at Aboriginal culture at the point of first contact and as it is today.

The population of Australia at the time of the arrival of the whites in 1788 was probably between 250,000 and 500,000. The pattern of Aboriginal settlement was like that for present-day Australians, except in the tropical north, with most of the population living along the coasts and rivers. Densities varied from one person for every thirty-five square miles in the arid regions to five to ten persons for every one square mile on the eastern coast. Residential groups ranged in size from ten to fifty people, with some temporary ceremonial gatherings reaching up to five hundred.

Most people tend to think of Aborigines as a unified, homogeneous group. Yet the Aborigines never used one collective term to describe themselves. No one individual Aborigine, in the precolonial past, would have known of the existence of many of the other Aboriginal peoples and regions of the vast continent of Australia, which covers nearly three million square miles - almost the area of the United States.

Recent scientific studies have concluded that the Australian Aborigines were the original Americans! In other words, the theory is that ATSI people were adventurers who arrived in the North American continent before the Vikings or Columbus. This theory states that the ancestors of the American Indians. are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. “Separate studies by both Brazilian and US scholars are revealing that the first humans to enter the New World more than 14,000 years ago were not Mongoloid peoples as has always been thought - but were instead people of the same race as present day Australian Aborigines.”

Tasmanian Genocide

The Tasmanian Aborigines are the indigenous people of the island state of Tasmania, Australia. (Aboriginal name: lutrawita or trouwunna). In the space of thirty years (1803-1833), genocide was committed against the Tasmanian Aborigines, reducing their population from around 5,000 to around 300. Twentieth-century historians, scientists and anthropologists held that they had become extinct with the death of Truganini in 1876. Many still hold this view especially outside of Australia. Some modern aborigines can claim ancestry to the indigenous Tasmanian population but they have interbred heavily. Much of the Indigenous Tasmanian language (which had several different dialects), and a lot of Tasmania’s Aboriginal cultural heritage has been lost. — Inspired by

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