Aboriginal kangaroo dance of

Australian Aboriginal dance History

APY lands womenWarning. Australian Stories may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. Australian Stories also contain links to sites that may use images of Aboriginal and Islander people now deceased.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are complex and diverse. The Indigenous cultures of Australia are the oldest living cultural history 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 heritage 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.

Land 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.

George Manyita about to throw a three-pronged spearAll of Australia's Aboriginals were semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, 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

Indigenous knowledge of the land is linked to their exceptional tracking skills 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.

National parks

National parks can contain sites of significance for Aboriginal communities, such as rock engravings and artwork. National parks can be significant for Aboriginal people because of Dreaming stories associated with those sites.

National parks management recognises this intrinsic relationship that Aboriginal people have with their 'country'. The land is often less disturbed by European settlement. Often the land areas have been relatively inaccessible or not suitable for European agricultural practices, or have been left relatively intact.

Joli Laywonga dancing aNational Parks and Wildlife Service programs are often run in conjunction with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal communities to ensure Indigenous involvement in national and state parks is seen to be part of processes which help contribute to reconciliation, respect, recognition and cultural awareness, resolution of Native Title, training, employment and enterprise development, support for Aboriginal heritage and cooperative management of the parks and wildlife.

Diversity – location and languages

Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders identify themselves through their land areas, their relationship to others and their language and stories - which may be expressed through ceremony, the arts, family, religion, and sports. Cultural heritage is passed on from one generation to the next.

There were about 600 different clan groups or 'nations' around the continent when Europeans arrived, many with distinctive cultures and beliefs. Their 'territories' ranged from lush woodland areas to harsh desert surroundings. Different groups developed different skills and built a unique body of knowledge based on their particular environment.

Nyawanday (Casey Ross), Spirit children. Courtesy of Kimberley Language Resource Centre.

The system of kinship put everybody in a specific relationship to each other as well special relationships with land areas based on their clan or kin. These relationships have roles and responsibilities attached to them.

Kinship influences marriage decisions and governs much of everyday behaviour. By adulthood people know exactly how to behave, and in what manner, to all other people around them as well as in respect to specific land areas. Kinship is about meeting the obligations of one's clan, and forms part of Aboriginal Law, sometimes known as the Dreaming.

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