INTRODUCTION TO AUSTRALIA'S ABORIGINAL CULTURE - PART 4

The people of the Torres Strait Islands in far north Queensland do not consider themselves as Aborigines, but rather, as a distinct group. Their culture is a mixture of Aboriginal from mainland Australia and that of Papua New Guinea, to their immediate north. In earlier times, this land formed part of the one land mass linking Papua New Guinea to mainland Australia.

Aboriginal man making string and rope from natural plant fibres. PH 256/60, Bleakley Collection, Northern Territory Library.

People today live across the full spectrum of change from traditional Aboriginal culture to European culture. At one end of the spectrum are family groups living in remote areas away from larger Aboriginal communities, trying to maintain traditional hunting, food gathering and ceremonial life. But even at this level, people now wear clothes, may own a car or four wheel drive vehicle, and the men will hunt with rifles as well as spears. In the middle are people living on larger Aboriginal communities, buying most of their food and other needs from the local store, occasionally carrying out traditional hunting and food gathering, and trying to maintain traditional ceremonies and rituals. At the other end of the spectrum are urban Aborigines living European life styles and treasuring their Aboriginal ancestry.

Modern transport, communication and life styles, with subsequent loss of craft skills and tribal knowledge are inevitable changes. It is the spirituality and the heritage, the sense of belonging to the land, some arts and crafts, and the importance of family and ancestry, which continue as the modern essentials of Aboriginal culture.


A few notes about terminology:
The word aborigine (with a little a ) means one of the original native inhabitants of any country. The word Aborigine (with a capital A ) is used to describe the indigenous people of Australia. In Australia, many non-Aboriginal people use the terms Aboriginal and Aboriginals as singular and plural nouns for the people. Aborigines describe themselves using the various words which mean person from each of their own different language groups (tribes). A person from the Sydney region might describe themselves as Koorie, from Darwin as Larrakeyah, from northeast Arnhem Land as Yolgnu, and central Australian has PitjantjatjaraPintubi etc.

Aborigines have differing views on how their culture should be described. On the one hand, people are proud of their culture and want outsiders to know of it. They have seen the impact of European culture in Australia and the threat this has to their own. Fearing the loss of their knowledge, both secular (non-religious) and sacred, they have imparted much that was once secret, known only to the most senior members of their clans, to explorers, missionaries, pastoralists, interested visitors and anthropologists.

On the other hand, in order to continue their cultural traditions and maintain law and order, they need some of the secrecy of their initiation rites and ceremonies kept. This secrecy makes the process meaningful for future generations. 


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