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Concepts of Indigenous Australian Cultures

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1313 words Published: 14th Aug 2018

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‘Indigenous Australian Cultures’

The Dreaming

The English language has no exact word or phrase that depicts The Dreaming and each Indigenous Australian language groups has its own term to refer to this epoch. In Western Australia Ngarinyin people refer to it as Ungud, the Central Australian Aranda people as Aldjerinya, the Pitjantjara of north-west South Australia as Tjukurpa, while in the Broome region it is Bugari. While the English word suggests fantasies or vague recollections of the real world the Indigenous Australian translation see’s The Dreaming as inherent reality (Edwards, 1998).

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The Dreaming is how Aboriginal people explain how their world came to be. Clarke (2003, p.16) suggests culture and lifestyle in traditional Aboriginal culture are shaped by their values, beliefs and the relationship between Indigenous Australians and every feature of landscape and living creature. The spiritual beings that feature in The Dreaming accounts are the spiritual Ancestors of the present day Aboriginal community and continue to influence the beliefs and values of Aboriginal Australians (Clarke, 2003, p. 16).

The Dreaming tells of the creation of land, trees, plants, rocks, waterholes, rivers, mountain, stars and animals and the journeys the Aboriginal Ancestors travelled. The spirits of these Ancestors whom often resembled people and or animals continue to inhabit these features of the world today. Both consequences and punishments are depicted in The Dreaming and form life lessons that are shared throughout generations. For example the Dhuwa shares The Dreaming of a hunter who abducts a young girl and traps her in a cave with him. While he sleeps she transforms into a butterfly and escapes. In his anger he transforms into a bat and is trapped in the prison he made forever (Abc.net.au, 2015)


For Aboriginal Australian’s kinship is more than family genetics or blood ties. Kinship is a complex system based around social organisation, which outlines responsibilities within Nations, clans and family groups. (University of Sydney, 2005-15)Kinship and family are especially important to Indigenous Australians. As it guides responsibilities to their ‘kin’ and environment. Kinship is so dominant for the Wiradjuri people they speak of kin as their ‘whole world’ (MacDonald, 1998 p. 303).

Kinship in the many Aboriginal Nations shares common components as well as differences. The all-embracing systems have been handed down through generations from Ancestors of The Dreaming and are based on reciprocal actions, such as giving of privileges in return for similar privileges. Rights and obligations are determined by an individual’s kin, and such influences include who you may marry, share food and resources with, who will look after an individual and who might educate them.

Kinship systems consist of Moiety, Totems and skin names. Moiety is a form of social organisation meaning ‘two halves’. Each individual is assigned a moiety group from either the matrilineal (mother) or patrilineal (father)’s line. Moiety governs where partners are chosen from. For example a marriage partner must come from the opposite moiety. Each nation has their own names for each half of moiety. Arnhem Nation refer to it as Dhuwa and Yirrity while Wiradjuri as Dilbi and Kuputhin. Each individual belongs to a totem dependant on when they were conceived. Aboriginal totems can be animals or plants, they hold special meaning to a group of individuals (Bani, 2004). They are filled with the spirit of their ancestors. Individuals become the generational custodians of their particular sacred places, ceremonies and dreaming stories. A person has four totems that represent Nation, Clan, family and a personal totem that recognises their strengths and weaknesses, this totem maybe given at birth or later in life (University of Sydney, 2005-15).

Economic organisation

Goodall (1996, p. 2) has suggested Indigenous Australians have been practicing sustainable land and economic management for thousands of years. Long before European settlement Aboriginal Australians “have used techniques to increase the numbers and growth of plants and animals”. Clearing trees and creating grasslands for grazing while maintaining patches of forest for shelter are examples of these techniques (Australian National University, 2011).

While The Dreaming and kinship organisation describe Aboriginal men as hunters, and women gatherers, Women are more reliable food suppliers than men due their sources being more plentiful, whereas hunting cannot be guaranteed (Dingle, 1988 p. 13).

Aboriginal people created trade routes across the country and exchanged food, shells and psycho-active drugs such as Pituri. Individuals would not travel the entire distance, they would meet at waterholes, where exchanges would be made and then return to their Nation.

Resource management is critical to the sustainability of the Aboriginal culture. Seasonal calendars impact the strategies used to ensure effective methods were utilised, including hunting animals at the time of year they are at their fattest therefore providing maximum nourishment. Ensuring animals weren’t hunted during breeding season or carrying their young was another resource management strategy used. (Anon, 2015)


Abc.net.au, (2015) DustEchoes. (online) Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/dustechos/dustEchoesFlash.htm, (March 11, 2015)

Anon, (2015). 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: http://www.larrakia.csiro.au/pdf/MingayoorooSeasonsCalendar.pdf (Accessed 15 Mar, 2015).

Australian National University. (2011). Bill Gammage discusses ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ http://www.anu.edu.au/vision/videos/5001/, (March 9, 2015).

Bani, E. (2004). Torres News, the voice of the islands: What is a totem? In R. Davis (ED.), Woven histories, dancing lives: Torres Strait Islander identity, culture and history (pp.151). Acton A.C.T: AIATSIS.

Clarke, P. (2003). Where the ancestors walked: Australia as an Aboriginal landscape. Sydney: Allen & Urwin.

Dingle, T. (1988). Aboriginal economy and society: Patterns of experience. Melbourne: McPhee Gribble and Penguin Books.

Edwards, B. (1998). Living the dreaming. In C. Bourke, E. Bourke, & B. Edwards (Eds.), Aboriginal Australia: an introductory reader in Aboriginal studies (2nd ed.) (pp.77-99).

St Lucia, QLD: University of Queensland Press.

Goodall, H. (1996). Invasion to embassy. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin

MacDonald, G. (1998). Continuities of Wiradjuri tradition. In W.H. Edwards (ED.), Traditional Aboriginal society: An introductory reader in Aboriginal studies (2nd ed.) (pp. 297-312). South Melbourne: MacMillan.

University of Sydney. (2002-15). The kinship module. http://sydney.edu.au/kinship-module/ (March 10, 2015).

Cant remember if I used this one

Aboriginal art and culture centre – Alice Springs



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