The Aborigines of Australia

Report by Sarah for fifth grade Independent Research Project.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Geography of Australia

3. History

4. The Dreamtime

5. The Aboriginal Flag

6. Physical Appearance

7. A Normal Day

8. Food

9. Ceremonial Gatherings

10. The Bunyip

11. Weaponry and Hunting

12. Clothing

13. Life on the Reservation Camps

14. Shelter besides Reservation Camps and Cities

15. Children’s Games and Toys

16. Unfair Treatment

17. National Sorry Day

18. Final Comments


1. Introduction

I chose to research the topic of the Aborigines of Australia because the Aborigines have always interested me. At first I wanted to do Australia, but then I thought about the Aborigines. I knew that I could find enough information about them, and I didn’t know very much about them, so I decided to use them as my topic.

The Aborigines of Australia are a relatively well-known culture. They are one of the oldest cultures that are still in existence today. In some resources you may see the word Aborigines spelled with a lowercase "A". This refers to all people belonging to an ancient culture. When spelled with an uppercase A, this refers to only the Aborigines of Australia.(Source 3, page 13) Of the estimated 300,000 Aborigines once living in the Australian bush, there are only 76,000 part-Aborigines, and 45,000 full blooded Aborigines today. Their culture has stayed alive through many harsh years of unfair treatment towards Aborigines. (Source 9)

2. Geography of Australia

Australia is a very big continent, with a large variety of land formations. In much of Australia there are sweltering deserts. Another part of Australia is covered in thick rainforests. In both of these places there are many Aborigines living today. Some Aborigines live in the cities, and have become totally modernized. Most Aborigines live in the desert part of Australia, which covers much of Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, and part of Queensland. There, it is burning hot in the day and freezing cold at night. They have become accustomed to this, wearing little or no clothes in the day and fur blankets at night. (Source 15, p. 8)

3. History

The Aborigines first came to Australia at least 40,000 years ago. Some historians and anthropologists think it may have been as many as 120,000 years ago. Many thousands of years ago, the sea level was much lower then it is currently. When sea levels dropped, the ocean distances between Southeast Asia and Australia shrank greatly. People may have first come to Australia by boat from other parts of Southeast Asia during one of these periods. The Aborigines’ culture and ways of living changed very little in all those thousands of years.

Dutch, Spanish, French, and British ships sailed into Australian waters in the 16th and 17th centuries. This changed the lives of the Aborigines forever. The first British settlement was founded in 1788, where the British jails were transferred to Australia. The Europeans brought over many diseases, such as smallpox, venereal disease, measles, and influenza. The Aborigine wise women and men were called upon to help, but of course they had no cure for these diseases that they had never seen. Many Aborigines died. (Source 1)

4. The Dreamtime

According to the Aborigines, the Dreamtime is the time before men and women were created, when there was no earth and no sky. In the Dreamtime, sprits called Dreamings started to awaken and walk through the featureless land. They started to create the earth and the sky, man and woman. Every clan of Aborigines has their own stories about the Dreamtime and the Dreamings. This is the creation story of Ngiyaampaa country. Click here to see the story told in person.

"Now long, long time ago of course, in the beginning, when there was no people, no trees, no plants whatever on this land, "Guthi-guthi", the spirit of our ancestral being, he lived up in the sky.

So he came down and he wanted to create the special land for people and animals and birds to live in. So Guthi-guthi came down and he went on creating the land for the people-after he’d set the borders in place and the sacred sights, the birthing places of all the Dreamings, where all our Dreamings were to come out of.

Guthi-guthi put one foot on Gunderbooka Mountain and another one at Mount Grenfell. And he looked out over the land and he could see that the land was bare. There was no water in sight, there was nothing growing. So Guthi-guthi knew that trapped in a mountain-Mount Minara-the water serpent, Weowie, he was trapped in the mountain. So Guthi-guthi called out to him, "Weowie, Weowie", but because Weowie was trapped right in the middle of the mountain, he couldn’t hear him.

Guthi-guthi went back up into the sky and he called out once more, "Weowie", but once again Weowie didn’t respond. So Guthi-guthi came down with a roar like thunder and banged on the mountain and the mountain split open. Weowie the water serpent came out. And where the water serpent traveled he made waterholes and streams and depressions in the land.

So once all that was finished, of course, Weowie went back into the mountain to live and that’s where Weowie lives now, in Mount Minara. But then after that, they wanted another lot of water to come down from the north, throughout our country.

Old Pundu, the Cod, it was his duty to drag and create the river known as the Darling River today. So Cod came out with Mudlark, his little mate, and they set off from the north and they created the big river. Flows right down, water flows right throughout our country, right into the sea now.

And of course, this country was also created, the first two tribes put in our country were Eaglehawk and Crow. And from these two tribes came many tribal people, many tribes, and we call them sub-groups today. So my people, the Ngiyaampaa people and the Barkandji further down are all sub-groups of Eaglehawk and Crow.

So what I’m telling you-the stories that were handed down to me all come from within this country." (Source 14, page N/A)

Many Aborigines are Christians today, but they also still believe the Dreamtime stories. Most think that God chose a different form and the Aborigines call that form the Dreamings. All Aborigines honor the Dreamtime and the creation stories, which have been handed down through thousands of generations.

"Aboriginal religion is a land based spiritual belief system that has a proven ability to guide, sustain and satisfy the material and non-material needs of a society for tens of thousands of years. It is the oldest belief system on the planet."(Source 13, page N/A)

5. The Aboriginal Flag

The Aboriginal Flag is divided in equal halves of black on top and red on the bottom, with a yellow circle in the center. The flag was designed by Harold Joseph Thomas, an Aboriginal man from Central Australia, in 1971. The black symbolizes Aboriginal people and the red represents the earth and the peoples' relationship to the land. It also represents red ochre, a kind of mud paint which is used by Aboriginal people in ceremonies. The yellow circle represents the sun. Today the flag has been adopted by all Aboriginal groups and is flown or displayed permanently at Aboriginal centers throughout Australia. (Source 14)

6. Physical Appearance

The appearance of most Aborigines can be quite varied. They mostly have dark brown hair that can be straight, wavy, or curly. Young children may have blonde hair, but the blonde fades away as they get older. Their skin can be tan to dark brown and almost black. Their skin, especially in the facial area and the ankles and below, is toughened by years of wear and the heat and wind. (Source 9)

7. A Normal Day

A normal day in the life of an Aboriginal years ago without technology would be quite simple. These were hard working people, and almost three quarters of their day they spent gathering food. This is how a normal day would go.

First, you would wake up around sunrise. Your family would begin to build a fire. For awhile, you and your family would sit around the fire to warm up. The women would go and fetch water and more firewood. If there were any food left over from last night’s dinner, you would eat that for breakfast. Otherwise you would have nothing. Almost three-quarters of the day you spent looking for food. After breakfast the men would get their spears and boomerangs and go out hunting. The women went off in search of food also, but food from the ground. You would look for yams, grubs, termites, mice, lizards, and other small animals that you were able to catch. In the desert areas, you searched for water in the hollows and roots of certain trees. The men and women did this through most of the morning and afternoon. Then they returned for dinner. If the men had not managed to catch anything, they knew that there would still be food for dinner. There would be the food that the women gathered, and damper (ashcake). After dinner, you would gather around a central fire with your family. The boys and men would do most of the dancing and chanting, but the women were allowed to get up to do one dance. Men who were actors came forward and acted out a story. Some of the stories were about the terrifying Bunyip. These were told to scare the children and also teach them lessons. Dance after dance would be performed, until at last you can go to sleep. You go with your family to your sleeping area, and you huddle in the red sand for warmth and sleep. And tomorrow, the process begins again. (Source 9)

8. Food

Food is plentiful in the cities and reservation camps, but not in the bush. Aborigines in the cities and reservation camps eat as anyone else does, just like you and I. Out in the bush, you have to go out and catch your food. The men go out hunting and the women go gathering. Any food that comes from the land the Aborigines call "bush- tucker". The women hope that the men bring back an animal after their hunt. Kangaroos, euros (a type of kangaroo), opossum, emu, wallaby, dugong, flying foxes, goannas (a type of lizard), turtles, crocodiles, sharks, fish, and shellfish of all kinds including mussels, oysters, and periwinkles, are eaten. In addition to trapping all kinds of birds, hunters take the eggs from the nests and eat them. Among the insets eaten are honey ants, white ants, locusts, beetles, grasshoppers, and moths. Among the larvae eaten either raw or roasted are the witchetty grub and the white grub. Over two hundred different types of plants can be eaten. Among these are seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, mangrove-fruit pulp, figs, palm-stem pitch, lily and fern rhizomes, roots and tubers, leaves and shoots. Children and adults chew on spear grass. The honey from the stingless wild bees’ nests is considered a delicacy. (Source 9)

9. Ceremonial Gatherings

There are a few different instruments played by the Aborigines during their dances and ceremonial gatherings, which are called corroborees. There is the bull-roarer, the clapping sticks, and the didjeridu (also spelled didgeridoo). The bull-roarer is a long, slender, flat piece of wood with string tied to it. When you twirl the string through the air, it makes a roaring sound. This instrument is often used during the Bunyip stories. The clapping sticks are long pieces of wood that you clap together to make a clicking sound. (Source 7) The didjeridu is played by men to accompany singing and dancing during corroborees. It is a unique musical instrument that is end-blown and trumpet-like. The didjeridu is traditionally made from a termite-hollowed eucalyptus branch. The Aborigines decorated them with bright paints made from natural substances. (Source 1)

10. The Bunyip

As soon as they are old enough to join the corroboree, young children learn about the Bunyip from the village storytellers. Bunyips are legendary mythical creatures. Bunyips supposedly haunt rivers, swamps, creeks, waterholes, and billabongs. Their lifelong goal is to cause nighttime terror by eating anyone who dares to come to the water to drink. (Source 6) This is a story about Koala and the Bunyip that may be told at a corroboree.

"Long, long ago, a koala lived on the top of a mountain. Every night she came down to a waterhole in the Wollondilly to drink. There she met the Bunyip who lived in the deepest, darkest part of the swamp. Koala was not afraid of the Bunyip and they would talk all through the night about ancient times. The Bunyip was feared and hated by the people of the area, but koalas were loved for their gentleness and their plaintive cry that reached the hearts of all who heard it. All koalas were safe, because their flesh was never eaten.

The other koalas were afraid that the people would hear of the friendship between Koala and the Bunyip and be angry with them. ‘Man hunts wallabies and kangaroo and lizards and he eats them,’ they said. ‘If he did not love the koalas, he would eat us too.’ They pleaded with Koala but she would not listen to their advice. Every night she left her baby alone while she and the Bunyip talked until the eastern sky paled and the sun began to rise.

The older koalas met and discussed what to do about Koala and the Bunyip. They had seen the clay markings of the featherfoot (sorcerer) as he danced and spoke to the Spirits. ‘The magic is in the markings on his body,’ one of them said to the others. ‘You must help me put clay on my body in the same pattern and then the featherfoot’s magic will come to our aid.’

Before dusk the older koala painted himself with clay. He listened to the Bunyip crashing up the steep mountainside. Trees snapped under his heavy tread and large boulders crashed through the scrub. The painted koala found the baby koala waiting for its mother and he held it in his arms until he heard Koala and Bunyip getting closer. As soon as Koala appeared he placed the baby firmly on its mother’s back and whispered, ‘Hang on tight, and never let go.’ The magic in the markings was so strong that the baby clung tightly to its mother. Every effort she made to dislodge it failed. Bunyip got tired of waiting for Koala to get rid of her baby so he made his way back to the swamp. The painted koala said, ‘You will not so easily get rid of your baby. To show how important this lesson really is, the marks painted on me will always remain on the faces of our people.’

The marks on the face of the koala today are a reminder to every generation that if they value their lives they must not associate with the Bunyip." (Source 11, page N/A)

11. Weaponry and Hunting

The Aborigines traditionally go out hunting with three things, the boomerang, the spear, and the spear thrower. The men of the clan make all these weapons of wood. There are two types of boomerangs; returning and non-returning. When a returning boomerang is thrown correctly, the thrower can catch the boomerang without moving. The returning boomerang is only used to injure the animal. A non-returning boomerang is used to actually kill the animal. The non-returning boomerang has a wider curve, while the returning boomerang has a tighter curve. (Source 4) Spears are very important. They are mainly used for hunting, fighting, and fishing. Spear throwers increase the speed and force of the spear, more lethally injuring the target animal. (Source 2)

12. Clothing

If you were an Aborigine, there wasn’t much you had in the way of clothing. Aborigines in the bush mostly preferred to go without wearing any clothes, but if you lived where it was cold, you would have a warm cloak made out of opossum or kangaroo fur. They would rub their bare bodies with animal fat as protection against cold wind and insects. If you lived in a city or on a reservation camp, you would look entirely different. In the city you would look as any other person, white or Aborigine. On reservation camps, the very youngest children would go bare, the older children would wear shorts and maybe a shirt, the women would wear shirts and skirts, and the men would wear shirts and shorts. (Source 9)

13. Life on the Reservation Camps

Some Aborigines live on special government reservation camps, where they are given food, clothing, and a house to live in, usually with one room and a big front porch. The younger children go to an English school where they learn how to read, write, and speak English. The houses have no electricity, but there is technology in the public buildings. Only some Aborigines have a written language of their own. Even then, almost all Aborigines have learned some English somewhere along the line. If you live on a reservation camp, you and your family would speak Kriol, or Aboriginal English, which is a mixture of ancient Aboriginal language and English. (Source 5)

14. Shelter besides Reservation Camps and Cities

Cool, dark caves inside Uluru have sheltered Aborigines for thousands of years. Uluru is also widely known as Ayers Rock. The land where Ayers Rock stands was taken away from the Aborigines and only just returned to them in 1985. (Source 2, page N/A) Most Aborigines merely dig holes in the sand on the ground, with a fire between people for a night’s sleep. Sometimes they would make simple structures. Shelters to break the wind were made of leafy branches, sheets of bark, or mounds of grass. A temporary lean-to was made by putting sheets of bark against a low tree branch. At other times a hole in a sand dune would be covered with branches. Bending a large sheet of bark in the middle and placing it on its ends made simple huts. Other huts were made on a circular framework of branches with an oval roof, covered bark, grass, reeds, leaves, or seaweed. Sometimes clay or mud was put over the outside of the hut to make it waterproof. (Source 9)

15. Children’s Games and Toys

Even though the Aborigines are a hard working people, they still give their children time to play. The toys that they make are sometimes miniature versions of the tools that their parents use, such as boomerangs, baskets, spears, or boats, while the children who live in the cities and reservations have model airplanes, torches, and telephones. String games are also very popular, along with swimming. String games are used to represent figures in their life, such as bags, food, or baskets. They might also represent animals, or people. These games are also used to tell stories. (Source 14)

16. Unfair Treatment

From the late 1800’s until the mid 1960’s, the Aborigines were treated very unfairly. White men who working at the cattle stations would see the poor Aboriginal women and rape them. This would result in there being a half-Aboriginal child. These children were taken away from their mothers and taken to a missionary camp run by missionaries who were mostly good men. There, they were taught how to read and write English, how to add and subtract, how to grow crops, how to thresh the rice at harvest time, how to bake bread, and how to milk the goats. The girls were taught how to cook and sew cotton dresses. They taught the boys how to make bricks in the kiln, how to plane wood, and how to make things as a carpenter. The missionaries thought that since the Aborigines were not "like themselves", they would forget about their children. The mothers did not forget their sons and daughters, but since the missionary camp was far away from any Aboriginal villages, they could not walk there, meaning they never saw their child again. (Source 8, pages N/A)

17. National Sorry Day

The first National Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998-one year after the writing of the report Bringing Them Home which was the result of a question about removing Aboriginal children from their families. One of the recommendations of the report was that a National Sorry day should be declared. The day offers the community a chance to be involved in activities to help people understand what really happened and why it was wrong. Each year since then, many community activities take place across Australia. Sorry books, in which people record their personal feelings, have been presented to the Aborigines. Hundreds of thousands of signatures were received. People can also register an apology online.

18. Final Comments

"Dear Aborigine Children,

You tiptoe barefoot on boulders,

Your hair kissed golden

By Australia’s gleaming sun.

Tracks of kangaroos and emus, too,

blend with yours on the sparkling shore.

Your bothers’ didgeridoos haunt the land

with sounds that mimic trickling tidepools

and rumbling thunder.

Your language holds no word for "hate."

To your folks, that is an unknown feeling.

You wonder at wombat

and laugh with kookaburra

while bell birds tinkle their greetings

from silver gum trees.

Your parents perfume the night

with sweet smoke of sandalwood fires.

The air bursts with the bangs of boomerangs

and clacks of clapping sticks

as they dance until dawn

with leaves tied onto muscled legs,

with smiles lighting glowing faces,

as you and your cousins doze.

Who will see that no man marks

or harms the places

where your Creation Ancestors

are alive in everything?

Who will keep the dreaming places peaceful

if others push you off your ancient land,

amazing Aborigines?"

(Source 10).

Works Cited

1. "Aborigines." Microsoft Encarta. N.p.: Microsoft, 2002. CD-ROM.

2. "Aborigines of Australia." People and Places. N.p.: World Book, n.d.

3. "Aborigines." World Book . N.p.: World Book, 1998.

4. "Boomerangs." World Book. N.p.: World Book, 1998.

5. Browne, Rollo. An Aboriginal Family. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Co., 1983. 10-11.

6. Carroll, Robert T. The Skepdic's Dictionary - Bunyips. 2 May 2002.

7. Davis, Kevin. Look What Came From Australia. Danbury, CT: Grolier, 1999.

8. Hill, Anthony. The Burnt Stick. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.

9. Hoyt, Olga. Aborigines of Australia. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1969.

10. Kroll, Virginia. With Love, to Earth's Endangered Peoples. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications, 1998.

11. Peck, C W. Aboriginal Stories - Koala and the Bunyip. National Library of Australia. 2 May 2002.

12. Reynolds, Jan. Down Under: Vanishing Cultures. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1992.

13. Stewart, Peter. The Dreaming and Spirituality. 2000. Iliri Trust. 12 May 2002.

14.Stories of the Dreaming. The Australian Museum. 2 May 2002.

15. "Australia." Library of Nations. p. 8: Time-Life Books, 1985.

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