The vibrant culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dates back tens of thousands of years.
Archaeological evidence tells us that First Nations people are the continent’s oldest surviving culture, and have been on the continent for at least 60,000 years.
This fact demonstrates why a connection to Country is so important to Aboriginal communities that have relied upon and managed the land for generations before British colonisation.
Below, we’ll run through more fascinating facts about Aboriginal culture in Australia.
Indigenous Culture Exists Everywhere
Despite outdated depictions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Indigenous culture is all around us and heavily influences the way we live today.
- Just under 35% of Indigenous Australian people live in cities.
- Around 44% reside in regional towns.
- Only 21% live in more remote areas.
Why is it important to learn about Aboriginal culture? These figures show that cultural awareness applies to us all, regardless of where we live.
Many people assume that most Aboriginal communities are based in the more remote regions, but the fact is that more First Nations people live in eastern Australia than anywhere else.
Around a third of the Indigenous population is based in New South Wales. However, it is correct that approximately 30% of people in the Northern Territory identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
There Are Over 100 Active Aboriginal Languages
In the 18th Century, there were 250 languages spoken by Indigenous peoples throughout Australia.
Today, over 145 languages remain in use (although the exact figure is often debated). Around 20-40 of these languages are spoken daily with dialects unique to their communities.
There are hundreds of different tribes, and each has a characteristic language and established practices—not surprising when you consider that Australia is bigger than the whole of Europe!
Stories Form an Important Part of Indigenous Tradition
Cultural knowledge is shared from one generation to the next through a blend of spoken stories, music, song, and ritual. Music is present in every aspect of the culture, from instruments such as the didgeridoo to traditional songs and ceremonies
There are also many contemporary singers and bands of Indigenous descent that provide an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in learning about music and song.
The History Books Are Wrong About the Last Tasmanian Aboriginal Person
European colonists considered Truganini the last Aboriginal Tasmanian—but they’re wrong! Truganini lived from around 1812 until 8th May, 1876. Fanny Cochrane Smith passed away in 1905 at age 71–her life story is an incredible tale of resilience, and her descendents are still alive today.
This being said–the idea of the “last Tasmanian Aboriginal person” is a myth, as the region continues to have a thriving community of Aboriginal people whose culture remains vibrant and alive to this day.
The Word ‘Australia’ Came From European Invaders
Australia as we know and love it hasn’t always been called ‘Australia.’
Europeans called it ‘New Holland’—a name penned by Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman in 1644.The Latin term for ‘Australia’ is ‘Terra Australis Incognita,’ which means “unknown southern land,” but it had a respected name by First Nations peoples long before.
As we’ve discovered, there isn’t a singular language used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but Western Australia’s Kimberley region uses the word ‘Bandaiyan’ to refer to the country. Australia is known by many different names by the various diverse nations throughout the country itself.
Additionally, the term ‘Country’ is an Aboriginal-English word that doesn’t refer to the entirety of Australia, but rather to someone’s traditional tribal lands. ‘Country’ doesn’t simply mean a place—it is a respectful term that describes seas, lands, and waterways–all interconnected to provide a home, resources, and sustenance.
Like many Indigenous words, the depth of meaning is far more acute than the English equivalent and conveys deeply-held beliefs about cultural practices, family, identity, custom, and place.
Australia Is the Only Commonwealth Government Without a Federal Treaty
Our final fact is more about the Australian government than about Indigenous people. Still, it remains an important element of the struggle many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizens face daily.
In 2018, the parliament of Victoria passed new legislation to create a framework for treaty negotiations with local Aboriginal communities—the first time any such laws existed. The federal government hasn’t followed the example set by Victoria and several other states, and has not entered into a treaty with Indigenous peoples—making it the only worldwide member of the Commonwealth of Nations not to take this step to recognize sovereignty and discuss compensation.