Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years.
The rich Indigenous history pre-dates every other civilisation on earth, including those we refer to as ‘ancient,’ but who are really youngsters compared to First Nations people.
One of the interesting facts about Aboriginal culture is that it precedes every other culture, including the Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians–why isn’t this common knowledge?
The Origins of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
Before the European invasion, there were hundreds of unique Aboriginal dialects and languages within the 500 Indigenous nations located across present-day Australia.
Why is welcome to Country so important to their descendants? Because ‘Country’ means something more to them, entirely.
The term is a more complex and nuanced word that indicates an intricate culture of life, spirituality, custodianship, and reliance on the earth and seas.
Indigenous people have lived on the continent for thousands of years, cultivating the land and living in diverse communities with societal practises and traditions. Early scientific evidence dates Indigenous community existence over 60,000 years ago, with a population of approximately 950,000 when colonisation began.
How Ancient is Aboriginal Culture?
We mentioned other well-known civilisations that we all studied in school, so let’s put that into context!
The heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is that of the oldest living culture on the planet.
Other ancestral groups are, relatively speaking, considerably more recent:
- Ancient Egyptian people began populating the Nile Valley around 50,000 years ago.
- Greek civilisation began about 2,500 years ago.
- The city of Babylon–the heart of the Babylonian people–was formed over 4,000 years ago.
Compared to 60,000 years of culture, belief, and tradition, it is surprising that we don’t automatically associate the respect of the word ‘ancient’ with a people who weren’t just the first communities to live in Australia–but who are the longest established society known to man.
Indeed, First Nations people were the first to reside in desert environments anywhere, and have a history that began long before the rest of ours.
A Brief History of the Destruction of Indigenous Communities
No glimpse into the past is complete without understanding the brutality of the European invasion, initiated when Captain Cook landed in Australia in 1770.
Let’s remember that Aboriginal culture, at this time, had already been firmly embedded in the continent for tens of thousands of years. The invasion led to countless deaths, lost cultures, languages being forgotten, and whole communities becoming displaced and erased from the history books.
As more Europeans travelled to Australia, governments permitted mass murder and tried to enforce western lifestyles onto a strong, spiritual, and deeply-ingrained culture. The island nation was also exposed to diseases brought to the land by invaders. This heartbreaking and inhumane devastation continued long after the 1770s as part of a terrible story of atrocities and discrimination. One modern example is that of the Stolen Generations, which took place between 1905 and 1967. During this time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families saw children forcibly removed and sent to live in missions.
The Australian government formally apologised in 2008, but this that cannot come close to addressing the fathoms of despair these marginalised communities experienced for decades.
The Prospect of Reconciliation
Today, we can recognise the depth of Aboriginal culture and respect the importance of this ancient civilisation that has survived such intense persecution.
Cultural understanding is one step toward reconciliation, re-learning the truth of the past, and understanding how that history continues to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today. While we cannot rewrite history or undo so many wrongs, we can all create equality and equity and close the gaps in our knowledge.
Over 500,000 First Nations people continue to experience vast discrepancies in their educational opportunities, employment prospects, living standards, and healthcare.
There are multiple steps required to achieve true reconciliation:
- Understanding Country and the complexity of what that means
- Valuing and exploring alternative cultures
- Improving relationships, dialogues, and accessibility
- Addressing disadvantages and misconceptions
- Sharing historical truths–however uncomfortable that may be
By acknowledging the past and evaluating the legacy created by colonisation, we begin to build a new roadmap for the future–one where laws, politics, cultures, and communities strive for reconciliation regarding the atrocities of history.