I is for Indigenous Australians


First off, my apologies but there will be no photographs today as it’s inappropriate to include personal photos here without permission. You might wish to read some of my earlier posts which include references to Indigenous Australians‘ music, history and art.

Like any colonised country, Australia has its indigenous inhabitants, and here they are either Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI). The popular perception is that Australia is a young country but in fact it’s geographically ancient and the Aboriginal peoples have lived here for at least 40,000 years. Given the country’s demanding geography and climate the people became proficient at adapting to their specific environment, gaining an astonishing knowledge of plants and their uses and how to survive in the harshest areas.

Although not nomadic, the Aborigines did move around to some extent with different weather conditions. Their religious structures were built into the story of the landscape and each area has its own Dreamtime story of creation. There were, and still are, complex kinship structures and rules for interacting between kin as well as between tribal groups. You can see the vast array of different groups on this interactive map.

The assumption by the colonisers was that the land was empty and because the Aboriginal peoples were living in an extremely challenging land with climatic extremes they did not live in what the British regarded as settled communities, and there was no evidence of agriculture or building. Not that it would probably have mattered much if they had anyway, after all the British needed to find a new place to “dump” all those convicts whom they could no longer send to the Americas. As with most frontier stories there are many ugly elements from the earliest years with repercussions until today.

Aboriginal Australians, like most colonised peoples, have suffered many injustices, legislatively and more broadly, and were not given the same entitlements as other Australians until the 1960s and 1970s. Their health and education statistics remain significantly worse than for the rest of Australia as do their mortality figures. They have also suffered the removal of children (known as the Stolen Generations) for which Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister, apologised in 2008. Government strategies to “Close the Gap” remain largely unsuccessful. The complexity of finding a solution to the problems has vexed researchers and governments for many years.

Some of this background is essential for the tourist because even those from Australia’s eastern states will find it unusual to see as many Indigenous Australians, and in many ways the ones they will see are the dispossessed, the long-grassers and homeless, who may have been evicted from their home communities because of excess alcohol consumption or drug abuse, making it confronting to urban Australians in particular.

The Northern Territory has 210,000 Aboriginal Australians and 31.8% of its population is Indigenous. Many travellers take the opportunity to learn more about Indigenous culture and history while visiting the northern half of Australia, either by visits to the various Aboriginal communities, to art galleries or through National Park rangers or centres like the Warradjan Cultural Centre near Cooinda.  Tours are available to places like the Tiwi Islands (a fabulous place to visit) or perhaps a trip to Peppimenarti to look at their art.

It’s also important to realise that many Aboriginal communities are closed to visitors, or require a permit before you can visit or drive through them.  If you are doing a driving tour, you might want to check this site.


Not much variety today.

In the sticks: out in the bush, a long way away. Americans would probably say “in the boondocks”.

Idiot box: television


18 thoughts on “I is for Indigenous Australians

    1. I generally don’t take photos of Aboriginal people except perhaps in a group context Bill. I’m always cautious about using photos of people anywhere without their permission, again unless in a crowd situation where it might be regarded as “fair game”.

  1. I was born in South Australia to an English father and an Australian mother whose family emigrated there six generations earlier., so doubtless my own ancestors were among those who treated the indigenous people with disdain or worse. I agree with your decision not to use photos without permission – nobody should be regarded as merely a picturesque photo opportunity.

    1. Thanks for visiting Liz -yes the issue of how to treat such “photo ops” is difficult and added to that Aboriginal culture prohibits the use of a person’s photo or name for a period after death, so if you don’t know the person then you are walking on eggshells. Any of us with five or six generations in Oz have the family history potential of discrimination or much worse.

      In my PNG photos of sing-sings I have less ethical concerns about photographing and publishing some with discretion given it’s a public festival where that might be expected, as for example if we were in a crowd shot at a concert or festival. Cheers Pauleen

    1. If you get here Sara I suggest you do a tour to the Tiwi Islands just north of Darwin as it’s a beautiful spot and the people share their culture and art with the tour groups. Yes I like “in the boondocks”….captures the essence of a few of the phrases we use. Thanks for visiting.

    1. Thanks for calling by Jan. We’re on the same page with photo usage. Virtually all the ones on mine are photos I’ve taken myself or common use ones. So very true that colonisation spells disaster for indigenous peoples.

  2. Interesting post and some great advice there about what to expect when visiting the NT for those who may not be familiar with the lifestyle of the indigenous people there. Such a sad part of Australian history and an interesting point you made, that solutions to the current problems in Australia in this area continue to elude researches and others.

    On a lighter note…Idiot Box…love it!


    1. It’s certainly an incredibly complex situation with a sad history. With all our blogging this month, there’s not much time for the idiot box 🙂 Cheers Pauleen

  3. We say out in the sticks and also idiot box here in the US too. Or used to anyway.

    I agree about photos of people under the circumstances you describe.

    1. It’s interesting to know which phrases and words we have in common and it’s getting harder to be sure which ones are exclusively Australian.

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