Until this paper, I never even knew there was such a word as “Aborigine” let alone it being a race of people dating back to the prehistoric times. I thought that all Australians were of Anglo decent, but I was wrong about that assumption. The Aborigines were the first and only inhabitants of Australia, until the late 18th century when European settlers came. Because of the Europeans, the Aborigines lives would change drastically. In this paper, I am going to talk about the Aborigines, describing their origins up to the present.
The Aborigines came originally from somewhere in Asia and have been in Australia for at least 40,000 years. The first settlement occurred during an era of lowered sea levels, when there was an almost continuous land bridge between Asia and Australia, allowing them to cross over between the two continents. By 30,000 years ago most of the continent was occupied, including the southwest and southeast corners as well as the Highlands of the island of New Guinea (Mulvaney, 55-56). Archaeologists have found that much of the interior of Australia was abandoned due to severe climatic conditions between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago and reoccupied after the conditions improved. Up until the time the European settlers came in 1788, the Aborigines occupied and utilized the entire continent and had adapted successfully to a large range of ecological and climatic conditions, from wet temperate and tropical rain forests to extremely arid deserts. Population densities ranged from about 1 to 8 square miles per person in the more fertile and coastal areas to more than 35 square miles per person in the deserts. Estimates of the Aboriginal population vary from 300,000 to more than 1,000,000 (Kepars, 15).
The Aborigines were hunter-gatherers and because of this, they were dependent on their environment. They did not grow crops or domesticate animals so whenever food was scarce, they were forced to move in order to find more (Blainey, 20). They were nomads who traveled from site to site within their home territories. Most of the time they hunted and gathered in small groups. When the food resources were high, though, they would organize large gatherings. At these gatherings is where social and religious business of the society would be transacted over a two- to three-week period of intense social activity. This pattern of aggregation and dispersal was fundamental, but because of the living conditions, they had no choice but to follow this pattern. Their food supply was not always abundant (Tindale, 31).
Even though they were the only ones inhabiting Australia, the Aborigines spoke more than 200 different languages. Most of the Aborigines were bilingual or multilingual. Both languages and groups of people were associated with stretches of territory. There may have been as many as 500 such named, territories (Broome, 27-28). Their members shared similar cultures and interacted more with one another than with members of different groups. These groups were not, however, politically or economically tied to each other. While language groups as labels may have commonly used names for one another, individual and group identity differed greatly from how they were labeled by other groups. The Aborigines were not aware that they shared a national identity. However, the Aboriginal worldview tended to be expansive, with a perception of "society" as a community of common under-standings and behaviors shared well beyond the confines of the local group (Broome, 30).
“Aboriginal society was the outcome of interplay between economic, ecological, social, and religious forces” (Goldberg, 144-5). The territories that the different groups of Aborigines occupied were called estates. The estate group was the group that shared ownership of a territory. These groups consisted of people who traced connections with one another by decent through males (Goldberg, 147). Members of an estate were scattered in bands across their territory. A band consisted of two or more families. Each family cooked and camped separately from the others in their estate. Even though they could function alone, they preferred to live and travel together in bands, probably for survival.
The Aborigines religion was centered on Dreamtime. They saw their way of life as already ordained by the creative acts of the Dreaming beings and the "blueprint" that was their legacy, so their mission was simply to live in agreement with the terms of that legacy (Flood, 7). Because of this, there was no room for competing dogmas or rebellion against the status quo. Everything that now existed was fixed for all time and all that they were asked to do, in order to guarantee the continuance of their world, was obey the law of the Dreaming and correctly perform all the rituals. Human creativity was not excluded but was explained away. The Dreaming legacy was not a static, dead weight of tradition but was forever being added to and enlivened, despite an ideology that proclaimed non-change and the need only to reproduce existing forms (Flood, 10). This view of the world gave precedence to spiritual powers and explanations over human intellect, and it placed everyone squarely under the authority of Dreaming rather than that of other people. Because of this, there were no leaders in the Aborigine society. Aborigines were constantly surrounded by proofs of the existence and power of spiritual forces--the landscape itself represented the Dreaming's reality. Everyday activities were in large measure a reenactment of those of the creative beings, making religion inseparable from the concerns of daily life. Outside the ritual arena, and notwithstanding the superior rights of men over women and of older men over younger men, people valued their personal affairs highly and were likely to react with anger and violence to any attempts by others who denied it (Flood, 15).
The Aborigines also believed in totemism. A totem represented each family and even some individuals. They were linked to things of nature and supernatural beings. Totemic beliefs are more highly elaborated among the Aborigines than among any other people (Tindale, 53). Basically, the totem was a symbol that provided a link between humans and mythical beings. The Aborigines believed that these mythical beings were once human, but then morphed into land features such as rocks or even animals. Totemism connects the Aborigine family to a certain place or event that gives them an account of their origin. It is individual to the family while at the same time linking them to other families that share the same origins (Flood, 22). They valued their totems very highly, almost as much as their religion.
Although not as important as the Dreamtime or totemism, music played a major role in the Aborigine’s lives. Although the songs of each of the tribes sounded similar, they were unique and each tribe knew that their songs were different from other tribes. They really didn’t have any musical instruments. They sang and either stamped their feet or clapped their hands to accompany the singing. For some songs, they hit sticks together in order to give them rhythm (Tindale, 57). Some tribes used a didgeridoo, which was probably the only real instrument they had. This instrument was made from a hollowed out tree branch and could very long, sometimes up to 15 feet. It originated from the tribes of Northern Australia and eventually spread to the other parts over time. The sound was made by blowing into one end, which would produce a buzzing sound. The didgeridoo became a national symbol for the Aborigines mainly because of its uniqueness. Their music would be used in performing their rituals for the Dreaming (Tindale, 59). These rituals were usually only performed when the food supply was abundant and they got together with members of other tribes to perform the rituals.
In the 1780’s, the Aborigines lifestyle took a turn for the worse. This the period in which Europeans began to explore and eventually colonize Australia. The two vastly different cultures would soon clash and cause a dramatic change for the Aborigines. The British were the first of the Europeans to start colonies in Australia. The Aborigines were at first very friendly and receptive of the settlers. But as more and more settlers came this would change. “Although the Colonial Office in London prescribed the safeguarding of indigenes' rights and their treatment as British subjects, friction soon developed between the colonists and local Aborigines” (Blainey, 85). Once the European settlement began to expand inland, it caused conflict because it interfered with the Aborigines’ economic and religious activities. The Europeans were forcing them off their hunting land and sacred areas. They couldn’t compensate for the increasing population of the settlers. Before long, the Europeans became annoyed with the Aborigines and violence was inevitable. Some of the Aborigine groups were able to wage successful guerilla war against the Europeans, but eventually, the lack of technology became their downfall. Up to the 1880’s, many Aborigines were killed as a result of fighting against the Europeans (Blainey, 93). Other groups were forced into hiding while others stayed in camps. The Aborigines who stayed in camps became the nucleus of the European labor force (Blainey, 102). Fighting wasn’t the only thing that killed the Aborigines. Diseases, brought over by the Europeans, killed off many Aborigines. Diseases killed more of them than did fighting. In the southeast, the Aborigines died off so fast that the Europeans believed that all the others would soon become extinct (McLeod, 134). In 1856, rowing humanitarian concerns led the Australian colonies to pass laws, beginning in Victoria, concerning the care and protection of Aborigines (Blainey, 133). They were put on reservations where they received food and shelter. Unfortunately for the Aborigines, those laws did not give them any social or economic standing in the colonies. Since they were force off their land, they could no longer hunt or gather food for survival. They were forced to adapt to the European culture because that was the only choice they had. Even though they adapted to the new culture, they were still living in poverty. Gradually, missionaries and government welfare agents began to have some effect, and questions of humane treatment came to have a more of a purpose. But in some areas the Aborigines were still mistreated and fighting still occurred, all though not as much as before well into the 1940’s (Broome, 157). On top of that, in places where the European settlement was intense, miscegenation, or cross breeding, took place (Blainey, 152). Eventually the number of Aborigines of mixed with European blood eventually outnumbered those with pure Aboriginal ancestry. In the southern and middle eastern parts of Australia, their traditional lifestyle ceased to exist as reality. In the northern parts their traditional lifestyle remained even on reservations, but with modifications, so it wasn’t the same as before. In some remote areas, the Aborigines were able to live as before but with changes, especially in law and order (Blainey, 178).
Even into the 20th century, the Aborigines’ situation did not get any better. The estimated number of persons of predominantly Aboriginal descent declined from about 180,000 in 1861 to less than 95,000 in 1901 (Broome, 189). The Aborigines were still living in poverty and because of all the problems they faced, many of them began drinking. This led to a big alcohol epidemic among the Aborigine population (Blainey, 196). On top of that, many Europeans felt that the Aborigines needed to be wiped out. In the 1950’s, the Aborigine Protection Board developed a policy called “assimilation”. Under this policy, Aborigine children were taken from their homes and brought to white homes to be raised in the “superior white” ways. Some of them were even kidnapped. It was estimated that about 100,000 children were victims of this policy. They became known as the “stolen generation” (McLeod, 214). The intent was to steer them away from their own culture make them want to adapt to the white culture. This practice was so bad that an official report from Australia written two years ago used the word “Genocide” to describe it. The article also talks about how the Australian government today is trying to make amends for its actions in the past (The Hardest Word, 48). This policy lasted up until the 60’s. Assimilation, by far, is one of the crueler treatments of the Aborigines by the Europeans.
Despite all of the hard times they have been through, the Aborigines are beginning to make a comeback. In the past few years, several music groups, consisting of Aboriginal singers and musicians, have emerged from Australia. Most of the songs performed by these groups remind the Europeans of their cruel treatment of the Aborigines (World Music, 655). Yothu Yindi is probably the most recognized Aborigine rock group around. The name means “Mother Child” and the group consists of a blend of Aborigine and White musicians. Their first album titled “Homeland Movement” was released in 1988, which was Australia’s bicentennial year. Soon after, “Tribal Voice” and “Freedom” followed. All three albums address political issues such as land rights and social injustice. They also sang about how they would like peace between them and the Europeans (World Music, 658). Some of their most popular songs include “Freedom,” which talks about how they wish unite both races together. Others include “Timeless Land,” which describes the spiritual aspect of the their land and sacred it is to them and “Treaty,” which talks about a promise from the Europeans that was broken (World Music, 958-9). Another Aborigine musician is Kev Carmody. He was a “stolen child” who was kidnapped from his parents at the age of 10. His first album, titled “Pillars of Society,” was released in 1990 (World Music, 659). The album contained a song titled “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” This powerful song talks about the assimilation practice and how the Europeans used Christianity “as a tool in its genocide” (World Music, 660). He also released another album in 1993. He said the positive part about this album “is that we get so many requests from kids who want to quote the songs for school projects” (World Music, 660). Archie Roach is also a “stolen child” who was taken away at the age of three. When he was a teenager, he found out his mother had died and turned to alcohol to cope with the pain. For the next 10 years, he became an alcoholic drifting from city to city. Eventually he quit drinking and turned to music. In 1990, he released an album called, “Charcoal Lane.” This album contained the song, “Took the Children Away” which talks about his experience with assimilation and how he was taken from his family and forced to learn the white ways (World Music, 660). Another “stolen child” who became a singer is Ruby Hunter. She is the first woman artist in Australia to “record solo” (World Music, 655). Her first album titled, “Thoughts Within” was released in 1994. The album had a song called, “Kurongk Boy, Kurongk Girl” which talks about going back in time and doing things that she used to do when she was a kid (World Music, 655). In 1980, the Central Australian Aborigine Media Association was created. This association uses music in its campaigns to educate the Aborigines about the problems they face. In 1988, the CAAMA released a cassette called “Wanna Wanti: Drink A Little Bit.” Its purpose was to stop the alcohol abuse that affected many Aborigines. In 1989, they released another cassette called, “AIDS! How Could I Know?” to combat AIDS. Besides these two campaigns, the CAAMA has been active in “recording and releasing music from the remote desert areas” (World Music, 661). Many other Aborigine-based bands have been formed besides the ones mentioned above. There are over 50 bands now in the Northern Territory and hundreds of others in the other parts of Australia (World Music, 662). Although they are mainly local bands, they are still making an impact by raising issues, such as racism and segregation that still occur in Australia today.
In conclusion, I have described the Aborigines from their origins, talk about their religion and music, how the European settlers affected their lives, and finally where they are today. After this research paper, I now have a better understanding about the Aborigines in general. It makes me sad that even though they date back to the prehistoric times, they are not really well known around the world the way they should be. It also upsets me about how the Europeans could just come over and take the Aborigines’ sacred land away from them and force them to conform to the European lifestyle. They didn’t care about the interest of the Aborigines. It reminds me of the Native Americans and Europeans and how the Europeans forced the Native Americans off of their homelands and put them on reservations. The thing that bothers me the most is how the Europeans wanted to get rid of the Aborigines by using assimilation. To go and take children away from their families just to make them “civilized” makes me sad. So in the end, even through all of the pain and suffering, the Aborigines are starting to make a comeback by using their own style of music to spread the word.