How long have Aboriginal people been in Australia?

Australia is famous for being the home to the oldest known civilisation on Earth; The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Australia has a rich and diverse Indigenous history. Prior to European invasion there were over 500 Indigenous nations and an estimated 800 dialects.

The Beginning

For thousands of years Aboriginal people have lived in Australia. They cultivated the land, traded, farmed and lived in diverse and complex societies. Indigenous Australians have been on the land since the beginning.

The earliest scientific evidence of Indigenous occupation dates back over 60,000 years. At the time of European invasion there were an approximate 950,000 Aboriginal people living in the country. There were over 250 Indigenous languages, including 800 dialectal varieties.

Society structures are complex and diverse, with each community living in their own ways. Many communities would remain in the same areas, however there are also many that practised seasonal occupation. That is, they would move across the land to richer sources, allowing areas they have lived on to re-cultivate.

Despite differences between nations, many societies were built on four main values; identity, responsibilities, relationships and spirituality.

Spiritualty in Indigenous cultures is particularly important. Dreamings teach Aboriginal peoples about their role on Earth, and how they should act. Many Indigenous people feel they are one with the land, and they have a deep spiritual connection to it.

The Destruction of the Indigenous Community

The arrival of Captain Cook to Australia in 1770 sparked a European invasion. This invasion would lead to the death of thousands of Aboriginal people. It would see hundreds of languages forgotten, cultures hidden, and people removed from their land. Many Indigenous cultures were permanently erased.

As more Europeans arrived in Australia, governments allowed for the mass murdering of Indigenous people. They labelled these complex societies as ‘savage’ and forced them to conform to European lifestyles. Europeans also brought with them disease. As an island nation, Australia was safe from outside disease.

However, the devastation of Indigenous communities continues far after the 1770s. Australia has a terrible history of mistreatment and discrimination of Indigenous peoples. The Stolen Generations are one such, modern, example of this discrimination.

From 1905 to 1967 the Australian government forcibly removed Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. They were forced to live in missions and assimilate into white Australian lifestyles. The ultimate goal of this process was to ‘breed out’ Aboriginality. In 2008, the Australian government formally apologised for these Stolen Generations.

However, there is a long way to go. Australia still has a long way to go in supporting Indigenous peoples and acting against discrimination. Aboriginal Australians still face a plethora of discrimination, and are still rebuilding what was forcibly taken. You can help to build up Aboriginal communities is to support their small businesses.

Related article: The Significance of Uluru to Australian Indigenous Culture

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