Fact Box: Aborigines

Aborigines are believed to have lived in Australia between 40,000 and 60,000 years. It is estimated that there were between 300,000 and 1,000,000 Aborigines in Australia when European settlers first arrived in 1788.

The Aborigines were organised in about 500 tribes. Each tribe spoke its own language and lived on separate territories. The tribes were different but they had much in common. They lived as nomads. Access to fresh water decided the size of the tribe and the territory they could cover hunting and gathering food. Each tribe was led by religious leaders, and was organised through hunting groups and family units. All members of a tribe were related, and the family bond was of vital importance. The territory of the tribe was centred on the place where its ancestors had originally settled, and it was believed that the spirits of these ancestors remained at the watering place at the centre of the territory, awaiting reincarnation.

Spirituality and religion played a major role in Aboriginal culture. Myths and rituals were connected to both the ancestors and the creators of the world. It was believed that neither people nor gods ever died, but that they merged with the natural world and thus remained a part of the present. These myths and rituals were known as the Dreamtime, and reflected a belief in the continuity of existence and harmony with the world.

Today, there are less than 230,000 Aborigines in Australia (less than 2 % of the population). Although the Aborigines today are Australian citizens by law, they face a great deal of unofficial discrimination and remain underprivileged socially, economically (the unemployment rate for Aborigines is more than six times the national average) and politically.

Son of Mine

Listen to the poem on the Tracks 1 CD.

Australian Celebrations – read an introduction to the film here.

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Web resource

Australia facts (The World Factbook)


Australia in brief (embassy site)


Country profile: Australia (BBC)


Guide to Australia (Charles Sturt University)


Oodgeroo Noonuccal / Kath Walker