Multicultural, Australia. Filled with all sorts of cultures and backgrounds, from all around the world, it’s a country that prides itself on equality of opportunity for all its people. Today, with a population of approximately, 25 million, this diverse country has influences from over 160 spoken languages. A melting pot of cultures.
However, the story began with the first peoples of Australia, the oldest living culture on the planet. Aboriginal people of Australia have been roaming this country for over 50,000 years. They see themselves as the 'protectors of the land'. Since the Europeans arrived approximately 200 years ago, life for them has changed drastically.
Rituals and traditions of Aboriginal culture
While the Western world has a greater appreciation for the materialistic and scientific, the Indigenous people of Australia, see life from a spiritual point of view. Thus, according to the Aborigines, everything is interrelated.
From the landscape and animals to the weather, food and human behaviour. This coherence is also reflected in the Aboriginal's own flag. The black area symbolises the people of the Aborigines, the red area is the earth and the yellow circle is the sun.
The basis for Aboriginal culture is nature.
They believe it is an important part of life to respect the environment around them. The ‘Dreamtime’ is also important within the Aboriginal rituals. The Dreamtime represents the period in which the earth and humanity originated.
The Aboriginals believe that while sleeping they go back to the origin of creation. They also believe that the soul of someone who has died goes back to the Dreamtime. The stories of the Dreatimes are expressed through music, rock paintings and other ways.
The didgeridoo is the best known musical instrument.
It is a long tube made out of the wood from Eucalyptus trees. Rock paintings are primarily found in Arnhemland, where some works of art are over 45,000 years old.
Another important tradition within Aboriginal art is culture is the walkabout. This is when an Aboriginal leaves the country at any given time. They travel for weeks, months or even years to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors.
Today, the walkabout represents the nomadic life of the traditional culture of Aboriginals. However, thousands of years ago, this was the way to exchange goods within different tribes.
History of the Aboriginal people of Australia in brief
In the 18th century, between 500 and 700 Aboriginal tribes lived in Australia. These tribes lived in families and had between twenty and forty tribesmen. The men within these tribes were the hunters. From the desert, mountains or forests they set out with a boomerang or spear to hunt kangaroos, ducks, parrots, snakes and lizards. The women and children took on the task of collecting.
While Westerners visited Australia much earlier, it was not until 1788 that the colonisation of Australia began. Something that the Aborigines protested, of course. As a result, this ancient culture was driven out, killed and contaminated with diseases that the Europeans brought with them.
The Aboriginals who survived these diseases were mostly housed in reservations in and around the year, 1840. Sadly, from then, it was forbidden to pass on their own language and customs to their children. Children were taken from their families and raised in western homes. This period is referred to as the ‘Stolen Generation’.
Things got even worse in 1951: the Aborigines had to fully adapt to the lifestyle of Westerners. This brought new times of protests, which led to the Aboriginals regaining some territories. Yet today, they still fight for their rights. And slowly, they regain some of their rights.
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The current situation of Aboriginal people
At present, there are approximately 300,000 Aboriginal people in Australia. This is 1.5% of the population. Many Aboriginals live in poverty, throughout the country. Most tribes live in the nature reserves of Northern Australia, but some tribes have also migrated to cities of Australia.
In every city, you can find a cultural centre or museum dedicated to the culture and history of the Aboriginal people of Australia. Here, you can learn more about their art, storytelling, history and culture. Let a local guide teach you more about their special way of life.
In 2017, thousands of traces of Aborigines were discovered in a cave in Northern Australia. This has raised the question of whether the Aborigines had lived in Australia 5,000 years earlier than anticipated.
The first fleet and convicts
The first documented European to land in Australia was a Dutch explorer named Willem Janszoon. In 1606, he landed on the western side of the Cape York Peninsula. However, it was not until 1770 that Captain James Cook claimed the land for Great Britain.
On 13 May 1787, 11 vessels departed from England and sailed across the Pacific Ocean. Bound for Botany Bay, New South Wales, 750-780 convicts and 550 crew, soldiers and family members arrived eight months later in Australia. A penal colony began in Port Jackson on 26 January 1788.
Eventually, over 162,000 convicts were brought to Australia.
Travelling from Great Britain up until 1848. The majority of convicts settled in New South Wales and Tasmania. However, convicts also lived in the other states with the exception of South Australia, which was established as a free colony in 1836.
Today, you can see many remnants from the convict period.
Especially in Tasmania and New South Wales. In Port Arthur, you can visit 1 of the 11 penal settlements, an Australian Convict Site which is listed as a World Heritage property. At St John’s Cemetery in Parramatta, you can visit a gravesite from a convict, Jane McManus who was part of the first fleet.
The Gold Rush
From 1851, gold was discovered in Australia and the ‘Gold Rush’ era began. This period shaped the country forever. Why? The gold rush attracted people. People who hoped they would get lucky and find gold. These people came from all over. From Europe, mostly young males there were Polish, Germans, Italians, Scandinavians and Hungarians.
By 1853, the Chinese population had also reached over 2000.
Many of them filling the jobs that were abandoned. Also in 1853, more gold was discovered in Stawell and Maldom which attracted more people from other countries. This era was the beginning of multicultural Australia. The start of a melting pot of cultures.
Even though the gold rush era is in the past, you can still see the influences of this period throughout parts of the country. Especially in Australia’s infrastructure, such as historical buildings. If you would like to visit places a part of the gold rush era, Victoria is the first place to go.
Would you like to learn more about the culture and history of Australia? We would love to meet you at your most convenient time and discuss with you further. Please don't hesitate to contact us!
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