a multicultural History of Australia

Making multicultural Australia

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Commentary on: The diversity of cultures in Indigenous Australia »

Prof Andrew Jakubowicz.

Text Commentary

For 60,000 years or more...

Before the Invasion - a diversity of languages, cultures and societies in what is now Australia

Primeval rain forest, such as this old forest on Queensland's Fraser Island, was one of the many different environments in which the Indigenous people of Australia - in hundreds of different language groups - lived prior to the arrival of Europeans. The Europeans finally settled on the name Australia for this land, a name without meaning to its original inhabitants.

They lived on the continent for tens of thousands of years - maybe over 100,000 years according to recent archaeological finds in the northern part of Australia - before the armed forces of one European nation, Great Britain, claimed possession of the continent in the name of a distant monarch and with no recognition of the many societies who lived on the land. That moment, in 1770, has come to be called the Invasion.

The Indigenous people who lived in Australia in 1788 and the years after that - as the frontier of European settlement was pushed further into the hinterland - were a diverse group. They lived in smaller or larger cultural groups, their lives given meaning by a relationship to the particular places for which they were responsible. Every language group inhabited its own territory, spoke its own language and the languages of the communities that touched on it on all sides. Their lives were constrained by the seasons, by the weather and climate, by the continuing cycle of flood and drought. Their cultures were closely tied to their economy - a range of hunting and gathering practices affected by location and local resources. So most of the Indigenous people of Australia were multilingual, and most had skills in cross-cultural communication. They understood their local lands, husbanding their resources of animals and plants and fish. Their rituals, their stories, their imagining of the land and its meaning, were expressed in their culture - in rock paintings, in dance, in body painting, in totemic creations, in tales of the long-ago and its continuing importance for the present, in corroboree and in ceremony - often associated with the particular moments in the life cycle of women and men.

Further reference:

Anderson, Christopher; Flood, Josephine; Rose, Deborah; and Troy, Jakelin "The Aboriginal people" in Jupp, James (ed) The Australian people: an Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and their Origins, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1988.