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Aboriginal Culture

The Australian aborigines were perhaps the most interesting of living uncivilised races of mankind, as the insular position of the continent, and the protection afforded to the inland tribes by the difficulties of desert travel, sheltered them from foreign influences. The country offered to the occasional visitors who may have landed on the Australian coast no particular inducement to travel inland, even had the way been easy. Moreover, since the British occupation of the continent, the tribes of the interior had been comparatively slightly influenced in their modes of thought; for missionary enterprise had been but slightly developed in Australia. The aborigines of Central Australia were therefore perhaps the last remaining people who had worked out their own culture free from foreign influence.

The patriarchal system of tribal government was widely diffused and carefully developed as at present exists among the Australian aborigines. The differentiation of the several clans, or families, was as distinctly marked among them in the 19th Century as was the case in the Highlands of Scotland 250 years earlier. The native land laws of the aboriginal Australians were as rigidly observed by them as those of the various colonies by the colonists themselves. These land laws, particularly on the question of the relative division of land, show a degree of political intelligence utterly inexplicable if the social condition of the natives were as debased as some asserted.

Ranking distinctively as hunters, nomadic in habits, inasmuch as they required to move hither and thither as the game they pursued receded farther and still farther from them, the fiction arose that they were ignorant of the art of house-building, the gunyeh, or slab of bark suspended to the windward side of the fire, being confidently quoted as all the protection from the weather an Australian family in their normal state were supposed to employ. Certainly in summer, when the nights are warm, and when the tribe would be moving from place to place day by day, the gunyeh might be all. But to see an Australian " blackfellow " of to-day, among the tribes in the far interior, constructing his winter residence is to have the fact brought home to one very forcibly that the aborigine has remarkably good ideas of comfort and of the philosophy of keeping himself cosy.

The use of the " boomerang," their principal weapon (together with the spear and the nullah-nullah or club) in the chase and warfare, is based upon one of the most subtle laws in physics, while its manufacture is governed by equally recondite principles both of notion and weight.

Aboriginal art, religion, and music are based on the stories of the time of the Tjukurpa, or Dreamtime. The stories tell of the land being created by the Ancestors, who had some characteristics of animals and some of human beings. In addition, they were able to change from animal to human. Dreamtime is the beginning of all things, and there are numerous Aboriginal stories that connect the creation of Australia's geography to the actions of animals, spirits, and people in the Dreamtime. As the Ancestors moved across the land they created the mountains, valleys, rivers, sand dunes, and waterholes. Wherever there was an important adventure or event, energy was left in the ground. The native people believe that they can draw on this energy, thus making many places, all across Australia sacred places to different tribes. As well as telling the creation story, the Dreamtime states the laws for human behavior, including: how to relate to other people, how to care for the land, and even how to prepare certain foods.

Australian Aboriginal art is one of the oldest continuing art traditions in the world. Much of the most important knowledge of aboriginal society was conveyed through different kinds of storytelling - including narratives that were spoken, performed as dances or songs, and those that were painted. Aborigines traditionally divided up the land using geographic markers and natural boundaries, such as rivers, lakes, and mountains. The names of these geographic markers, as well as the knowledge of which territory belonged to which person or group, was information that was passed down from parent to child, and from the group Elders to the younger generation. This important information was passed on through songs, painting, dancing, and storytelling.

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