your use Committee Coordinators
Workers Growing in
|Growing in understanding: FAQ|
Frequently asked questions
1. Who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
1. Who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
The term ‘Indigenous’ is also used to refer to Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people.
Aboriginality cannot be defined by skin colour or percentages of Aboriginal blood.
Definitions based on percentages of ‘blood’ were used for decades by government departments and produced results that were both brutal and inconsistent. The historian Peter Read has described one such set of results: Older definitions
2. How many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are there?
4. How long have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lived in Australia?
It is known from the work of archaeologists that human occupation
of Australia dates back at least 60 000 years. The first people probably
came from South-East Asia. Where they landed, whether there was more than one 'wave' of people, which routes
they took as they spread out over the continent, and how their numbers increased are matters for much study and discussion. However, by the time the
Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal People of NSW
5. What was Aboriginal society like before 1788?
Across Australia Aboriginal people lived by hunting animals, fishing and collecting plant foods. It was mainly the men who hunted and fished, while the women gathered smaller animals, shellfish and plant foods such as yams, fruits and berries. Certain plant foods, such as the nuts of the Macrozamia (Burrawang palm), had to be treated to remove poisons before eating.
To harvest food resources, groups moved within defined areas, often called ranges. The amount of time spent in any one place was largely determined by the amount of food available. Sometimes important foods were only available seasonally, prompting more or less regular movements throughout the year.
For people living on the coastal plain, the sea, estuaries, rivers and the land all provided food. Fish and shellfish were an important part of the diet for those groups living on the coast or estuaries. In most hunting and gathering societies, fishing was done by men; however, in coastal south-eastern New South Wales, women also fished. The two sexes used different equipment: spears for the men, and hooks and lines for the women.
On the dry plains of western New South...
6. What is the Dreaming?
The dreaming is the belief of many Aboriginal groups that Aboriginal people have been in Australia since the beginning.
During this significant period the ancestral spirits came up out of the earth and down from the sky to walk on the land where they created and shaped its land formations, rivers, mountains, forests and deserts. These were created while the ancestors traveled, hunted and fought. They also created all the people, animals and vegetation that were to be a part of the land and laid down the patterns their lives were to follow. It was the spirit ancestors who gave Aboriginal people the lores, customs and codes of conduct, and who are the source of the songs, dances, designs, languages, and rituals that are the basic of Aboriginal religious expression. These ancestors were spirits who appeared in a variety of forms. When their work was completed the ancestral spirits went back into the earth, the sky and into the animals, land formation, and rivers. The ancestors-beings are ‘alive’ in the spirit of Australian Aboriginals.
7. What is the history of government policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (since 1788)?
The history of government policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people falls into
8. What has been the impact of past government policies?
10.1.1 Australia's history since the arrival of British settlers helps explain the great sense of injustice and the strong sense of common historical experience which Aboriginal people share today. It helps explain their economic, social, residential status and their attitudes to non-Aboriginal Australians and the nation whose foundation was premised on their dispossession. Following the takeover of their land by the British, the personal liberty of Aboriginal people was jeopardised. They no longer had the freedom to live as they pleased and their life choices were dictated much more by government and government-approved missions than was the case for non-Aboriginal people. Their children were taken away to dormitories or distant towns, as parents and kin were thought to be a degrading influence. The various colonial and later State, Commonwealth and Territory Governments introduced policies which led to intrusions into most aspects of their everyday lives. These included inspections of camp sites and other residences, and limitations upon their mode of living, work, financial and leisure activities. Institutionalisation was to be a dominant theme in Aboriginal lives. The general population discriminated against Aboriginal people in many ways, which affected their education, housing, employment, income and self-esteem.
9. What is the Mabo judgment? The Wik judgment? And other legal landmarks?
1992: First recognition of native title - the Mabo Case
1993: The Native Title Act
1996: The question of pastoral leases - the Wik Case
1998: The Wik amendments to the Native Title Act
11. What is native title?
'Native title' is the name given by Australian law to Indigenous peoples' traditional rights to their lands and waters. Those rights can range from a relationship similar to full ownership through to the right to go onto the land for ceremonies or to hunt, fish or gather foods and bush medicines. To have their native title rights recognised. the Indigenous group has to prove they still have their connection with their country according to their traditional laws.
Australian law gives all other land titles priority over native title. However, in some cases the two titles can co-exist - for example, Indigenous people might be able to visit their country freely even though it is on a cattle station.
Native title cannot be recognised on land which is fully owned by someone else. It can only be recognised in areas like:
Face the Facts
12. What are land rights?
Land rights are not the same thing as native title. Land rights are given by
the government whereas
The first Australian legislation to recognise land rights and allow
Aboriginal land claims was the
Self-determination is the right of all peoples to 'freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development' (article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). Self-determination is a collective right (belonging to a 'people' as a group) rather than an individual right.
The claim by Indigenous
peoples to the right of self-determination raises two questions:
Most Indigenous people in Australia want self-determination within
the existing nation. This would require recognition by the government of their distinct cultures
and forms of social organisation, governance and decision-making. It would mean transferring responsibility
and power for decision-making to Indigenous communities so they
can make decisions that affect them.
14. What is Aboriginal reconciliation?
The movement for Aboriginal reconciliation aims to promote understanding of the history of contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and develop better relations for the future.
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established by legislation in 1991 with 25 Indigenous and non-Indigenous members appointed by the Government. Its main task was to promote reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community.
The Council was given a 10 year life span which ended in December 2000.
The Council's final report, Reconciliation: Australia's Challenge. recommended comprehensive
action to address the 'unfinished business' of reconciliation. This included calls for
a formal agreement or treaty as well as the establishment of a foundation to continue the Council's work.
This foundation, Reconciliation Australia, was established in December 2000.
These terms are used by Aboriginal people to describe each other according to their home country. It is a guide only:
Koori/Goori – New South Wales / Victoria
16. What is the Aboriginal Flag?
The Aboriginal Flag is divided horizontally into equal halves of black (top) and red (bottom), with a yellow circle in the centre.
The black symbolises Aboriginal people and the yellow represents the sun, the constant re-newer of life. Red depicts the earth and peoples' relationship to the land. It also represents ochre, which is used by Aboriginal people in ceremonies.
The flag - designed by Harold Joseph Thomas, a Luritja man from Central Australia - was first flown at Victoria Square, Adelaide on National Aborigines' Day on 12 July 1971. It was used later at the Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972.
Today the flag has been adopted by all Aboriginal groups and is flown or displayed permanently at Aboriginal centres throughout Australia.
Source: Australian Museum
17. What is the Torres Strait Islander Flag?
The Torres Strait Islander Flag - designed by the late Bernard Namok from Thursday Island - stands for the unity and identity of all Torres Strait Islanders.
It features three horizontal coloured stripes, with green at the top and bottom and blue in between - divided by thin black lines.
A white dharri or deri (a type of headdress) sits in the centre, with a five-pointed white star underneath it.
The colour green is for the land. The dharri or deri is a symbol for all Torres Strait Islanders. The black represents the people. The blue is for the sea.
The five-pointed star represents the island groups. Used in navigation, the star is also an important symbol for the sea-faring Torres Strait Islander people. The colour white of the star represents peace.Source: Australian Museum