East Africans are darker than Native Australians

Aboriginal people

There is hardly a more delicate, sensitive topic for Australians than the relationship with their indigenous people. It is shaped by mutual prejudices, half-knowledge or ignorance.

There are numerous myths surrounding this topic, which are often published, but which do not necessarily have to be correct. The cultures of white and "black" Australians differ in many ways. The indigenous people see themselves as an integral part of nature. Material economy and sedentarism do not have the same status in the society of the indigenous people as in the European immigrant society. A preprogrammed conflict: the white settlers needed land ownership in order to understand their existence - at the same time the basis of indigenous society. A conflict that continues to this day. In the following, we would like to try to make this difficult topic accessible with some background information, but do not claim to completely outline this comprehensive topic.

Designation of the Australian natives by the whites: Aborigine (noun); aboriginal (adj.)
ab origine (lat.) = indigenous people / originally: legendary tribe of the Latins (Latium landscape in Italy, today "Lazio" with the capital Rome).

For a long time, the Australian natives rejected the simplistic umbrella term "Aborigines" and did not use it themselves for cultural identification. The term Aborigines, imposed by Europeans, was linked in the past with racist and social-Darwinist ideas and also had a negative connotation in English usage.

But that changed in 2011: In January 2011, through one of our readers, we received a statement from Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association. Basically, he writes that the term has undergone a change. From a term of disdain for many today, the term "Aborigine" is a term that no longer offends the pride of the Australian indigenous population. This is comparable to the change in terms among Afro-Americans, who initially gave the discrediting term "black people" a new, positive meaning within the framework of the Black Power movement at the end of the 1960s.

The question of the really correct designation has not been conclusively clarified. At a conference in January 2010, for example, the term 'origine' was discussed as a possible description of the Aboriginal people and yet again rejected as inappropriate.

  • The short term “Abo”, comparable to “Nigger”, is considered racist and highly “politically incorrect”. The term "full blood" is also discriminatory.
  • The term "aboriginal" can be found both as an adjective and as a noun. As an adjective, 'Aboriginal' is politically correct. In the designation "Aboriginal people (s)", a capital 'A' is usually used to distinguish it from other aboriginal peoples, e.g. those in Canada.
  • In Australia one often comes across the term "indigenous people" from the Latin term indigenous. Many Aborigines have no problem with "Aborigine", but with the term "indigenous" they do.

In Australia, the natives themselves increasingly use (sometimes supra-regional) self-names. Some names can also be assigned to primary settlement areas. In the Northern Territory (as well as probably in the north of Western Australia) people still identify themselves mainly with their local language groups, i.e. there are no supraregional but only local self-names. The 'Yolngu' live east of Darwin in Arnhem Land, but in Darwin itself there are the 'Larrakia' and in Central Australia there are the Arrernte (formerly Arunta), Kaytetye, Alyawarr, Anmatyerr, Whyungu, Warlmanpa, Wakaya, Akarre, to name but a few to name a few groups.

You can find supraregional self-designations of the indigenous inhabitants in the table below - mainly for areas along the east and south coast. The indigenous people in Queensland generally refer to themselves as "Murri", in New South Wales and Victoria as "Koori", in South Australia as "Nungar", in northern South Australia as "Anangu" (= people), in Southwest Western Australia as " Nyoongar ".

regionGroup designation
east Murri
southeast Koori
south Nanga
southwest Nyungar
west Wonghi
The natives of the tropical islands in the north are referred to by the collective term "Torres Strait Islander".

The term "dream time" stands for one of the most controversial and complicated constructs in the field of Aboriginal cultures: it was created due to misunderstandings between two ethnologists who worked with inadequate translations of the aranda word "altjira rama" and mixed up its meanings. "Altjira rama" means, in very simplified terms, "the ability to" see "a specific place of great personal importance for the respective speaker, as in a dream or in a vision." A shortened version of the term (altjiranga) denotes something "that was and is present from the beginning and in all eternity". (altjeringa is the English adaptation of altjiranga).

This mixture of terms resulted in the English "dreamtime", which finally found its way into the German language as dreamtime at the beginning of the 20th century and through ethnology and psychoanalysis (Freud) for a mystification of Aboriginal cultures as the last ones living in harmony with nature "Stone Age" people worried. The term still exudes this fascination today.

If you want to explain the German term, then more as a kind of parallel time, not as "Vor-Zeit". Of course, the idea that we call dream time also contains different content for the various aboriginal groups, which differ greatly from Central European associations of the term.

Beginning of settlement

Not completely clarified. Most scientific approaches assume that settlement began 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. Some studies even speak of 120,000 years. A complete settlement of the continent for 32,000 years is definitely verifiable. Rock drawings in the Kakadu NP were dated.

The oldest skeleton in Australia was found at Lake Mungo, New South Wales. The University of Canberra believes this is the oldest human DNA - around 60,000 years old. They contain traces of applied ocher paints that were most likely used for ceremonies.


It is believed that colonization of Indonesia began. The land mass of Australia and the Indonesian islands had a greater extent at that time due to a lower sea level. It is currently believed that 40,000 years ago sea levels were 90 meters lower. A rising sea level later separated Australia again from the Asian islands.
  • It is unclear whether today's native Australians had sufficient knowledge of navigation when they immigrated or whether ships or rafts were suitable.
  • When the Europeans arrived (thousands of years later) there was no evidence of this.
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (EVA) in Leipzig found traces in the genome of Australian aborigines that indicate that people from India immigrated to Australia around 4,000 years ago. These findings were first published in January 2013 by a research team led by Irina Pugach in the specialist journal PNAS. The study aims to prove that after the first immigration of people to the Australian continent around 60,000 years ago, there were repeated waves of immigration and that the Aborigines did not, as previously assumed, lived in isolation until the arrival of white explorers in 1606.

This study also points out the strikingly dark skin color of some Aborigines, which could indicate a relationship with people in the highlands of New Guinea and the Mamanwas, a people in the Philippines. According to the genetic make-up, these influences are likely to date back around 35,000 years. Both possible waves of immigration play a role in the fact that in the history of the earth there were repeatedly land bridges between Australia and its northern neighbors when the sea level had sunk because the water was bound to the poles and many glaciers during an ice age.

Settlement areas

Even before the arrival of the whites, most of the indigenous Australians lived on the climatically preferred east coast. The arid red center, however, was not uninhabited but home to a significant number of groups and presumably more populated than it is today.

The group associations with around 500 to 700 people were divided into sedentary or mostly wandering groups of around 20 to 50 people. The boundaries of the groups were not drawn abstractly by pen strokes on maps, but rather resulted from natural boundaries such as mountain ridges and rivers. There were frequent disputes over territorial claims, which is often not mentioned in idealizing "dream time" literature.

The region of the giant outback farms, in which 200 people live today, for example, used to feed various group associations with up to 2,500 members.

Land ownership

In contrast to other peoples, the Aboriginal people did not cultivate the land, but lived from the controlled burning of the land, the so-called fire-stick farming. This form is now regarded as the archetype of agriculture. They have not developed a sense of land ownership, even if the children of the indigenous people learn early on that the people belong to the land and that they have to respect group boundaries. The groups returned to specific sites to bury the dead. Some areas have been designated holy places because of their association with the Dreamtime.


  • Estimates differ about the population at the time of the arrival of the white - European - settlers. They are between 300,000 and 1,000,000.
  • In 2012 there were around 500,000 Aboriginal people in Australia.
  • Due to racist prejudice, many mixed race referred to themselves in popular polls as white until the 1990s, which resulted in a high number of unreported cases. This tendency has been declining in recent years, which has led to a statistical increase in the aboriginal population.

A constant number of the population was ensured by birth control before the arrival of the whites. Sexual taboos, abortions, infanticide (especially in the case of twin births) were not uncommon, as it was impossible for women to carry all their household items and more than two children with them. Other nomadic societies also know such rules.


Today absolutely en vogue as a fashionable cooking ingredient: The "bushtucker" of the hunter-gatherer - Aboriginal people use boomerangs and spears. They wore no clothes and - with a few exceptions - did not build houses. The exceptions: More sedentary groups on the east coast built so-called "miamias" from tree bark. When it came to procuring food, what the women had collected was mostly of greater importance, but above all more constant, than the hunting success of the men. One of the hunting methods developed very early was based on the skillful use of fire. In all likelihood, the Aboriginal people never had a need to farm.

Social structure

The societies of the indigenous people were, and are often still, hierarchically structured according to age and knowledge. A gerontocracy, so to speak, in which the "tribal elders" have most of the say. On another level, this structure is egalitarian, since every person has the same chance to acquire knowledge and thereby to become an "elder" with authority at some point.

The elders have a great deal of authority. When decisions have to be made that affect the whole group, their advice is usually crucial. The whole group can participate in decisions, but decisions only apply if the elders agree. And after everything that the indigenous people traditionally did was determined by their 'law' - 'the law' (marriage rules, 'taboos', who was allowed to hunt or gather where, etc.) the elders had an influence on all areas of life (that Life was a ritual act).


Around 80% of the natives now live in urban areas and therefore no longer "anywhere in the outback". Many feel uncomfortable there.

According to their belief, Aboriginal people saw themselves as an integral part of their natural environment. They followed strict rules of conduct when dealing with nature. This attitude is very cautious about innovations. Arranging and keeping appointments was also unimportant - due to completely different cultural bases and necessities.

The first Europeans therefore perceived the culture as archaic and alien - comparable to the Stone Age Papua in New Guinea. The treatment of aboriginal groups in the period following the first contact resulted from these impressions. It emerged from a mixture of complete ignorance of the culture, wrong interpretations and the unwillingness to open up to the unknown.


The written form was unknown. The visual and performing arts were important means of expression - to give emphasis to oral statements and to remember group histories and religious traditions. Paintings were made on rocks, cave walls and tree bark - mainly in earth colors. A typical feature of the southern Northern Territory is the almost exclusive reduction to dots and lines, a kind of raster technique - early pointillism. The X-ray style can be seen in Arnhem Land and Kakadu NP. Figurative representations can be found in the southeast and the Kimberley region (e.g. the Wandjina ghosts or handprints).


Almost 300 different languages ​​and dialects were spoken. Today there are about 50 spoken by groups that include at least 100 indigenous people. Under 20 languages ​​are used by more than 500 Aboriginal people. The languages ​​are grammatically highly developed. From the point of view of the Aboriginal people, the English language is completely unsuitable for describing their relationship to their homeland. Many languages ​​are now extinct, but new languages ​​have developed from surviving remnants that mixed with other aboriginal languages ​​and Pidgin-English. These are not only spoken, but also written (narrative literature, poems, oral narratives).


When settling, Australia was seen as Terra Nullius (no man's land). In 1836 the Aboriginal people were denied the ability to organize land use (and the fact that they actually used the land) and the land rights of the indigenous people were annulled.


Aboriginal people were seen, declared, and treated as a doomed race of primitive nomads. The indigenous people were driven from their settlement areas. The Europeans sometimes proceeded with extreme severity. Aboriginal people were hunted, poisoned and shot.
  • The fate of the indigenous people of Tasmania is particularly drastic: 4,000 of them defended themselves and were completely destroyed within 70 years.
  • As recently as the 1920s, Aboriginal people were shot dead by drovers on Sunday drive hunts and "their heads were set up on the veranda to dry". Illegal - but in keeping with the zeitgeist.
The University of Newcastle in Australia is contributing to the processing of dark chapters in Australian history: Via the online map "Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872" shows places of fighting between settlers and the indigenous population. Most of the victims were Aborigines. In total tens of thousands of people were killed. In order to keep the memory alive on site or to make it possible in the first place in the first place, scientists have evaluated numerous sources from the relevant period - including newspapers, letters and diaries. From the point of view of the scientists, there was war at that time. Almost every Aboriginal tribe has suffered mass murders.

University of Newcastle - Map: Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872

Diseases & Epidemics

Measles and syphilis further decimated the number of Aboriginal people. Smallpox epidemics raged in 1789, 1829-32, 1865-70, from which the white settlers were spared, as they were largely resistant to the pathogens they brought in. Obesity and diabetes are common today.

Depression & apathy

From the perspective of the indigenous people, their world has been and is gradually being destroyed. Many are physically and spiritually uprooted. At the same time, their self-respect and will to live decrease. This often leads to flight into apathy, depression, and drugs. This is how their reputation for being lazy and "useless" arose. In contrast to the blacks of South Africa, who during the apartheid politics drew the world's attention to themselves with terror and uprisings, the Australian natives remained rather lethargic.

alcohol and drugs

Alcohol is the biggest hostage of the Aboriginal people today: Many drink themselves crazy with cheap, adulterated booze - to the death. Young Aboriginal people sniff their way into madness on gasoline.The whole family suffers from these drug problems - and thus the heart of Native American societies.


According to its own definition, the colonial administration tried to counteract the disintegration of cultures by setting up reservations and sending missionaries. The success was decidedly moderate: From 1860 to 1940, the attempt to keep captured Aboriginal people on reservations and to force the white way of life with state supplies on them.

There was a strong political interest behind the mission's apparently lofty aim. Many historians today see the mission's core goal as destroying the indigenous cultures: the people should be made available as cheap labor. Many missions and state institutions (even private individuals such as Daisy Bates) saw their task in "smoothing the pillow on the black man's death bed", ie in accelerating the extinction of blacks in Australia, if not, at least "pleasantly " close.

Child robbery

A particularly brutal attempt at assimilation has only been dealt with by Austrian society since the end of the 1990s: by around 1970 the government and church separated thousands of children from their parents. This “stolen generation” was placed with foster families and mission stations. An impressive film is "The Long Way Home", which we present in more detail on the film page.
Films from and about Australia - also about and with Aborigines.

Legal position

White Australians struggled to grant the indigenous peoples full civil rights.
1961 Aboriginal people are given the right to vote
1967 Establishment of the Department for Aboriginal Affairs:
The efficiency of the institution is a constant issue in Australian domestic politics. Billions were put into medical care, for example, to reduce the dramatic infant mortality (10 times compared to white people).
Embezzlement and poor bookkeeping are common problems with the distribution of funds for Aboriginal projects.
1980 ff. Racial segregation in schools and in some urban districts is gradually being lifted.
1993 Mabo law ends the legal position of "Terra Nullius":
Aboriginal people have the right to "native titles" - reclaiming their own land. Prerequisite: Proof of a centuries-long, constant relationship with a country.
Native American tribes filed claims on nearly 40 percent of the area. The previous users should not be expelled, but rights to carry out religious acts and to hunt wild animals as well as rights of way should be granted.
1998 Wik law restricts indigenous demands:
Land rights claims on areas leased by the state to farmers or mining companies cannot be raised. Only financial compensation can be requested. They are to be financed from tax revenues. Billions in costs are expected.
1999Constitutional preamble rejected:
A foreword to the constitution that, among other things, the Aboriginal people to be the first to recognize Australia was rejected.
2000 Several protest marches with up to half a million participants for the rights of the Aboriginal people reflect the changed legal awareness of white Australia.
2004 After the death of a 17-year-old, riots broke out in the aboriginal settlement in Sydney's Redfern district in February.
2008 Finally: The new government under Kevin Rudd sends an official "Sorry", an apology, to the indigenous people


There are only a few areas left where Aboriginal people traditionally live or want to live. They live with a compromise between the two lifestyles and are usually neither here nor there at home. Around half live in and around rural small towns, around a quarter in large cities.

Social situation

According to the "Overcoming Disadvatage Report 2009", a study by the Australian government, children of indigenous people are six times more at risk of abuse. The homicide rate is seven times as high among the indigenous people. The chance of ending up in jail is 13 times higher. 46 percent of men and 27 percent of women end up in prison at some point in their lives. Two-thirds of Native American children fail to graduate from high school.


For their role in the forced adoptions, among others, have officially apologized: The churches and the Governor General as representatives of the Australian head of state - Queen Elizabeth II.


While the urban population tends to plead for reconciliation measures, there are often voices in rural areas in favor of maintaining an exclusionary course.

The billion dollar projects to support the Aborigines are particularly controversial. The party "One Nation" on the right edge of the party spectrum tried to profit from a latent racism especially in the mid-1990s. Some Aboriginal activists also discredit the indigenous cause.

Aboriginal settlements

The best-known example of an urban residential area with enormous problems is the Redfern district in Sydney (3 km W of the city center). The neighborhood is known as "The Block". In 1973 the government bought the land and gave it to an Aboriginal housing association that was founded specifically for this purpose. The block with 21 houses was intended as social housing and its establishment was initially celebrated as a symbolic victory in the fight for more land rights. However, from around 1985 the neighborhood made headlines. Substance abuse, unemployment, juvenile delinquency and violence are at home in Redfern - often paired with a deeply felt uprooting and a lack of prospects. Conflicts between the police and the Aboriginal people are almost everyday occurrence in Redfern. Again and again officials are accused of racism by the residents. It is probably the most negative example of an urbanized Aboriginal pepole settlement. Since it is only a few kilometers away from the opera, populist calls for the wrecking ball are repeatedly loud.


Iron ore is mined in the Hamersley Range in the Pilbara region. For the mining company in the Pilbara region, competence and performance have counted since the end of the 1980s, not skin color and origin. Aboriginal people are already working in higher positions here and are fully accepted.


With various ambitious tourism projects, Aboriginal people generate hundreds of millions of dollars in national income every year. In the meantime, the Aboriginal people also benefit from tourism to their holy sites, such as the Kakadu NP or Uluru (Ayers Rock). Other tourist areas closely related to Aboriginal people include Tiwi Islands, Kings Canyon, Katherine and Cape Tribulation. The nature of the individual tourism projects is sometimes highly controversial.

Providers of tourism services from / with Aboriginal people.
Note: Please read the descriptions of the providers if you are explicitly looking for offers from companies that are run by Aboriginal People.


There is a fine line between the serious marketing of the works of art - paintings and sculptures as well as the boomerangs. In the southern Northern Territory, "Dot Paintings" have become the epitome of Aboriginal painting. Cooperatives have been set up for marketing purposes and are so successful that they now have to defend themselves against counterfeiting.


Music offers two opportunities to be considered a bearer of hope:
  • The Australian didgeridoo is enjoying rapidly increasing popularity as a musical instrument.
  • Pop bands like Yothu Yindi skillfully combined Aboriginal elements with commercial influences and thus also offer an - albeit not entirely original - access to the cultural elements of the Aboriginal people via the mainstream.

For more in-depth information, we recommend the website of Jens-Uwe Korff from Sydney. Since 1994 he has studied the culture of the Australian Aborigines extensively. He has long run a website and has been posting articles that are appreciated by Aboriginal and whites alike. He mainly refers to Aboriginal sources and has thus earned the reputation of a serious reporter. Anyone who wants to deal with the topic in more depth - up to the framework of a batch or master's thesis - is in good hands on Jens Korff's website. Jens Korff's website

We would like to thank Olaf Geerken (an anthropologist of German origin who has been working in Australia for many years) and Petra Schleunig for their significant assistance in compiling the information for this page.

The most important milestones in Australian history

Australia's culture

The Australian instrument number 1: the didjeridu / didgeridoo

Tips and background for reporting on Australia and Aboriginal people
At first glance, the land down under is alien to us, but it is often familiar. This is confusing and unfortunately quite often ends up in reproducing clichés and misinterpretations. This page is intended to enable a differentiated presentation of Australia by illuminating the cultural background and its consequences for writing in more detail.

Aboriginal literature - from and about Australia

Travel literature for in-depth study of the culture of the Aboriginal people

Aboriginal Art & Culture Center (s)
An Aboriginal tribe of the Southern Arrernte Aboriginal tribal group, about 100 km away from Alice Springs, has actively opened up to cyberspace. He is active in the sale of handicrafts via the online shop and has flourishing tourism activities on site. On the website you can, among other things, take a virtual journey into the time of Dreamtime, visit the art gallery and find detailed information about the didgeridoo in the "Didgeridoo University". However, some pages need a little patience for the loading time - but this will be rewarded.

Aboriginal Studies WWW VL (e)
Good starting point for information about Aborigines with well over 100 links to special services - some of them very scientifically oriented

Northern Land Councils
The current status of the Aboriginal struggle for land rights from the perspective of the Aborigines in the Northern Territory

We look forward to your suggestions for updates and enhancements to this page.
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