Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

Learn about the history and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

8 July 2024

Australian indigenous women with Uluru in the background

Image credit: Tourism NT/Ray Reyes

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia have the oldest continuing cultures in the world. Indigenous Australians have lived here for at least 60,000 years!

Let’s explore First Nations history and cultures and consider some of the ways we celebrate and recognise them today.

Diversity of cultures and languages

There are hundreds of Indigenous communities and groups, which you can view on the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia. Each group has its own culture, customs, language and laws.

Family, land, law and language are central to Australian Indigenous cultures. The connection to land comes with responsibilities and roles that are outlined by Aboriginal law and honoured through ceremonies. These cultural traditions have been passed on by many generations and are still practiced in communities today, but some traditions have been lost throughout history due to colonisation.

Spirituality

Spirituality is an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.  

For some Aboriginal groups, ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘Dreaming’ is a way of explaining how the world came to be. It’s a collection of stories passed down through generations about the creation of the land, animals, and people. These stories teach important lessons and values and they’re still shared today through art, dance, and storytelling.

What is ‘Country’?

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, ‘Country’ means more than just a place on a map – it’s a deep connection to the land and sea that shapes cultural identity.

‘Country’ is the land, the water, the animals, the plants, and the people. It’s where stories come from and where ancestral spirits belong. In some communities and groups, ancestors are identified with the landforms, the animals, and the trees.

Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country

Ceremonies for welcoming visitors to Country have always been a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Crossing into another group’s Country required permission to enter. When permission was given through a Welcome to Country by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners, visitors were warmly welcomed.

These traditions have been maintained across Australia. Welcome to Country can only be delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners who have been given permission from their Elders to welcome visitors to their Country.

Acknowledgement of Country is a sign of cultural respect and a practice that can be done by anyone in Australia. An Acknowledgement recognises the Traditional Owners and custodians of the land before events, meetings, and gatherings, including on campus.

You can begin to learn about the Traditional Owners of the Country you are on through the AIATSIS website.

NAIDOC: Celebrating Australian Indigenous cultures

NAIDOC stands for the National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee. It’s a week-long celebration in Australia to honour and recognise the cultures, history, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year, celebrations will be held from 7 – 14 July 2024.

During NAIDOC week, there are many events with music, art, and cultural performances every day. There are also awards that celebrate the outstanding contributions and excellence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across categories including art, culture, education and more.  

National Sorry Day

National Sorry Day takes place on 26 May each year. It is a day dedicated to acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were taken from their families and communities under Australian Government policies. These people are now known as the Stolen Generations.

Discover more

If you’re curious to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures, there are plenty of ways to do so.

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