Click on a State to learn more about Aboriginal language and culture in Australia
The first people to occupy the area now known as South Australia were Australian Aborigines. Their presence in northern Australia began around 40,000 to 60,000 years ago with the arrival of the first of their ancestors by land-bridge from what is now Indonesia. Their descendants moved south and, though never large in numbers, occupied all areas of Australia, including the future South Australia.
Evidence for human activity in South Australia dates back more than 65,000 years ago with ceremonial sites and rock art in the Flinders Ranges and flint mining activity and rock art in the Koonalda Cave on the Nullarbor Plain. In addition wooden spears and tools were made in an area now covered in peat bog in the South East. Kangaroo Island was inhabited long before the island was cut off by rising sea levels.
By the time immediately prior to the British conquest of Australia, there were a large number of distinct societies and language groups in what is now South Australia. It is possible to speak of at least two dominant cultures present in South Australia at the time of conquest, although there were many distinct societies within each of these cultures. The first was dubbed the "Lakes Group" by early anthropologists Elkin and Howitt. The "Lakes Group" culture stretches north of the Mount Lofty Ranges, up into the Flinders Ranges to around Lake Eyre, and across the Eyre Peninsula.
This cultural grouping spoke at least somewhat mutually intelligible languages, which are known collectively as Thura-Yura languages. They also shared rituals. The second major group was (and remains) the "Western Desert group", or the Western Desert cultural bloc. This group of cultures encapsulates the land north and west of Lake Eyre, and the land west of the Eyre Peninsula. It extends well beyond South Australia into Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
The Western Desert cultures speak largely mutually intelligible languages, so much so that some linguists believe the separate languages should be called dialects of a wider "Western Desert language". These languages are among the healthiest Aboriginal languages in modern Australia, including Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara. Many other cultures existed in South Australia at this time that do not fit neatly into the above groupings, such as the various societies that had been established along the River Murray, as well as the Ngarrindjeri of the Coorong and Lake Alexandrina area, and the various societies that existed to the southeast.
South Australian Aboriginal Language Groups
The Adnyamathanha, or Adynyamathanha, (pronounced /ˈɑːdnjəˌmʌdənə/) are an Indigenous Australian people from the Flinders Ranges. Adnyamathanha is also the name of their traditional language. The Adnyamathanha are made up of the Kuyani, Wailpi, Yadliaura, Pilatapa and Pangkala, which are the traditional groups of the Northern Flinders Ranges and (with the Kokatha) the areas around Lake Torrens. The name Adnyamathanha means "rock people" and is a term referring to the Lakes Culture societies living in that area. They share a common identity, which they get from their ancestors, this common bond is their language and culture which is known as Yura Muda.
The Dieri is an Australian Aboriginal group and (now extinct) language from the South Australian desert—specifically Cooper and Leigh Creek, Lake Howitt, and Lake Hope, Lake Gregory and Clayton River and low country north of Mount Freeling. The Dieri protested the Marree Man geoglyph, saying that it had caused them harm and was exploiting their Dreamtime stories.
The Kaurna people have traditional lands in and around the Adelaide Plains. The people lived in independent family structures in defined territories called pangkarra. The Kuarna performed circumcision as an initiatory right and were the southernmost community to do so. The last surviving speaker of Kaurna as a mother-tongue died in 1931.
The Maralinga Tjarutja inhabit the remote western areas of South Australia. They are a Southern Pitjantjatjara people. The Maralinga Tjarutja native title land was handed back to the Maralinga people in January 1985 under legislation passed by both houses of the South Australian Parliament in December 1984 and proclaimed in January 1985. Maralinga people resettled on the land in 1995 and named the place Oak Valley Community. The local Aboriginal people were not warned effectively of the explosions from 1950s nuclear testing and many suffered terrible after-effects from fallout, although the 1984/1985 Royal Commission could find no evidence of this for the Maralinga Tjarutja.
Ngarrindjeri is the language and traditional Aboriginal people of the lower Murray River and western Fleurieu Peninsula. The traditional areas extend from Mannum downstream through Murray Bridge and Goolwa and along the coast through Victor Harbor to Cape Jervis to the southwest and around Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert and the Coorong to around Kingston SE. The Ngarrindjeri achieved a great deal of publicity in the 1990s due to their opposition to the construction of a bridge from Goolwa to Hindmarsh Island, including a Royal Commission and a High Court case in 1996. There was an Aboriginal legend about a sea creature called the Muldjewangk which inhabited the Murray River, particularly Lake Alexendrina.
Northern Territory Aboriginal Language Groups
Alyawarre who live north-east of Alice Springs. In 1980 they lodged a land claim, which was handed back to them on 22 October 1992. The size of the land was 2065 km².
Anmatjera from an area near Mount Leichhardt, Hann and Reynolds Ranges, and northeast to Central Mount Stuart. Artist Clifford Possum is an Anmatjera man. Emily Kngwarreye was also an Anmatjera woman.
The Arrernte people speak the Upper Arrernte language, and live in the Arrernte area of Central Australia. The population of Arrernte people living on Arrernte land (including Alice Springs) is estimated at 25,000, making it the second largest of all Central Australian Aboriginal countries, after Pitjantjatjara. In most primary schools in Alice Springs, students (of all races and nationalities) are taught Arrernte (or in some cases Western Arrernte) as a compulsory language, often alongside French or Indonesian languages. Additionally, most Alice Springs High Schools give the option to study Arrernte language throughout High School as a separate subject, and it can also be learned at Centralian College as part of a TAFE course. Future plans are that it will be included as a university subject. Approximately 25% of Alice Springs residents speak Arrernte as their first language.
Gurindji, who from 1966 to 1975 at Wave Hill Cattle Station had a strike known as The Gurindji Strike. In 1975, the Australian Labor Party government of Gough Whitlam finally negotiated with the Vesteys to give the Gurindji back a portion of their land. This was a landmark in the land rights movement in Australia for Australian Aboriginal people to be given rights to their traditional lands.
Luritja is a name used to refer to several dialects of the Western Desert Language, and thereby also to the people who speak these varieties, and their traditional lands. The Luritja lands include areas to the west and south of Alice Springs, extending around the edge of Arrernte country, which lie roughly between Alice Springs and Uluru. The total population of Luritja people (including Papunya Luritja) is probably in the thousands making them the third largest of the Central Australian Aboriginal populations. It includes the town of Papunya.
The Murrinh-Patha are a small group, living inland from the settlement of Wadeye, between the rivers Moyle and Fitzmaurice. Their language, also called Murrinh-Patha, is still spoken by about 900. The Murrinh-Patha culture is characterized by typical Native Australian social structure, including a complex kinship system with elaborate behavioral norms for interactions between the different kinship groups.
The Pitjantjatjara, or Anangu, people are an Aboriginal people of the Central Australian desert who speak the Pitjantjatjara language. Their influence extends from the area near Uluru in the Northern Territory to the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia. Their language is one of the most widely spoken Aboriginal languages.
Warlpiri is a large group in the Northern Territory. There are 5000–6000 Warlpiri, living mostly in a few towns and settlements scattered through their traditional land, north and west of Alice Springs. Their largest community is at Yuendumu. Many Warlpiri, unlike people from other Aboriginal language and community groups, do not speak even a word of English. Warlpiri are famous for their tribal dances. Many Warlpiri have toured England, Japan, and most recently Russia, performing their dances.
The Yolngu inhabit north-eastern Arnhem Land in Australia. Some Yolngu communities of Arnhem land re-figured their economies from being largely land-based to largely sea-based with the introduction of Macassan technologies such as dug-out canoes, after theMacassan contact with Australia. These seaworthy boats, unlike their traditional bark canoes, allowed Yolngu to fish the ocean for dugongs and turtles. Some Aboriginal workers willingly accompanied the Macassans back to their homeland across the Arafura Sea. The Yolngu people also remember with grief the abductions and trading of Yolngu women, and the introduction of smallpox, which was epidemic in the islands east of Java at the time.
Western Australia Aboriginal Language Groups
Occupying the area of the South West Agricultural Division of Western Australia - affected from 1827 onwards, and today represented by the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council.
It includes five cultural groups:
Perth Type: Matrilineal moieties and totemic clans. Patrilineal local descent groups. Includes Amangu, Yued, Whadjuk, Binjareb, Wardandi, Ganeang and Wilmen.
Nyakinyaki Type: Alternate generational levels similar to Western Desert type, with patrilineal local descent groups. Includes Balardong and Nyakinyaki.
Bibelmen type: Patrilineal moieties and patrilineal local descent groups. Includes Bibulmen and Minang.
Wudjari type: similar to Nyakinyaki except they have named patrilineal totemic local descent groups.
Nyunga type: similar to Wangai with two endogamous named divisions (Bee-eater and King fisher), in which marriage took place within one's own division but children were in the opposite, modified from the Western Desert system. Includes Nyunga.
occupying the Murchison, Gascoyne and Pilbara Regions of Western Australia - affected from the 1840s onwards, represented today by the Yamatji Bana Baaba Marlpa Land and Sea Council.
Nganda type:Patrilineal totemic local descent groups, no moieties or sections. Includes Nganda and Nandu.
Inggadi-Badimaia gtype: Sections not well defined, Patrilineal totemic local clans grouped into larger divisions. Includes Inggada, Dadei, Malgada, Ngugan, Widi, Badimaia, Wadjari, and Goara.
Djalenji-Maia type: Sections corelaed with kin terms, Matrilineal descent groups. Includes Noala, Djalenji, Yinigudira, Baiyungu, Maia, Malgaru, Dargari, Buduna, Guwari, Warianga, Djiwali, Djururu, Nyanu, Bandjima, Inawongga, Gurama, Binigura and Guwari.
Nyangamada type: Sections with indirect matrilineal descent, with patrilineal local descent groups. Includes Bailgu, Indjibandji, Mardudunera, Yaburara, Ngaluma, Gareira, Nyamal, Ngala, and Nyangamada.
Wankai or Wongai
Occupying the Goldfields and Nullarbor regions of Western Australia affected from the 1880s onwards, represented today by the Goldfields Land and Sea Aboriginal Council Corporation.
Galamaia-Gelago type: Like Nyunga, but practising circumcision. Includes Galamaia, Ngurlu, Maduwongga, and Gelago.
Mirning Type: Patrilineal local totemic descent groups, No moieties or sections. Similar to the Western Desert type. Includes Ngadjunmaia, Mirning.
Kimberley peoples in the Kimberley region - speaking a variety of languages and affected from the 1870s onwards, represented today by the Kimberley Land Council.
Garadjeri type: As for Nyangamada. Includes Garadjeri, Mangala, Yaoro, Djungun, Ngombal, Djaberadjabera, and Nyulnyul.
Bardi type. Patrilineal local descent groups, no moieties or sections. Includes Warwar, Nimanburu, Ongarang, Djaul Djaui.
Ungarinyin type: Patrilineal. Includes Umedi, Wungemi, Worora, Wunumbul
occupying the Central Desert region - and being much less affected than the other Aboriginal groups of Western Australia.
Queensland Aboriginal Language Groups
The Guugu Yimithirr are another language group. There are still several hundred speakers of the Guugu Yimithirr language, mostly living in and around Hopevale, Cooktown, and Wujal Wujal on Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. The site of modern Cooktown was the meeting place of two vastly different cultures when, in June 1770, the local Aboriginal Guugu Yimithirr people cautiously watched James Cook's crippled sailing vessel — HM Bark Endeavour — limp up the coast of their territory seeking a safe harbour. The word kangaroo comes from the Guugu-Yimidhirr name for a Grey Kangaroo, gangaroo.
The Kalkadoon people live in the area around Mount Isa in Western Queensland. There was fighting between the Kalkadoon and police in the nineteenth century; in 1884, 200 of them were massacred at "Battle Mountain" in a fight against police.
Torres Strait Islanders
New South Wales
New South Wales Aboriginal Language Groups
Victoria Aboriginal Language Groups
The Gunai, or Kurnai, nation live in the area of south eastern Victoria, around Wilsons Promontory, Sale, Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Snowy River and Mallacoota. The Gunai people resisted the European invasion of their land. Many were killed in fighting between 1840 and 1850. In 1863 Reverend Friedrich Hagenauer established Ramahyuck Mission on the banks of the Avon River near Lake Wellington to house the Gunai survivors from west and central Victoria.
The Kulin alliance is one of the indigenous nations of Australia who lived in central Victoria, around Port Phillip where Melbourne now stands, and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys. It included the Wurundjeriand Bunurong clans. On 6 June 1835 John Batman signed a 'treaty' (known as Batman's Treaty) with the Wurundjeri people where he purported to buy 2000 km² of land around Melbourne and another 400 km² around Geelong, on Corio Bay to the south-west. In exchange he gave the eight elders, whose marks he acquired on his treaty, a quantity of "blankets, knives, tomahawks, scissors, looking-glasses, flour, handkerchiefs and shirts." By 1863 the surviving members of the Wurundjeri and other Woiwurrung speakers were given "permissive occupancy" of Coranderrk Station, near Healesville. William Barak was the last ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri-willam clan. Bunjil is seen as the culture-hero or god of the Kulin people. The Bunurong were referred to by Europeans as the Western Port or Port Philip group.
The Yorta Yorta people traditionally lived around the junction of the Goulburn and Murray Rivers in present-day north-eastern Victoria. Family groups include the Bangerang, Kailtheban, Wollithiga, Moira, Ulupna, Kwat Kwat, Yalaba Yalaba and Ngurai-illiam-wurrung clans. Their language is generally referred to as the Yorta Yorta language. Prominent Yorta Yorta people include Burnum Burnum and Sir Douglas Nicholls.
Tasmanian Aboriginal Language Groups
Twentieth-century historians previously held that Tasmanian Aborigines had become extinct with the death of Truganini in 1873, but this is no longer the accepted view. The original population, estimated at from 3000 to 15,000 people (The rate of genetic drift indicates that the maximum estimate is likely the lower boundary while archaeological evidence suggests numbers of up to 50,000) was reduced to a population of around 300 between 1802 and 1833 mainly due to the actions of white settlers who came to Australia from the United Kingdom, combined with disease and cultural disruption.
The Black War (1828–1832) and subsequent Black Line in 1830 were turning points in the relationship with European settlers. Even though many of the Aboriginal people managed to avoid capture during these events, they were shaken by the size of the campaigns against them. In 1828, Tarerenorerer (orTarenorerer), a Punnilerpanner woman who had escaped from sealers, became the leader of the Emu Bay people (Plairhekehillerplue).
Attacking settlers with stolen weapons, this is the first recorded use of muskets by Aboriginal people. Mannalargenna, the leader of the Ben Lomond people (Plangermaireener) organised guerrilla attacks against British soldiers in Tasmania and in 1835 became the first Aboriginal person in Tasmania to be given a "Christian" burial.