Aboriginal People


The aboriginal people of Australia have been living on the Australian mainland for more than 40,000 years making them one of the oldest Aboriginal cultures in the world.

In Central Australia there are three main language groups with several separate dialects spoken within each language group. The people of the Western Desert region refer to themselves as Pintupi, Luritja or Pitjantjatjara. The Pintupi people include the far west communities of Kiwirrkurra and Kintore while the Pitjantjatjara people live further south, including the Mitijuli community who are the custodians of Uluru (Ayers Rock).

The dialect of Luritja is spoken across the three language groups and particularly where there were missionary settlements such as Hermannsburg and the ration station at Papunya where all three language groups were brought together during the sixties.

In the Central Desert region, there are two principal language groups. The communities around Yuendumu refer to themselves as Warlpiri which is the dominant language of this region, spoken as a first language by more than 3,000 aboriginal people.

The third language group in the Central Desert Region can be found as far north as Utopia where the people refer to themselves as Anmatyerr or Alyawarr. In the region surrounding the MacDonnell Ranges including Alice Springs, the people refer to themselves as Western Arrernte, Southern or Eastern Arrernte.

Aboriginal people follow a complex and strict system of kinship or skin names and maintaining a skin name is very important as it determines the correct relationships between the members of the clan. It also identifies who has the rights to tell or paint a specific Dreamtime story.

Aboriginal people are hunters and gatherers. The Aboriginal women are the principal food gatherers and carers of the young children while the Aboriginal men are the hunters. The children are raised within vast extended family network and the birth mother is not the sole responsibility of her child. When a boy is around six, he joins the men to learn the hunting skills while the girls remain with the women to learn the skills of food gathering.

Traditionally, the aboriginal people in the Central Desert region obtain all their food needs from the land. Aboriginal food consists of seeds, fruit and vegetables supplemented by marsupials, reptiles and insects. To achieve a balanced diet they need to move seasonally between camps over vast tracts of land. They developed an intimate map of their landscape that is passed on generation after generation through their Dreamtime stories. Being so mobile, possessions were usually kept to a minimal with the men carrying their hunting weapons including a variety of spears and boomerangs and the women carrying their food gathering tools including digging sticks and coolamons.

Aboriginal people have a deep spiritual connection to their country and aboriginal spirituality lies in the belief of a cultural landscape and the interconnectedness of all things. They maintain their system of beliefs, law and culture through regular ceremonies that include music, song, dance and sand and Awelye body paintings.

In many areas in Australia and in particular in the remote areas in Central Australia, aboriginal people have continued to maintain many of their traditional aboriginal culture ways.

Aboriginal word glossary