Glossary of Indigenous Australia terms

These are definitions for terms specific to Indigenous Australia.

  • Archaeology: The study of the material traces of the human past.
  • Assimilation: A 19th century idea that Indigenous people should be 'improved' by being 'civilised' and becoming Christians and learning how to work as Europeans did. From the 1930s assimilation became government policy.
  • Colonialism: The forcible takeover of the land of indigenous peoples and the exploitation of the land and the people, ignoring the rights of indigenous people.
  • Country: In Aboriginal English, a person’s land, sea, sky, rivers, sites, seasons, plants and animals; place of heritage, belonging and spirituality; is called ‘Country’.
  • Culture: The accepted and traditionally patterned ways of behaving and a set of common understandings shared by members of a group or community. Includes land, language, ways of living and working artistic expression, relationships and identity.
  • Dreaming: A western term used to describe the Aboriginal spirituality system. The Dreaming encompasses all the cultural values, laws and knowledge which is passed down through song, dance, painting and storytelling to each generation. Each language group has their own term to describe their belief system.
  • Elders: Highly respected Aboriginal people held in esteem by their communities for their wisdom, cultural knowledge and community service. They are responsible for making decisions within the community.
  • Heritage: That which comes or belongs to one by reason of birth.
  • Indigenous: Native to a place or area, originating in and characterising a particular region or country.
  • Indigenous Australians: the original inhabitants of Australia; always capitalised. Includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Indigenous people: The first peoples to a land.
  • Kinship: Traditional kinship relations continue to play a role in contemporary Aboriginal communities. While Australian family life often centres on the nuclear family made up of parents and children, Aboriginal family life includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and the mob.
  • Law: Also known as Lore. Handed down by the Creation Ancestors and upheld by Aboriginal communities for thousands of generations, Law includes the accepted and traditionally patterned ways of behaving and shared understandings relating to land, language, ways of living, kinship, relationships and identity.
  • Land Rights: The struggle by Aboriginal people to gain acknowledgment of prior ownership of this land both legally and morally and allowing all the accompanying rights and obligations which stem from this association.
  • Land use: The way land and water were used and maintained both physically and spiritually.
  • Lore: The learning and transmission of a cultural heritage.
  • Massacres: Indiscriminate killing of Aboriginal people by government forces, private killing parties and individuals.
  • Macassans: Fishermen from Sulawesi (now Indonesia) who came to coastal northern Australia to trade with Aboriginal people.
  • Missions: Areas originally set up and governed by different religious denomination for Aboriginal people to live. Today some people use the term to refer to Aboriginal housing developments. The terms "reserves" and "stations" are used as well.
  • Mob: A way to refer to a group of Aboriginal people who have a connection to one another. For example 'My mob comes from Walgett' or 'that mob travelled a long way'.
  • Native title: Form of land title which recognises Aboriginal people as rightful owners of that land.
  • Racism: Set of beliefs, often negative, held by one group of people or individuals, about another group of people or individuals and based on the perceived racial characteristics of that group or individual. Racism in Australia takes on many forms - attitudinal, institutional and cultural.
  • Reconciliation: A Commonwealth initiative to promote reconciliation between Indigenous people and the wider community and to redress Indigenous disadvantage.
  • Reserves: Areas of land reserved by the Crown for Aboriginal people in the 19th century. Much of this land was later taken from Aboriginal people again. Until the 1970s the remaining reserves were administered and controlled by government. See also missions and stations as these terms are also used.
  • Stations: Living areas established by governments for Aboriginal people on which managers and matrons controlled (and 'cared for') Indigenous people.
  • Social Justice: Being entitled to the same rights and services as all other citizens.
  • Songline: A songline is a track across the land, sky or sea following a journey of a Creation Ancestor. Songlines are recorded in Creation stories, songs, paintings and dance. A knowledgeable person is able to navigate across the land by repeating the words of the songs describing the location of landmarks, waterholes, and other natural phenomena. By singing the songs in the appropriate sequence, Indigenous people could navigate vast distances. Australia contains an extensive system of songlines, many that pass through multiple Aboriginal countries.
  • Terra nullius: A concept in international law meaning 'a territory belonging to no-one' or 'over which no-one claims ownership'. The concept is related to the legal acceptance of occupation as an original means of peacefully acquiring territory. However, a fundamental condition of a valid occupation is that the territory should belong to no-one. The concept has been used to justify the colonisation of Australia. The High Court decision of 1992 rejected terra nullius and recognises Indigenous native title.

 


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