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Indigenous Australian culture

The Indigenous Australian culture is one of the oldest and most fascinating on Earth. Australia’s first inhabitants were Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. They are believed to have arrived in migratory waves from South East Asia between 40,000 and 150,000 years ago. This makes Australia one of the oldest continents in the world both geologically and in terms of continuous human history. Australia’s Indigenous people now comprise only 1.5 per cent of the country’s total population, with approximately two thirds living in cities and towns and the balance living in rural and remote areas.
There are many Indigenous groups native to Western Australia, including the Nyoongar people of the South West, the Yamatji of central WA and the Wangai people of the Goldfields. Some people still maintain a traditional way of life. The Nyoongar people, the original inhabitants of south western Australia enjoyed the abundant food and water found along the coastal plain. Conservationists by nature, they were semi-nomadic, moving with the availability of food as the seasons changed. They were hunter-gatherers who took only what they needed to survive and had a high regard for life and the land. Archaeological evidence indicates that the area on which the city of Perth now stands was inhabited by relatively high numbers of Indigenous people for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are among the most disadvantaged groups in Australian society today. Many of the problems relating to their health, employment, education and general opportunity are directly due to dispossession of their lands and the resulting disruption to their traditional lifestyles and cultures that followed the arrival of European settlers more than 200 years ago. Indigenous Australians are fighting for respect and equality and for recognition as being the oldest living culture in the world. Public awareness of the process of reconciliation has increased significantly in the last decade and all sectors of society are adopting measures to improve relations with Indigenous people, with the ultimate aim of living and working together more harmoniously.
Indigenous Australians believed that their ancestors created the land and were ‘great spirits of the Dreaming’ who controlled the movements of the planets and stars, the seasons and the tides. Aboriginal law and custom evolved from the myths that grew up around these ancestor figures. They also believed that the process of telling these myths whether in dance, song or painting enabled them to draw on the power and influence of their ancestral spirits. In a culture which has no written language, their very distinctive art form, which reflects a deep connection with the land and the environment, evolved over many millennia to record the beliefs and stories from the ‘Dreaming’, enabling them to be passed on to successive generations. There are more than 365 Indigenous language groups in Australia; at least 60 of these are spoken in Western Australia alone. As well as English, most adult Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, Pilbara and desert regions of the North West speak at least one traditional language, and possibly varieties of Aboriginal English or Kriol, an Australian Creole language developed out of necessity between the Indigenous people and European settlers.
If you’re interested in discovering more about the Indigenous people of Western Australia, there are Indigenous interpretive centres in Kings Park in Perth city, Karijini National Park in the North West and the towns of Yallingup and Kojonup in the South West. For those who prefer to explore, there are many opportunities to take a tour and learn about the culture by meeting Indigenous people, tasting their food, hearing their music and seeing their land. The ancient open spaces of the Kimberley region have been home to Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. It’s here that you are most likely to see people maintaining their traditional way of living. You can also view traditional rock and cave paintings, some of which are estimated to be up to 50,000 years old.
You can take a guided walking tour or head out on a camping safari, led by traditional custodians of the land. Enjoy bush tucker, listen to stories and music-making — you might even get to have a go at throwing a boomerang. More adventurous options include cruising along gorges of the North West, taking on a four-wheel drive desert adventure in the Golden Outback, or mudcrabbing with local families along the Dampier Peninsula. To learn more about the Indigenous people of Australia, or to find out how you can immerse yourself in their culture on your travels to Western Australia, contact the WA Indigenous Tourism Operators Committee (WAITOC). They are a not-for-profit organisation representing Indigenous tourism in Western Australia and promote authentic Indigenous tourism ventures for visitors to the state.
There are some simple rules that travellers and visitors should take into consideration when entering or passing through Indigenous communities. Please remember you are guests of the traditional custodians. Do introduce yourself on arrival if you are staying, and don’t drive around the area or reserve without the community’s knowledge and permission. If you want to take photographs or film the local people make sure you ask first, and don’t attend ceremonies or meetings without an invitation. Many communities do not permit alcohol consumption on their land, so it’s a good idea to check with authorities for more information and guidance prior to your visit before you arrive. Any person wishing to enter an Aboriginal Reserve must obtain a permit to carry out any activity, including traversing Aboriginal reserved land. Applications for permits should be made to the Department of Indigenous Affairs in Perth at least two weeks prior to departure. For more information and to apply online visit: www.waitoc.com/permits