Australia’s indigenous population (Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders) weren’t officially classed as citizens until 1967. This in a country they had inhabited for 40,000 to 150,000 years.

Between approximately 1869 and 1969,Aboriginal children were taken from their homes in a programme of ‘assimilation’ and never reconnected with their families – these have become known as the Stolen Generations. When European settlers first arrived, tens of thousands of indigenous people died from diseases they had no natural immunity to, such as smallpox.

In some places mass slaughters, labelled genocide by some, wiped out large swathes of the population. By 1876 there were no Aborigines left in Tasmania. The indigenous people lost their land and suffered from segregationist policies, not too dissimilar to those in apartheid-era South Africa.

Today indigenous Australians make up just over two per cent of the population. They suffer disproportionately from drug, alcohol and domestic abuse, while infant mortality rates are two to three times higher than white Australians. Life expectancy is about 17 years lower for black Australians and Aborigines are 11 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Australians (according to the “Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage” report, 2005).

You can see how they might still feel a bit cross about it all.


Aboriginal culture is thought to be the world’s oldest continuously maintained culture. When the British First Fleet sailed into Sydney in 1788, it is estimated that between 300,000 and 1,000,000 people inhabited Australia – with as many as 500 different clan groups and 250 languages.

Their stories of ’The Dreamtime’ refer to a distant age when spirit ancestors travelled the land, giving it its physical form and setting down the rules to be followed by the Aboriginal people. Stories of The Dreamtime, which include beings such as the Fertility Mother and the Great Rainbow Snake, are passed on through oral teachings, songs, music, art and ceremonies.

For the record, the didgeridoo is exclusively a man’s instrument and Aboriginal people find it offensive to see a woman attempting to play one.


There are varying viewpoints about the conduct of the colonising forces in the early years. The debate is ongoing and controversial, with Aboriginal people still seeking reconciliation. The official school-book version of history maintains that the British did not wish to harm theAboriginal people, only to help them realise the benefits of living a ‘civilized’ life. But there was clearly immense harm done.

Though some land claims have been successful, various Federal Governments have avoided saying an official ‘sorry’ to the country’s indigenous population. However, the new Labor PM Kevin Rudd has pledged to do so soon.

Various civil rights movements have had success, indeed the pivotal 1967 referendum which gave Aborigines citizenships, was the result of street-level activism inspired by Charles Perkins (who was also briefly on Everton’s books as a footballer). And some lands have been returned to their traditional owners.

In 1972 the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was erected on the lawns of Parliament House Canberra,a symbolic protest for greater sovereignty.

The Aboriginal flag is divided horizontally into two equal halves of black and red, with a yellow circle in the centre. The black symbolises the skin of Aboriginal people and the yellow represents the sun. Red depicts the earth and also represents ochre, which is used byAboriginal people in ceremonies.

For further information on indigenous Australia visit