Beliefs, Purposes and Values
Storytellers are Aboriginal experts, having the knowledge in understanding the diversity of Australian Aboriginal cultures ranging from the desert peoples, the freshwater/riverine peoples, to the salt-water/coastal peoples, just to name a few.
To assist in a deeper understanding, Australian Aboriginal cultures can be distinguished in two primary ways. Firstly, by their geography and secondly, by their history, including their often dramatic experiences of contact with the white man.
An important part of Aboriginal culture is painting. Its importance is obvious when it is understood how deeply woven this is across the Aboriginal Communities Australia wide and is cultural practice. Painting has always been one of the main vehicles for communication and the documenting of historical events and stories.
The geography of the landscape is a very important determinant in the values, governance and cultural practices of each community. All Australian Aboriginal people are deeply connected to the traditional lands of their descendants. With many of the artists, the same families have lived in the same area for hundreds of generations and they have been bestowed with a cultural responsibility to nurture their traditional lands and the cultural stories associated with everything – the land, water, flora and fauna.
For some salt-water peoples, their culture includes dreaming stories associated with crocodiles or for some desert peoples, their culture includes dreaming stories about the emu, goanna or the kangaroo. This is a simplistic description of the breadth and depth of the relationships which are all culturally defined.
Aboriginal people have a very strong and spiritual culture. Tradition and custom is culture, this is the way of life for the Aboriginal people. The law of the land for the Aboriginal people is passed down from generation to generation from their ancestors. The stories of the Aboriginal people stem from the past, which becomes their present and then develops into the future. The history of how the world was created is formed by the different beliefs of the Aboriginal people.
The Dreamtime is seen as the beginning of time. Creation. Knowing and believing in the Dreamtime for Aboriginal people is what makes them whole, the earth, the universe and the Aboriginal people become one. This is the most important part for their traditional culture. The connections made between the people, the land, the flora, the fauna and the vastness of the universe gives the understanding of how the world was created. Aboriginal people are very spiritual in their beliefs and have a great respect for all of creation.
The earth was once an undistinguished place, a place of barrenness, until ancestral creators came to be. Many shapes were formed. The first steps taken toward the ultimate creation of people, animals, plants and the land. The forming of the landscapes as we see them today and the creation of the universe. The dreamtime gives the Aboriginal people the answers of how the world were created.
Many journeys were taken to achieve this greatness for the belief of the Aboriginal people. Throughout the land of Aboriginal Australia there are many significant places that are revered by the people. These are their ‘Sacred Sites’. Some are places that are known only to the people in each different tribal community, these hold the stories of important occurrences. Such occurrences can, and are portrayed through their artworks. There are countless paintings and stories of these sites, but there are many places that outsiders cannot travel to. Stories that can be told, but places that cannot be seen. The only journey that can be taken for these stories to be heard or seen, will be through their works of their art.
Although many sites are registered with the Australian Government there are numerous sites that have not been recorded for registration. The reason for this is that these are places that are for the people of that ‘country’, and not for outsiders to see. This is the Aboriginal people’s ‘hallowed’ ground. When an Aboriginal person talks about his or her ‘country’, they are referring to the area of land, their ‘homeland’, where their ancestors come from.
The stories of the Aboriginal people were not recorded and printed in black and white, the stories were recorded in the minds of the people. Each descendant who earned the respect of their elders would then be told of their ancestral heritage. They were told the stories of how the world came to be. Each descendant in turn passed on this information. This process is still followed today.
The people have a direct responsibility to adhere to the laws of their land and the Aboriginal way. This is the guidance for their lifestyles, their religion, their moral and ethical beliefs, and most importantly their spirituality. All of these are major aspects for the Aboriginal culture.
There were many ceremonies conducted within the tribal boundaries of the Aboriginal people. Traditional music and dance are also an integral part of the people. There are numerous styles of dance and music. Each has a special story that holds significance to the people. All of these cultural perspectives pertain to the Aboriginal way. The culture upholds their belief system through their stories and their works of art.
Aboriginal Australia – A small piece of History from one of the oldest living Cultures
Aboriginal Australians have been living on their traditional lands for so long that they have learnt to develop, through centuries of trials and tribulations, a symbiotic harmony between the land, their law and their cultures. This produces a deep sense of community spirituality and is one of the great secrets underpinning the sustainability of the oldest cultures in the world. There are many, many lessons that we can still learn from Aboriginal Australia, their cultures and their languages.
The history of each of the Aboriginal communities is another defining characteristic that continues to influence the heart and soul of the people. In 1992 in the Mabo Case, the High Court of Australia finally overturned the legal myth that Australia was settled as terra nullius (empty land). From then on, Aboriginal Australians have had a limited legal right to the recognition of their traditional lands. Two of the judges said,
The acts and events by which that dispossession in legal theory was carried into practical effect constitute the darkest aspect of the history of this nation. The nation as a whole must remain diminished unless and until there is an acknowledgement of, and retreat from those past injustices.’
During the first half of the last century, all Australian Parliaments passed powerful racist legislation that has left an indelible impression on the social and emotional well-being on most, if not all Aboriginal Australians. Thousands of half-caste Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their family by the government and placed into Christianising missions under the guise that it was ‘good for them’.
Often, the missions were thousands of kilometres from their home and often the parents were not allowed to visit them. But not everybody was acting with good intentions – one of the Chief Protectors of Aborigines at the time admitted that the policy was intended to breed the Aboriginal out of each and every one of the mixed race children. The victims of this devastating period are often referred to as ‘The Stolen Generation’.
The legacy of these racist policies is evident today. Most, if not all of these stolen children were severely traumatised with the experience and have passed down the psychological issues associated with their unresolved trauma to their children and their children’s children. It is now understood that many of the Aboriginal people who have substance abuse problems or who get into trouble with the law are family members of The Stolen Generation.