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How Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people met their basic needs

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Hunting and gathering

The daily life for many Indigenous Australians before 1788 depended on where they lived in Australia. Some lived in fertile country near a river so they did not have to move around as much. Those people living in the desert needed to move around more to find food and water.

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The Indigenous Australians living on mainland Australia were hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers did not farm the land. They collected edible plants and hunted wild animals. Some of the food that was eaten would have been kangaroos, emus, wombats, goanna, snakes, birds, insects, nuts, fruits and berries.

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Preparing food

Indigenous Australians used basic tools to prepare food. Sharpened stones were used to skin animals and fire was used to cook food. Two stones were used to grind plant seeds and nuts to make flour. This flour was then used to make a type of bush bread.

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Finding water

A lot of Australia is covered by desert or semi-arid land. Indigenous Australians survived in this dry continent for thousands of years. They survived by finding water using different methods.

Sometimes there is a lot of water underground. Some groups of Indigenous Australians dug wells and tunnels to find this water. If a group was moving away from a water supply, animal skins were made into bags that could carry water.

Aboriginal people looked at where birds and animals found water. They followed dingos to rock pools or watched where ants went underground. They also knew that where they were lots of trees then there must be some water underground.

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Clothing and shelter

Indigenous Australians did not wear much clothing. When the weather was cold, animal skins were worn to keep warm.

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Many mainland Indigenous Australians were semi-nomadic. This means they moved around following food sources. In good country, people were able to set up semi-permanent camps because they did not have to search for food. Shelters were made from trees and plants and animal skins, or caves were used to camp in.

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Aboriginal language

Before the arrival of the British settlers in 1788, Aboriginal languages were spoken. There were about 250 Aboriginal languages. Many of the words we use today are borrowed from Aboriginal languages. Words such as kangaroo, koala, billabong, budgerigar, galah, kookaburra, boomerang, wombat and dingo are all Aboriginal words.


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