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All human societies have ways of governing themselves. Government in Australia began thousands of years ago when descendants of Aboriginal people came to the continent.

Aboriginal settlers' ways of organising and governing themselves were very different from those used by the later European settlers. Although there were hundreds of separate Aboriginal cultures across Australia, there were some features that most cultures shared. This chapter looks at some of the common features of Aboriginal societies.


Aboriginal family organisation was very different to that of Europeans. Aboriginal families lived together in large groups and shared food and other resources with each other. They also shared tasks such as caring for children, making tools, hunting and building shelters. The children considered many adults to be their parents, not just their biological mother and father. Likewise, many people were considered aunts, uncles and cousins.

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Aboriginal people built shelters around campsites or slept out of doors near small fires. But they did not always live in one place. Throughout the year, many Aboriginal people would move to places where they could find what they needed, particularly food. When the food supplies in one place got low they would move somewhere else.

Each Aboriginal culture would move around within a certain area of land, which was their homeland. Each group was deeply connected to its homeland country and knew all its plants, animals, watercourses and geographical features very well.

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Although Aboriginal societies lived in their own areas of land, sometimes they also travelled further distances and in this way they came into contact with other groups. This helped the different cultures to form links with each other and to communicate news across the country.


Due to the vast differences in environments across Australia, some things that could be found in one group's homeland could not be found in others. For this reason, groups would sometimes gather together to trade materials that were needed for tools, art or other purposes. At these gatherings, the groups would also hold ceremonies and arrange marriages.


Aboriginal cultures practised many art forms. They painted weapons, tools, rocks and their own bodies. They also engraved patterns, symbols and pictures into rock and wood and made sculptures out of these materials and out of wax. They had a rich tradition of song, poetry, stories and dance.

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Older children learnt all these art forms as part of their formal education. The arts were connected to the law and learning them meant taking on the responsibilities that were part of being an adult. Younger children had less responsibility and were taught practical skills, such as how to gather food.


All the aspects mentioned above were governed by laws and codes of behaviour that were understood as part of the Dreaming. The Dreaming is the English name for Aboriginal religion or spirituality. Its role in governing Aboriginal societies will be discussed in the next chapter.

Chapters: Aboriginal society Aboriginal government

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Question 1/5

1. The Dreaming is

no longer practised.

a form of government.

a religion separate from Aboriginal government.

mainly concerned with crimes and punishments.


No thanks. Remind me again later.