How Aboriginal Australians Work

Early Aboriginal Culture

Aboriginal spear
Most Aboriginal weapons were made from stone or wood. This spear is made of stone and reminiscent of the weapons used in ancient times.
Ira Block/Getty Images

Early Aboriginal Australians were hunter-gatherers who practiced no farming techniques and kept no domestic animals. They had limited weapons, mostly made of wood and stone, to help them acquire their food. As in many other communities around the world, the men were the predominant hunters, killing large and small animals such as wallabies, emus and kangaroos. Women made an equal contribution by gathering vegetables, fruits, roots and small game like snakes.

In coastal areas, both men and women dove for shellfish. They also used fibers and ropes to make baskets to catch fish. Coastal indigenous people developed a type of boat that looked like a flattened canoe. Because they were made of brush and bark, these boats would become waterlogged after a period of time. After only a few miles, they would begin to disintegrate altogether.


As we discussed in the last section, the ancient Aboriginal people worshipped their land, and they did everything they could to protect it. In order to preserve the land and its resources, most tribes slept on the ground with no shelter. They hunted only what they needed to eat and gathered only the plants and roots they needed to sustain themselves. According to Aboriginal beliefs, the spirits assigned the land itself to the various tribes. Because of this, there were no territorial wars – if people were on land that didn't belong to their tribe, they would begin to feel the spirits' angry energy, and bad things would begin to happen.

For most of their existence, indigenous Australians didn't wear much clothing. They kept themselves warm by draping themselves in animal pelts that were sewn together. In other areas, they might use what they could find, like animal fat or a clay called ocher, to protect their skin. Women often made necklaces using materials like shells. Their bodies were often canvasses, with charcoal and ocher used as paint.

Man playing a dijeridoo.
An Aboriginal man plays a dijeridoo in Sydney, Australia.
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Music and dance were a large part of the culture, as was storytelling. Elders used all three to tell the stories of the dreamings, give thanks to the spirits and even ask favors like increased fertility or rain. They also created musical instruments, the most famous being the didgeridoo. The creation of a didgeridoo begins when termites hollow out the inside of a piece of wood, and Aboriginal Australians cut the size down to 5 feet. When played, the didgeridoo produces a low hum caused by vibrations. Various tribes use it in formal ceremonies and events. Aboriginal Australians kept up this peaceful way of life for more then 40,000 years. But that all changed once the Europeans colonized Australia.