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How Aboriginal Australians Work

Aboriginal Australians Today

Aboriginal man at the train station.
A Aborgine in a modern train station in Sydney, Australia. Many Aborigines live in modern, large cities.
Paul Souders/Getty Images

The 2016 census in Australia showed that the 649,171 people identified themselves as being "of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin," up 18.4 percent from 2011. This represented 3.3 percent of the Australian population, up from 3 percent in 2011. The rapid increase may be due to the fact that Aboriginal Australians have slightly larger families than non-Aboriginal Australians and also that more people may be identifying in this group, particularly those from mixed unions [source: Biddle and Markham].

Also, the number of people speaking an Australian indigenous language at home increased slightly, to 63,754 people from 60,550 in 2011. And the percentage attending high school increased to nearly 60 percent from 51 percent in 2011. Household income had also increased, although it was still only two-thirds of what a non-indigenous Australian would earn [source: Biddle and Markham]. So, although things are improving, there are still glaring inequalities between the races.

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For the Aboriginal people who live in the major cities of Australia, alcoholism and violence are a way of life. Most Aboriginal people are very poor and have a very low standard of living. Aboriginal elders are attempting to change violent tendencies in young men by taking them to one of many sacred sites and teaching them the ancient ways of their people. The educational system, which was once segregated, is now open to Aboriginal children, who are encouraged to attend. However, many Aboriginal children drop out at a young age.

The Aboriginal Australians who continue to live in the rural areas of Australia – or the outback – have tried to keep as much of their tradition and history alive as they can. Australians have attempted to build houses and other types of shelter for them. But for the most part, Aboriginal people use these structures only for storage.

Many of these traditional Australians are also trying to spread their history to the members of their race who seem to have lost it. They've hired teachers to train students in the traditional Aboriginal languages. Even a few radio and TV stations feature only Aboriginal programming to educate the generations that have had no prior experience with their culture.

And of course, there's Aboriginal art. Their art is world famous, and many Aboriginal Australians make a living off selling their pieces. Traditionally, they view art much like their dreamings: sacred and secret. Only a select few people, after reaching a proper level of knowledge of Aboriginal history, are permitted to see the artwork. In recent years, though, that's changed, so some artists can make money to support themselves and their families.

Aboriginal art comes in many media: paintings, beadwork, woodwork, bark paintings and baskets. Aboriginal Australians also make and sell the most famous item to come out of Australia: the boomerang. But some art can't be sold – it's on the walls of caves. A famous Australian landmark, Ayers Rock, is one such place. It's an Aboriginal sacred site named Uluru, located near the center of Australia. The rock covers a series of caves. Within those caves are walls and walls of paintings done by Aboriginal Australians to illustrate their dreamings. While people visit Ayers Rock and see the paintings, there's still no way to know what they mean. And the Aboriginal people, for the time being, are keeping it a secret. The rock was closed to tourists in 2019, because of its sacred nature to Aboriginal Australians.

Last editorial update on Jan 17, 2020 12:16:08 pm.

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More Great Links

Sources

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  • Agence France-Presse. "Australia; $450,000 For 'Stolen' Aborigine." The New York Times. August 2, 2007.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population.http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbytitle/06E6409495FF5247CA256DEA00053A04?OpenDocument.
  • Australian Government - Culture and Recreation Portal. "Australian Indigenous Cultural Heritage."http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/indigenous/.
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