How Aborigines Work

Aborigines Today
A case of old meeting new: An Aboriginal man stands in traditional dress with a cell phone clipped to his loincloth.
A case of old meeting new: An Aboriginal man stands in traditional dress with a cell phone clipped to his loincloth.
National Geographic/Getty Images

As of 2001, the Aboriginal population had grown to more than 400,000, and it was expected to rise to 470,000 by 2006 [sources: The New York Times, Australian Bureau of Statistics]. But that's still only 2 percent of the population of all of Australia. And although things are improving, there are still glaring inequalities between the races.

For the Aborigines who live in the major cities of Australia, alcoholism and violence are a way of life. Most Aborigines 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 Aborigines 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, Aborigines use these structures only for storage.

An Aborgine in a modern train station in Sydney, Australia. Many Aborigines live in modern, large cities.
Paul Souders/Getty Images

Many of these traditional Aborigines 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.

Aborigines create many works of art and sell them around the world.
Penny Tweedle/Getty Images

And of course, there's Aboriginal art. Their art is world famous, and many Aborigines 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 many media: paintings, beadwork, woodwork, bark paintings and baskets. Aborigines 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 the Aborigines 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 Aborigines, for the time being, are keeping it a secret.

For more information on Aborigines, Australia and related topics, see the links below.

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  • Agence France-Presse. "Australian Court Rule That the City of Perth Belongs to Aborigines." The New York Times. September 21, 2006.
  • 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.
  • Australian Government - Culture and Recreation Portal. "Australian Indigenous Cultural Heritage."
  • Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The Report on the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torrest Strait Islander Children From their Families.
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