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CULTURAL HERITAGE

Introduction

Billiluna by Doreen Moora, Walmatjari people, Balgo, Western Australia. Acquired in 1990.

This painting depicts Billiluna, the artist's birthplace. It shows the countryside, a creek, two hills and wallaby tracks.

Culture - the total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings, which is passed on from one generation to the next.

Heritage - that which comes or belongs to one by reason of birth.

'Maintaining one's culture, values and traditions is beyond price. Human beings cannot live without that. We are glad to share our culture with Europeans and other migrants but we will never give them up.'
Getano Lui, jnr
Thursday Island, 1994

The Indigenous cultures of Australia are the oldest living cultures in the world . One of the reasons these cultures have survived for so long is their ability to change over time. Indigenous Australia has been influenced by other peoples who have come to Australia to stay and peoples who visited Australia for trade or other reasons but did not stay. Indigenous peoples also exchanged ideas and goods among themselves. Goods were exchanged and other things such as songs and dances were traded. Songs and dances were exchanged often at large ceremonial gatherings when many people collected together. These gathering often occurred at a time and place when there was plenty of particular foods.

Although Indigenous cultures are very strong, years of European misunderstanding and indifference have affected them. Today, Indigenous communities keep cultures alive by:

* passing their knowledge, arts, rituals and performances from one generation to another

* speaking and teaching languages

* protecting cultural property and sacred and significant sites and objects


The Oldest Living Culture

An Old Culture

"We've been here a long, long time" Koori Mail, October 1996

The long history of Indigenous people is found in the many significant archaeological sites throughout Australia. Archaeological sites provide information about how Indigenous people lived, used resources and were able to adapt to environmental changes in the past. These archaeological sites also illustrate how Indigenous cultures have changed over time. Archaeological investigations in the northwest of Australia suggest that Indigenous people may have occupied Australia for at least 60,000 years.

Sites of cultural significance are protected by law. Any activities which could damage these sites must be cleared by the relevant Indigenous communities.


Archaeological Sites

Botany Bay, New South Wales

One type of archaeological site that can be found on the shores Botany Bay is a shell midden. Archaeological evidence shows that a midden in Botany Bay was occupied many times during the last 3 000 years.

Middens are sites where Aboriginal people ate different kinds of shellfish, fish and other animals. Mounds of shells and other leftovers indicate the site's special use by humans.

Aboriginal shell middens, commonly occur along the Australian coastline, and are an important archaeological resource. Objects often found in middens along the southern part of the New South Wales coast are shell fishhooks.

in different stages of their manufacture, bone points and barbs.


Jinmium, north Western Australia

According to Aboriginal elders Biddy Simon and Paddy Carlton, Jinmium has always been a special place. It was only recently that archaeologists have caught up with this view.

Archaeological work at Jinmium created enormous public interest in 1996 when initial dates suggested stone artefacts (flakes and some tools) were older than 116,000 years and engravings were up to 58,000 years old. More recently developed dating methods challenged the early dates, suggesting the stone artefacts and rock-art may be less than 20,000 years old -- perhaps only 10,000 years of age.

However, these results have also been questioned, with ongoing research indicating the true maximum age of some Jinmium artefacts and rock-art to be somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 years before present. Scientists, including both dating experts and archaeologists, simply do not agree on when the first Aboriginal people arrived at Jinmium or the rest of Australia. Only time and further research will tell!


Lake Mungo, western New South Wales

Lake Mungo in western New South Wales is a site of great Aboriginal and archaeological importance, containing material dated to at least 33,000 years ago. Lake Mungo is now dry but it was once part of a series of freshwater lakes that would have been full during the late Pleistocene period when the sites were first occupied. The lake had varying water levels during this time but 21,000 years ago the freshwater lakes gradually began to dry up and Lake Mungo itself disappeared about 17 000 years ago.

Many stone artefacts, such as flaked stone tools, have been found at Lake Mungo. The tasks for which these flaked stone tools were used are often not known, although some may have been used for wood-working.


A Changing Culture

Indigenous Cultures changing through time

Archaeological evidence shows that Indigenous cultures have developed and altered a number of times as a result of changes in the environment such as rise in sea level and drying out of the continent. This has caused changes in the types of resources available to people, the tool kits and diet.

Indigenous people have been influenced by a range of cultures over time and in most recent history have managed to survive and fight against the sudden and often catastrophic changes to their cultures and ways of life brought about by Europeans since 1788.


Influences on Indigenous Cultures

Aboriginal people were in contact with other cultures, sharing ideas and skills long before permanent European occupation in 1788. Many Indigenous communities have been influenced by contact with Macassans, Melanesians, Dutch, English, Portugese navigators and traders, as well as other Aboriginal communities and Torres Strait Islanders.

For over 300 years, Macassan traders from Sulawesi (now part of Indonesia) visited the coast of northern Australia to fish for 'trepang' (sea slug), a delicacy in cooking. The cultural exchange can be seen in rock and bark paintings, emblems and objects used in ceremonies, the introduction of dug-out canoes and some Macassan words in Aboriginal languages.

Images of Macassans were painted in rock and bark. Tobacco was introduced to northern Australia. There are pipes from this area made after the Macassan style but with local designs.


Indigenous 'Multiculturalism'

The population of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is extremely diverse in its culture with many different languages spoken. Think of the Kimberly region of Western Australia... if you travel through the Kimberly with its large Aboriginal population and the diversity of people within this region, it's just like travelling through Europe with its changing cultures and languages.
Dot West, Chairperson,
National Indigenous Media Association of Australia,
Boyer Lectures, 1993.


Info Found at
Indigenous Australia