Aboriginal Australians Lived in Desert Interior 10,000 Years Earlier Than Thought

Aboriginal Australians Lived in Desert Interior 10,000 Years Earlier Than Thought


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Jo McDonald & Peter Veth / The Conversation

New evidence shows that Aboriginal Australians have lived inland in Western Australia for more than 50,000 years. That’s 10,000 years earlier than previously known for Australian deserts.

The finding comes from archaeological work performed at the request of the traditional custodians of the land and is published today in PLOS One .

The research took place at the desert rock shelter site of Karnatukul (previously known as Serpent’s Glen), around 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Exmouth - more than 1,000km (620 miles) from where the coastline would have been at this earlier time.

It shows that people occupied the sandy deserts of interior Australia very soon after settling the north of the continent more than 50,000 years ago.

The paper reports some of the earliest evidence of people living in deserts, not just in Australia, but anywhere in the world.

Excavations old and new

Karnatukul was first investigated by archaeologists in the 1990s. At that time it became known as the oldest Western Desert site, occupied at least 25,000 years ago.

Our current excavation was undertaken to better understand more recent occupation evidence. We were trying to understand pigment art that was produced at the site during the past 1,000 years .

As well as finding rich evidence for a range of activities in recent times, our investigation doubled the earliest known occupation dates for this site.

Charcoal associated with artefacts was recovered in two squares dug beneath the site’s main rock art panel. Both squares returned similar archaeological sequences - both with their earliest radiocarbon determinations hovering close to the radiocarbon technical dating barrier which is 50,000 years.

Early tool shows technological innovation

More than 25,000 stone artefacts were recovered from the current excavations of Karnatukul, along with pigments, charcoal from many hearths, and a small amount of animal remains - a glimpse into the diet of the site’s occupants. Most of these remains date to the last millennium.

But one of our significant finds shows these early desert peoples were technological innovators. An early backed microlith – a pointed tool with one sharp edge blunted with small flakes, called backing - was found in deposits dated to around 43,000 years ago. Such tools are used as either a spear barb or for processing wood and other organic materials.

This tool is at least 15,000 years older than other known Australian examples. Other specimens have been recovered from the arid zone in South Australia, dated to around 24,000 years ago.

Microscopic analysis of residues and working edges on this tool reveal it was fastened by resin to a composite implement (such as to a wooden handle) and it broke in that haft , presumably while being used.

Backed artefact dated to 43,000 years ago showing evidence of use on its working edge. Jo McDonald, Author provided

These technological adaptations - backing and hafting - are much earlier than had been previously demonstrated in Australia.

These types of tools were produced in enormous quantities across most of southern and eastern Australia, in the recent past. Indeed, Karnatukul has a large collection (more than 50) of this tool type dating to the last millennium, when the site was used as a home base.

Adapting to a changed environment

It has been argued previously that these specialized tools became more common as a people responded to increased climatic volatility and less secure food resources, with an intensified El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) regime after 4,000 years ago.

These current findings support the notion that the First Australians adapted with ingenuity and flexibility as they quickly dispersed into every bioregion across the country.

For instance, evidence for the earliest ground-edged axe use in the world comes from the Kimberley.

The very early presence of people in the interior deserts of Australia, as well as their very early use of a backed microlith, changes how we understand the adaptive and technological sophistication of early Aboriginal peoples.

The arid zone has often been characterized as an extreme environment occupied only by transient dwellers. Several European explorers perished in their early attempts to explore and traverse Australia’s arid core.

Traditional custodians celebrate the Birriliburu determination in 2008. Jo McDonald, Author provided.

Cultural connections to the land

The site is in the remote Carnarvon Ranges of the Western Desert. Known as Katjarra, these ranges are at the heart of Mungarlu Ngurrarankatja Rirraunkaja ngurra (country), in the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area ( IPA). Located in the Little Sandy Desert, this remote IPA covers an area the size of Tasmania.

Katjarra is of very high cultural significance to its traditional custodians.

This archaeological evidence for the earliest desert peoples in Australia was found within 100m (328 feet) of the place where the Federal Court convened in 2008 for the Birriliburu Native Title Determination.

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(Then) Justice Robert French at the Birriliburu Native Title determination in 2008 presenting senior custodians with a statement of the determination. Jo McDonald, Author provided

But the site is also only about 40km (25 miles) from the historic Canning Stock Route (CSR), a 1,800km (1120 mile) track forged through the sandy deserts by Alfred Canning in 1906-07, reliant on numerous Aboriginal water sources, identified and named for him by local Aboriginal people.

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Location of Karnatukul, in the Carnarvon Ranges (Katjarra), near the Canning Stock Route. Jo McDonald, Author provided

Because of the CSR, the Carnarvon Ranges have been at risk of unwitting damage from tourists – as modern desert crusaders travel this challenging and remote 4WD track . For example, many of the site’s surface grindstones - used for millennia to process seeds - have been collected and used by tourists to make camp fires, and there is graffiti where some travelers felt it necessary to add their names to rock features.

The Carnarvon Ranges are currently closed to unaccompanied tourists. The custodians have a responsibility for the safety of visitors on their country, intrinsically tied to the duty of ensuring that people do not unknowingly visit restricted and culturally powerful sites.

So the challenge now is how to protect this site of ancient occupation.

Preserving a desert

The Birriliburu IPA has a management plan for this vast cultural and natural desert estate. Traditional Owners and younger rangers work in this IPA to care for country and to continue their long-held connections to this place.

Guided tours of this highly significant area with traditional custodians would ensure the protection of heritage places and visitors, as well as providing for sustainable tourism opportunities.

That way, people would still be able to experience a place that revolutionizes our understanding of the first Australians who made one of the world’s driest continents their home.


Aboriginals lived in the Western Desert 10,000 years earlier

Archaeologists working with the Traditional Custodians from the Birriliburru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) have found new evidence that Aboriginal people have been living in the Western Desert for 50,000 years.

This is 10,000 years earlier than previously thought and among the earliest records of people living in deserts anywhere in the world.

Researchers from the University of Western Australia said the uncovered evidence was a hafted multifunction tool, likely used as either a spear barb or for wood working.

Similar tools had previously been found elsewhere in Australia but were only dated to 4,000 years.

The tool was found at the Karnatukal site (previously known as Serpents Glen) in Canarvon Ranges, near the Canning Stock Route.

The Karnatukul area is in the Western Desert, near the Canning Stock Route. Credit: Unknown.

Lead Investigator Professor Jo McDonald, Director of UWA’s Centre for Rock Art Research and Management, said the find supported the theory that this early group of desert peoples were technological innovators.

"This discovery makes clear that the first Australians adapted with ingenuity and flexibility as they dispersed into Australia after arriving," McDonald said.

“The fact that we have also been able to demonstrate a range of symbolic behaviours in the last 1,000 years – with rock art production and extraordinarily high levels of site use at this same time – demonstrates the continuity and complexity of long-term connections by Australian desert peoples.”

The study was published in the journal, PLOS.

The Birriliburru IPA is an area of exclusive possession native title determination area held in trust by Mungarlu Ngurrarankatja Rirraunkaja Aboriginal Corporation.


Research finds Aboriginals lived in Western Desert 50,000 years ago

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Archaeologists from The University of Western Australia working with Traditional Custodians from the Birriliburru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) have recovered evidence that people lived in the Australian arid zone 50,000 years ago.

This is 10,000 years earlier than previously understood for the interior deserts of Australia, and among some of the earliest known evidence for people living in deserts anywhere in the world.

The remote Carnarvon Ranges are near the Canning Stock Route. Evidence from the Karnatukul site (previously known as Serpents Glen) indicates that people lived in this interior desert from very early in the settlement of Australia and that they remained in these ranges during the last Ice Age.

Lead Investigator Professor Jo McDonald, Director of UWA's Centre for Rock Art Research and Management, said a significant find supported that this early group of desert peoples were technological innovators.

"We found in deposits dating back around 43,000 years ago an early backed microlith, a hafted multifunctional tool which could be used as either a spear barb or for wood-working," Professor McDonald said.

"This is more than 15,000 years earlier than other known Australian examples of this tool type. Residue found on the tool indicates that hafting technology was practised much earlier than had been previously demonstrated in Australia. Tools such as this are found across most of southern and eastern Australia, but most are dated to the last 4,000 years."

Professor McDonald said the findings supported the notion that the first Australians adapted with ingenuity and flexibility as they dispersed into every bioregion of Australia within ten millennia after arriving on this continent.

"The fact that we have also been able to demonstrate a range of symbolic behaviours in the last 1,000 years – with rock art production and extraordinarily high levels of site use at this same time – demonstrates the continuity and complexity of long-term connections by Australian desert peoples," she said.

Co-Investigator Professor Peter Veth, UWA Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art Archaeology, said the finding represented a revolution in understanding the adaptive and technological sophistication of early Aboriginal peoples living in the interior deserts of Australia.

"It's enthralling to see scientific and Aboriginal narratives working together to create an extraordinary new canvas for the vast desert landscapes of the Australian imagination," Professor Veth said.

Professor McDonald said the Birriliburru IPA is an area of exclusive possession native title determination area held in trust by Mungarlu Ngurrarankatja Rirraunkaja Aboriginal Corporation. The Carnarvon Ranges remain closed to unaccompanied tourist visitation.

The Birriliburru Rangers actively patrol and conduct land management activities in the area to protect the cultural and conservation values.


Man searching for toilet stumbles across 49,000 year-old evidence of earliest human settlement in Australia

An Australian man searching for a toilet stumbled across the oldest-known evidence of Aboriginal settlement in existence.

The chance discovery happened while Adnyamathanha elder Clifford Coulthard was surveying gorges in the area and “nature called”.

He came across the arid site, known as Warratyi, which showed Aboriginal Australians settled there 49,000 years ago, 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The shelter, found 550 kilometres north of Adelaide, also contains the first reliably-dated evidence of human interaction with large or giant animals, known as megafauna.

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Lead author Giles Hamm, a consultant archaeologist and doctoral student at La Trobe University, found the site with Mr Coulthard.

"A man getting out of the car to go to the toilet led to the discovery of one of the most important sites in Australian prehistory,” Mr Hamm told ABC.

"Nature called and Cliff walked up this creek bed into this gorge and found this amazing spring surrounded by rock art.”

Mr Hamm told how the pair noticed a rock shelter with a blackened roof and knew immediately it was a sign of human activity.

However, despite realising people had probably used the shelter to light fires, the researchers had no idea of the significance of their find.

For the past nine years, Mr Hamm and his team have recovered more than 4,300 artefacts from the one-metre-deep excavations, along with 200 bone fragments from 16 mammals and one reptile.

Co-author professor Gavin Prideaux also noted the discovery of bones from the extinct giant wombat-like Diprotodon optatum, and eggs from an ancient giant bird.

He also said the discovery was an important indication that humans may, after all, have been responsible for the extinction of megafauna.

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"The find undermines one of the supposed pillars of support for climate change, not humans, causing the extinctions because the site shows humans lived alongside these animals and hunted them," he explained.

He also said his research paper, published in Nature, "smashed several paradigms about Indigenous Australians".

"People were set up in arid southern Australia by about 50,000 years ago and they had all these amazing technologies much earlier than what we've thought,” he said.

Previously, the oldest-known site in the arid zone, which accounts for roughly 70% of Australia’s land mass, dated back to 38,000 years and was found at Puritjarra in western central Australia.

"This discovery puts people moving south from the northern part of the continent to the southern interior a lot sooner than we thought," Mr Hamm said.

However, he also claimed the land was likely to have been less arid when it was occupied by the first settlers.

"In one sense they were trapped in the Flinders Ranges because once the climate changed [due to the last glacial maximum] it was too risky to move out of these well-watered ranges that had these permanent springs,” he said.

Michael Westaway, palaeoanthropologist at Griffith University, confirmed this theory and recently participated in a genomic study that found modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of the first people to inhabit Australia, and they had adapted genetically to survive in the desert.

"Our DNA paper suggested the arid centre at 50,000 years ago was not really a barrier to the movement of people, and this seems to be what Giles is suggesting — people were able to migrate south quite quickly," Dr Westaway said.

"There is a Eurocentric view that material culture in Australia is quite simplistic and backward, but this helps rewrite that story."

Mr Coulthard said he had worked near to the Warratyi site when he was a teenager and had been told of ancients shelters in the area.

However, he had forgotten the information and believes "the spirits showed me the road".

He said the Adnyamathanha people were proud and happy about the discovery.

* This article originally suggested that the discovery was an "important indication that humans were not responsible for the extinction of megafauna". In fact, as the quoted remarks of Professor Gavin Prideaux make clear, researchers believe the contrary - that finding human artefacts and megafauna remains together suggests that humans did therefore play a role in the disappearance of megafauna. Article amended 4/11/16.


Contents

It is believed that early human migration to Australia was achieved when it formed part of the Sahul continent, connected to the island of New Guinea via a land bridge. [10] This would have nevertheless required crossing the sea at the so-called Wallace Line. [11] It is also possible that people came by island-hopping via an island chain between Sulawesi and New Guinea, reaching North Western Australia via Timor. [12]

A 2021 study which mapped likely migration routes suggests that the populating of the Sahul took 5,000–6,000 years to reach Tasmania (then part of the continent), [13] with a rate of one kilometre per year, [14] after making landfall in the Kimberley region of Western Australia around 60,000 years ago. [13] The total human population could have been as high as 6.4 million, with 3 million in the area of modern Australia. [14] The modelling suggests that the path of population movement may have followed two main routes down from contemporary New Guinea, with the so-called "southern route" going into Kimberley, Pilbara and Arnhem Land, and then to the Great Sandy Desert before moving towards the centre in Lake Eyre and further on to the southeast of the continent. It also leads through another path to the southwestern parts, such as Margaret River and the Nullarbor Plain. The "northern route" meanwhile crosses over the current location of the Torres Strait and then divides into one path connecting to Arnhem Land and another leading down the East Coast. [15] The routes are similar to current highways and stock routes in Australia. [13]

Madjedbebe is the oldest known site showing the presence of humans in Australia, with evidence suggesting that it was first occupied by humans possibly by 65,000 ± 6,000 years ago and at least by 50,000 years ago. [16] [17] The rock shelters at Madjedbebe (about 50 kilometres (31 mi) inland from the present coast) [18] and at Nauwalabila I (70 kilometres (43 mi) further south) show evidence of used pieces of ochre used by artists 60,000 years ago. Near Penrith, stone tools have been found in Cranebrook Terraces gravel sediments having dates of 45,000 to 50,000 years BP. [19] [20] A 48,000 BCE date is based on a few sites in northern Australia dated using thermoluminescence. Charles Dortch dated finds on Rottnest Island, Western Australia at 70,000 years BP in 1994. [21] [ needs update ] There is also evidence of a change in fire régimes in Australia, drawn from reef deposits in Queensland, between 70–100,000 years ago, [22] and the integration of human genomic evidence from various parts of the world also supports a date of before 60,000 years for the arrival of Australian Aboriginal people in the continent. [23] [24] [25]

Humans reached Tasmania approximately 40,000 years ago by migrating across a land bridge from the mainland that existed during the last glacial maximum. After the seas rose about 12,000 years ago and covered the land bridge, the inhabitants there were isolated from the mainland until the arrival of European settlers. [26]

Short-statured Aboriginal tribes inhabited the rainforests of North Queensland, of which the best known group is probably the Tjapukai of the Cairns area. [27] These rainforest people, collectively referred to as Barrineans, were once considered to be a relic of an earlier wave of Negrito migration to the Australian continent, [28] but this "Aboriginal pygmy" theory has been discredited. [29]

Mungo Man, found near Lake Mungo in New South Wales, is the oldest human yet found in Australia. Although the exact age of Mungo Man is in dispute, the best consensus is that he is at least 40,000 years old. Stone tools also found at Lake Mungo have been estimated, based on stratigraphic association, to be about 50,000 years old. Since Lake Mungo is in south-eastern Australia, many archaeologists have concluded that humans must have arrived in north-west Australia at least several thousand years earlier.

Changes around 4,000 years ago Edit

The dingo reached Australia about 4,000 years ago, and around the same time there were changes in language, with the Pama-Nyungan language family spreading over most of the mainland, and stone tool technology, with the use of smaller tools. Human contact has thus been inferred, and genetic data of two kinds have been proposed to support a gene flow from India to Australia: firstly, signs of South Asian components in Aboriginal Australian genomes, reported on the basis of genome-wide SNP data and secondly, the existence of a Y chromosome (male) lineage, designated haplogroup C∗, with the most recent common ancestor around 5,000 years ago. [30]

A 2013 study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute led by Irina Pugach, the result of large-scale genotyping, indicated that Aboriginal Australians, the indigenous peoples of New Guinea and the Mamanwa, an indigenous people of the southern Philippines are closely related, having diverged from a common origin approximately 36,000 years ago. The same study shows that Aboriginal genomes consist of up to 11% Indian DNA which is uniformly spread through Northern Australia, indicating a substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Northern Australia occurred around 4,230 years ago. Changes in tool technology and food processing appear in the archaeological record around this time, suggesting there may have been migration from India. [31] [32]

However, a 2016 study in Current Biology by Anders Bergström et al. excluded the Y chromosome as providing evidence for recent gene flow from India into Australia. The study authors sequenced 13 Aboriginal Australian Y chromosomes using recent advances in gene sequencing technology, investigating their divergence times from Y chromosomes in other continents, including comparing the haplogroup C chromosomes. The authors concluded that, although this does not disprove the presence of any Holocene gene flow or non-genetic influences from South Asia at that time, and the appearance of the dingo does provide strong evidence for external contacts, the evidence overall is consistent with a complete lack of gene flow, and points to indigenous origins for the technological and linguistic changes. Gene flow across the island-dotted 150-kilometre (93 mi)-wide Torres Strait, is both geographically plausible and demonstrated by the data, although at this point it could not be determined from this study when within the last 10,000 years it may have occurred – newer analytical techniques have the potential to address such questions. [30]

Geography Edit

When the north-west of Australia, which is closest to Asia, was first occupied, the region consisted of open tropical forests and woodlands. After around 10,000 years of stable climatic conditions, by which time the Aboriginal people had settled the entire continent, temperatures began cooling and winds became stronger, leading to the beginning of an ice age. By the glacial maximum, 25,000 to 15,000 years ago, the sea level had dropped to around 140 metres below its present level. Australia was connected to New Guinea and the Kimberley region of Western Australia was separated from Southeast Asia (Wallacea) by a strait only approximately 90 km wide. [33] Rainfall was 40% to 50% lower than modern levels, depending on region, while the lower CO2 levels (half pre-industrial levels) meant that vegetation required twice as much water for photosynthesis. [34]

The Kimberley, including the adjacent exposed continental Sahul Shelf, was covered by vast grasslands dominated by flowering plants of the family Poaceae, with woodlands and semi-arid scrub covering the shelf joining New Guinea to Australia. [35] Southeast of the Kimberley, from the Gulf of Carpentaria to northern Tasmania the land, including the western and southern margins of the now exposed continental shelves, was covered largely by extreme deserts and sand dunes. It is believed that during this period no more than 15% of Australia supported trees of any kind. While some tree cover remained in the southeast of Australia, the vegetation of the wetter coastal areas in this region was semi-arid savanna, while some tropical rainforests survived in isolated coastal areas of Queensland.

Tasmania was covered primarily by cold steppe and alpine grasslands, with snow pines at lower altitudes. There is evidence that there may have been a significant reduction in Australian Aboriginal populations during this time, and there would seem to have been scattered "refugia" in which the modern vegetation types and Aboriginal populations were able to survive. Corridors between these refugia seem to be routes by which people kept in contact. [36] [37] [38] With the end of the ice age, strong rains returned, until around 5,500 years ago, when the wet season cycle in the north ended, bringing with it a megadrought that lasted 1,500 years. The return of reliable rains around 4,000 years BP gave Australia its current climate. [35]

Following the Ice Age, Aboriginal people around the coast, from Arnhem Land, the Kimberley and the southwest of Western Australia, all tell stories of former territories that were drowned beneath the sea with the rising coastlines after the Ice Age. It was this event that isolated the Tasmanian Aboriginal people on their island, and probably led to the extinction of Aboriginal cultures on the Bass Strait Islands and Kangaroo Island in South Australia. [39] In the interior, the end of the Ice Age may have led to the recolonisation of the desert and semi-desert areas by Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. This in part may have been responsible for the spread of languages of the Pama–Nyungan language family and secondarily responsible for the spread of male initiation rites involving circumcision. There has been a long history of contact between Papuan peoples of the Western Province, Torres Strait Islanders and the Aboriginal people in Cape York. [39]

The Aboriginal Australians lived through great climatic changes and adapted successfully to their changing physical environment. There is much ongoing debate about the degree to which they modified the environment. One controversy revolves around the role of indigenous people in the extinction of the marsupial megafauna (also see Australian megafauna). Some argue that natural climate change killed the megafauna. Others claim that, because the megafauna were large and slow, they were easy prey for human hunters. A third possibility is that human modification of the environment, particularly through the use of fire, indirectly led to their extinction. [ citation needed ]

Oral history demonstrates "the continuity of culture of Indigenous Australians" for at least 10,000 years. This is shown by correlation of oral history stories with verifiable incidents including known changes in sea levels and their associated large changes in location of ocean shorelines oral records of megafauna and comets. [40] [41]

Ecology Edit

The introduction of the dingo, possibly as early as 3500 BCE, showed that contact with South East Asian peoples continued, as the closest genetic connection to the dingo seems to be the wild dogs of Thailand. This contact was not just one-way, as the presence of kangaroo ticks on these dogs demonstrates. Dingoes began and evolved in Asia. The earliest known dingo-like fossils are from Ban Chiang in north-east Thailand (dated at 5500 years BP) and from north Vietnam (5000 years BP). According to skull morphology, these fossils occupy a place between Asian wolves (prime candidates were the pale footed (or Indian) wolf Canis lupus pallipes and the Arabian wolf Canis lupus arabs) and modern dingoes in Australia and Thailand. [42]

Most scientists presently believe that it was the arrival of the Australian Aboriginal people on the continent and their introduction of fire-stick farming that was responsible for these extinctions. [43] Fossil research published in 2017 indicates that Aboriginal people and megafauna coexisted for "at least 17,000 years". Aboriginal Australians used fire for a variety of purposes: to encourage the growth of edible plants and fodder for prey to reduce the risk of catastrophic bushfires to make travel easier to eliminate pests for ceremonial purposes for warfare and just to "clean up country." There is disagreement, however, about the extent to which this burning led to large-scale changes in vegetation patterns. [44]

Food Edit

Aboriginal Australians were limited to the range of foods occurring naturally in their area, but they knew exactly when, where and how to find everything edible. Anthropologists and nutrition experts who have studied the tribal diet in Arnhem Land found it to be well-balanced, with most of the nutrients modern dietitians recommend. But food was not obtained without effort. In some areas both men and women had to spend from half to two-thirds of each day hunting or foraging for food. Each day, the women of the group went into successive parts of one countryside with wooden digging sticks and plaited dilly bags or wooden coolamons. Larger animals and birds, such as kangaroos and emus, were speared or disabled with a thrown club, boomerang, or stone. Many Indigenous hunting devices were used to get within striking distance of prey. The men were excellent trackers and stalkers, approaching their prey running where there was cover, or 'freezing' and crawling when in the open. They were careful to stay downwind and sometimes covered themselves with mud to disguise their smell.

Fish were sometimes taken by hand by stirring up the muddy bottom of a pool until they rose to the surface, or by placing the crushed leaves of poisonous plants in the water to stupefy them. Fish spears, nets, wicker or stone traps were also used in different areas. Lines with hooks made from bone, shell, wood or spines were used along the north and east coasts. Dugong, turtle and large fish were harpooned, the harpooner launching himself bodily from the canoe to give added weight to the thrust. Both Torres Strait Island populations and mainland aborigines were agriculturalists who supplemented their diet through the acquisition of wild foods. [45] Aboriginal Australians along the coast and rivers were also expert fishermen. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people relied on the dingo as a companion animal, using it to assist with hunting and for warmth on cold nights.

In present-day Victoria, for example, there were two separate communities with an economy based on eel-farming in complex and extensive irrigated pond systems one on the Murray River in the state's north, the other in the south-west near Hamilton in the territory of the Djab Wurrung, which traded with other groups from as far away as the Melbourne area (see Gunditjmara). A primary tool used in hunting is the spear, launched by a woomera or spear-thrower in some locales. Boomerangs were also used by some mainland Indigenous Australians. The non-returnable boomerang (known more correctly as a Throwing Stick), more powerful than the returning kind, could be used to injure or even kill a kangaroo.

On mainland Australia no animal other than the dingo and the Short-finned eel were domesticated, however domestic pigs and cassowaries were utilised by Torres Strait Islanders. [46] The typical Aboriginal diet included a wide variety of foods, such as pig, kangaroo, emu, wombats, goanna, snakes, birds, many insects such as honey ants, Bogong moths and witchetty grubs. Many varieties of plant foods such as taro, coconuts, nuts, fruits and berries were also eaten.

Banana cultivation is now known to have been present among Torres Strait Islanders. [47]

Culture Edit

Permanent villages were the norm for most Torres Strait Island communities. In some areas mainland Aboriginal Australians also lived in semi-permanent villages, most usually in less arid areas where fishing and agriculture [48] could provide for a settled existence, with places like Budj Bim in particular growing to comparatvely large settlements. Most Indigenous communities were semi-nomadic, moving in a regular cycle over a defined territory, following seasonal food sources and returning to the same places at the same time each year. From the examination of middens, archaeologists have shown that some localities were visited annually by Indigenous communities for thousands of years. In the more arid areas Aboriginal Australians were nomadic, ranging over wide areas in search of scarce food resources. There is evidence of substantial change in indigenous culture over time. Rock painting at several locations in northern Australia has been shown to consist of a sequence of different styles linked to different historical periods. There is also prominent rock paintings found in the Sydney basin area which date to around 5,000 years.

Harry Lourandos has been the leading proponent of the theory that a period of agricultural intensification occurred between 3000 and 1000 BCE. Intensification involved an increase in human manipulation of the environment (for example, the construction of eel traps in Victoria), population growth, an increase in trade between groups, a more elaborate social structure, and other cultural changes. A shift in stone tool technology, involving the development of smaller and more intricate points and scrapers, occurred around this time. This was probably also associated with the introduction to the mainland of the Australian dingo.

Many Indigenous communities also have a very complex kinship structure and in some places strict rules about marriage. In traditional societies, men are required to marry women of a specific moiety. The system is still alive in many Central Australian communities. To enable men and women to find suitable partners, many groups would come together for annual gatherings (commonly known as corroborees) at which goods were traded, news exchanged, and marriages arranged amid appropriate ceremonies. This practice both reinforced clan relationships and prevented inbreeding in a society based on small semi-nomadic groups.

The first contact between British explorers and Indigenous Australians came in 1770, when Lieutenant James Cook interacted with the Guugu Yimithirr people around contemporary Cooktown. Cook wrote that he had claimed the east coast of Australia for what was then the Kingdom of Great Britain and named it New South Wales, while on Possession Island off the west coast of Cape York Peninsula. [49] However, it seems that no such claim was made when Cook was in Australia. [50] Cook's orders were to look for "a Continent or Land of great extent" and "with the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient situations in the Country in the name of the King". [51] The British government did not view Aboriginal Australians as the owners of the land as they did not practise farming. [52] British colonisation of Australia began at Port Jackson in 1788 with the arrival of Governor Phillip and the First Fleet. [53] The Governor was instructed to "by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them" and to punish those aiming to "wantonly destroy them". [54]

The immediate reaction of the Eora, who were first to witness it, to colonisation was at first surprise and then aggression. [55] Following this the Eora generally avoided the British for the next two years. [56] They were offended by the British entering their lands and taking advantage of their resources without asking permission, as was customary in Aboriginal society. [54] Some contacts did however occur, with both the Eora and the Tharawal at Botany Bay, including exchanges of gifts. [56] Out of the 17 encounters during the first month, only two involved the Eora entering British settlements. [56] After a year, Phillip decided to capture Indigenous people to teach them English and make them intermediaries, resulting in the kidnappings of Arabanoo and Bennelong, with Phillip getting speared by latter's companion. [54] Bennelong would eventually travel to England with Phillip and Yemmerrawanne in 1793. [57] A Kuringgai man Bungaree also made voyages with Europeans. [57] Following the lethal spearing of a huntsman, possibly by Pemulwuy, Phillip ordered 10 men (but not women or children) in Botany Bay to be captured and beheaded. [58] None were however found. [58]

The first apparent consequence of British settlement appeared in April 1789 when a disease, which was probably smallpox, struck the Aborigines about Port Jackson. [59] Before the epidemic, the First Fleet had equalled the population of the Eora after it the settler population was equal to all Indigenous people on the Cumberland Plain and by 1820, their population of 30,000 was as much of the entire Indigenous populace of New South Wales. [60] A generation after colonization, the Eora, Dharug and Kuringgai had been greatly reduced and were mainly living in the outskirts of European society, though some Indigenous people did continue to live in the coastal regions around Sydney further on, as well as around Georges River and Botany Bay. [61] Further inland, Indigenous peoples were warned of the British invasion after the Cumberland Plain had been taken by 1815, and this information preceded them by hundreds of kilometres. [62] However, by the second generation of contact, many groups in south-eastern Australia were gone. [63] The greatest cause of death was disease, followed by settler and inter-Indigenous killings. [63] This population loss was further exacerbated by an extremely low birth rate. [64] An estimated decline of 80 percent in the population meant that traditional kinship systems and ceremonial obligations became hard to maintain and family and social relations were torn. [65] The survivors came to live on the fringes of European society, living in tents and shacks around towns and riverbanks in poor health. [66]

Aboriginal Tasmanians first came to contact with Europeans when the Baudin expedition to Australia arrived at Adventure Bay in 1802. [67] The French explorers were more friendly to the Indigenous than the British further north. [67] Already earlier, in 1800, European whalers had been to the Bass Strait islands, were they had used kidnapped aboriginal women. [67] The local Indigenous also sold women to the sailors. [68] Later the descendants of these women would be the last survivors of Tasmanian Indigenous people. [63]

Assimilation Edit

The assimilation policy was first started by Governor Macquarie, who established in 1814 the Native Institution in Blacktown "to effect the Civilization of the Aborigines of New South Wales, and to render their Habits more domesticated and industrious" by enrolling children in a residential school. [69] By 1817, 17 were enrolled, one of whom, a girl called Maria, won the first prize in a school exam ahead of European children in 1819. [69] The institution was however closed soon after following Macquarie's replacement for spending. [70] Macquerie also had attempted to settle 16 Kuringgai at George's Head with land, pre-fabricated huts and other supplies, but the families had soon sold the farms and left. [70]

Christian missions were also started at Lake Macquarie in 1827, at Wellington Valley in 1832, and in Port Phillip and Moreton Bay around 1840. [70] These involved learning Indigenous languages, with the Gospel of Luke translated into Awabakal in 1831 by a missionary and Biraban, as well as offering food and sanctuary on the frontier. [71] However, when supplies ran out, the Indigenous would often leave for pastoral stations in search of work. [71] Some missionaries would take children without consent to be taught in dormitories. [72]

The government had started blanket distribution in the 1830s, but ended this in 1844 as a cost-saving measure. [74] It also created Indigenous paramilitary units, called the Australian native police, with these being establish in Port Phillip in 1842, New South Wales in 1848, and in Queensland 1859. [75] Exceptional among these, the Port Phillip force had police powers over white people as well. [76] The forces killed hundreds of (or in the case of Queensland, up to a thousand) Indigenous people. [77]

In 1833, A committee of the British House of Commons, led by Fowell Buxton demanded better treatment of the Indigenous, referring to them as 'original owners', leading the British government in 1838 to create the office of the Protector of Aborigines. [78] However, this effort ended by 1857. [78] Nevertheless, the humanitarian effort did produce the Waste Land Act of 1848, which gave indigenous people certain rights and reserves on the land. [79]

There was also some assimilation of settlers into Indigenous cultures. Living with Indigenous people was William Buckley, an escaped convict, who was with the Wautharong people near Melbourne for thirty-two years, before being found in 1835. Eliza Fraser was a Scottish woman who was aboard a ship that wrecked at an island off the coast of Queensland, Australia, on 22 May 1836, and who was taken in by the Badtjala (Butchella) people. James Morrill was an English sailor aboard the vessel Peruvian which became shipwrecked off the coast of north-eastern Australia in 1846, was taken in by a local clan of Aboriginal Australians. He adopted their language and customs and lived as a member of their society for 17 years. Indigenous peoples also adopted the European dog widely. [80]

Conflict Edit

On the mainland, prolonged conflict followed the frontier of European settlement. [81] A minimum of 40,000 Indigenous Australians and between 2,000 and 2,500 settlers died in the wars. However, recent scholarship on the frontier wars in what is now the state of Queensland indicates that Indigenous fatalities may have been significantly higher. Indeed, while battles and massacres occurred in a number of locations across Australia, they were particularly bloody in Queensland, owing to its comparatively larger pre-contact Indigenous population. It is estimated that up to 3,000 white people were killed by Aboriginal Australians in the frontier violence. [82] Some Indigenous people also allied with the colonists against other Indigenous people. [83] Colonization accelerated fighting between Indigenous groups by causing them to leave their traditional lands as well as by causing deaths by disease which were attributed to enemy sorcery. [84] Indigenous gun ownership was banned in New South Wales in 1840, but this was overturned by the British government as inequality before the law. [85]

In 1790, an Aboriginal leader Pemulwuy in Sydney resisted the Europeans, [86] waging a guerrilla-style warfare on the settlers in a series of wars known as the Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars, which spanned 26 years, from 1790 to 1816. [87] After his death in 1802, his son Tedbury continued the campaign until 1810. [60] The campaign led to the banning of Aboriginal groups of more than six and forbid them from carrying weapons closer to two kilometers from settlements. [60] Beyond the Cumberland Plain, violence erupted first at Bathurst against the Wiradjuri, with martial law declared in 1822 and the 40th Regiment responding. [88] This became known as the Bathurst War.

In Van Diemen's Land, conflict arrived in 1824 after major expansion of settler and sheep numbers, with Indigenous warriors responding by killing 24 Europeans by 1826. [88] In 1828, martial law was declared and bounty parties of settlers took vengeance. [89] On the Indigenous side, Musquito led the Oyster Bay tribe against the settlers. [75] Tarenorerer was another leader. The Black War, fought largely as a guerrilla war by both sides, claimed the lives of 600 to 900 Aboriginal people and more than 200 European colonists, nearly annihilating the island's indigenous population. [90] [91] The near-destruction of the Aboriginal Tasmanians, and the frequent incidence of mass killings, has sparked debate among historians over whether the Black War should be defined as an act of genocide. [92]

In Swan River Colony, conflict occurred near Perth, with the government offering the use of the armoury for the settlers. [83] A punitive party was led against the Pindjarup in 1834. [83]

Diseases Edit

Deadly infectious diseases like smallpox, influenza and tuberculosis were always major causes of Aboriginal deaths. [93] Smallpox alone killed more than 50% of the Aboriginal population. [7] Other diseases included dysentery, scarlet fever, typhus, measles, whooping cough and influenza. [94] Sexually transmitted infections were also introduced by colonialism. [94] Health decline was also caused by increasing use of flour and sugar instead of more diverse traditional diets, resulting in malnutrition. [95] Alcohol was also first introduced by colonialism, leading to alcoholism. [96]

In April 1789, a major outbreak of smallpox killed large numbers of Indigenous Australians between Hawkesbury River, Broken Bay, and Port Hacking. Based on information recorded in the journals of some members of the First Fleet, it has been surmised that the Aborigines of the Sydney region had never encountered the disease before and lacked immunity to it. Unable to understand or counter the sickness, they often fled, leaving the sick with some food and water to fend for themselves. As the clans fled, the epidemic spread further along the coast and into the hinterland. This had a disastrous effect on Aboriginal society with many of the productive hunters and gatherers dead, those who survived the initial outbreak began to starve. [ citation needed ]

Some have suggested that Makasar fishermen accidentally brought smallpox to Australia's north and the virus travelled south. [97] However, given that the spread of the disease depends on high population densities, and the fact that those who succumbed were soon incapable of walking, such an outbreak was unlikely to have spread across the desert trade routes. [98] A more likely source of the disease was the "variolas matter" Surgeon John White brought with him on the First Fleet, although it is unknown how this may have been spread. [98] It has also been speculated that the vials were either accidentally or intentionally released as a "biological weapon". [99] In 2014, writing in Journal of Australian Studies, Christopher Warren concluded that British marines were most likely to have spread smallpox, possibly without informing Governor Phillip, but conceded in his conclusion that "today's evidence only provides for a balancing of probabilities and this is all that can be attempted." [100] : 79,68–86

Economy and environment Edit

In 1822, the British government rediced duties on Australian wool, leading to an expansion of sheep numbers, followed by increased immigration. [101] The sheep flourished in the arid western plains. [102] The settlers created an ecological revolution, as their cattle ate away local grasses and trampled waterholes, with precious food staples like murnong diminished, and with new weeds spreading. [103] Meat sources like kangaroo and the Australian brushturkey were replaced by cattle. [104] In response, Indigenous peoples would appropriate settler resources, such as taking sheep and raising their own flocks. [104] New economic products also disrupted traditional lifestyles, as for example in the case of the steel axe, which replaced the traditional stone one, resulting in a loss of authority to the older men who traditionally had access to them. [105] The new axes would be given to younger people by settlers and missionaries in exchange for work, also diminishing old trading networks. [105]

Following the loss of lands, Indigenous people 'came in' to pastoral station, missions and towns, often forced by lack of food. [106] Tobacco, tea and sugar were also important in attracting Indigenous people to settlers. [107] After some handouts, work was demanded by the settlers in return for rations, leading to Indigenous employment in cutting timber, herding and shearing sheep, and in stock work. [108] They were also working as fishermen, water carriers, domestic servants, boatmen and whalers. [109] However, European work ethic was not part of their culture, as working beyond the amount necessary for future benefits was seen as not important. [110] Their pay was also unequal to that of settlers, being mostly rations or less than half the wage. [110] Women had previously been the main providers in Indigenous families, but their roles were diminished as men became the main recipients of wages and rations, while women could at most find European-style domestic work or prostitution, leading some to live with European men who had access to resources. [111]

By 1850, southern Australia had been settled by the British, except for the Great Victoria Desert, Nullarbor Plain, Simpson Desert, and Channel Country. [112] European explorers had started to venture into these areas, as well as the Top End and Cape York Peninsula. [112] By 1862 they had crossed the continent and entered Kimberley and Pilbara, while consolidating colonial claims in the process. [112] Indigenous reaction to them ranged from assistance to hostility. [112] Any new lands were claimed, mapped and opened to pastoralists, with North Queensland settled in the 1860's, Central Australia and the Northern Territory in the 1870's, Kimberley in the 1880's, and the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges after 1900. [112] [113] This again led to violent confrontation with the Indigenous peoples. [112] However, because of the dryness and remoteness of the new frontier, settlement and economic development were slower. [114] The European population therefore remained small and consequently more fearful, with few police protecting the Indigenous population. [114] It is estimated that in North Queensland 15 percent of the first wave of pastoralists were killed in Indigenous attacks, while 10 times more of the other side met the same fate. [115] In the Gulf Country, over 400 violent Indigenous deaths were recorded 1872 to 1903. [116]

In the earlier settled southern parts of Australia, only 20,000 Indigenous individuals (10 percent of the total at the beginning of colonization), remained by the 1920's, with half being of mixed ancestry. [117] There about 7000 in New South Wales, 5000 in southern Queensland, 2500 in south-west Western Australia, 1000 in southern South Australia, 500 in Victoria, and under 200 in Tasmania (mostly on Cape Barren Island). [117] One fifth lived in reserves, while most of the rest were in camps around country towns, with small numbers owning farms or living in towns or capital cities. [117] In the country as a whole, there were about 60,000 Indigenous people in 1930. [118]

The Defence Act of 1903 only allowed those of "European origin or descent" to enlist in military service. [119] However, in 1914 around 800 Aboriginal people answered the call to arms to fight in World War I. [120] As the war continued, these restrictions were relaxed as more recruits were needed. [ citation needed ] Many enlisted by claiming they were Māori or Indian. [121] During World War II, after the threat of Japanese invasion of Australia, Indigenous enlistment was accepted. [122] Up to 3000 individuals of mixed descent served in the military, including Reg Saunders, the first indigenous officer. [123] The Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit, and the Snake Bay Patrol were also established. Another 3000 civilians worked in labour corps. [123]

Employment, wagelessness and resistance Edit

Nevertheless, Indigenous workers in the north were able to find jobs better than in south since there was no cheap convict labour available, though they were not paid in wages and were abused. [124] There was a widely held belief that white people could not work in Northern Australia. [125] Pearl hunting employed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers, though many were coerced into it. [126] By the 1880's, the introduction of diving suits had reduced Indigenous workers to deckhands. [127] Otherwise Indigenous people congregated at settlements such as Broome (servicing luggers) or Darwin (where 20 percent of the Northern Territory's Indigenous workers were employed). [125] However, in Darwin the Indigenous workers were kept locked up at night. [128] Most of the Indigenous workers in North Queensland, the Northern Territory, and the Kimberley were employed by the cattle industry. [128] Wage payment varied by state. In Queensland, wages were paid from 1901 onwards, being set at a third of white wages in 1911, two-thirds in 1918, and equal in 1930. [129] However, some of the wages were deposited on trust accounts, from which they could be stolen. [129] In the Northern Territory, there was no requirement to pay a wage. [129] Overall, up to the Second World War about half of the Indigenous stockmen received wages, and if so, they were well below the white level. [130] There was also physical abuse of the workers, sometimes including by the police. [131]

On 4 February 1939, Jack Patten led a strike at Cummeragunja Station in New South Wales. The people of Cummeragunja were protesting their harsh treatment under what was a draconian system. A once successful farming enterprise was taken from their control, and residents were forced to subsist on meagre rations. Approximately 200 people left their homes, taking part in the Cummeragunja walk-off, and the majority crossed the border into Victoria, never to return home. [132] Following the rising threat from Empire of Japan, the Australian Army came to the north in the early 1940's, bringing new people and ideas while employing Indigenous workers in defence projects. [133] They were paid a wage and mixed with the regular troops. [133] This led the Northern Territory administration to investigate and recommend paying wages, though it was never enforced. [133] Following meetings held by the white communist Don McLeod in 1942, Indigenous groups in Pilbara decided to go on strike, which they did after the end of the war in the 1946 Pilbara strike. [134] In 1949, they finally won a wage double the size of their original demand, and were encouraged to start their own co-operative based on the mining they had been doing while on strike. [135] Along the war, this event also helped reduce the abuse of Indigenous workers. [136]

Racism and the early civil rights movement Edit

As scientific racism developed from Darwinism (with Charles Darwin himself having claimed after visiting New South Wales that the death of "the Aboriginal" was a consequence of natural selection), the popular view of Indigenous Australians started to see them as inferior. [137] Indigenous Australians were considered in the global scientific community as the world's most primitive humans, leading to trade of human remains and relics. [138] This was especially true of Indigenous Tasmanians, with 120 books and articles written by scholars around the world by the late 19th century. [139] Some Indigenous people were also toured and exhibited around the world as spectacles. [140] However, in the 1930s, physical anthropology was taken over by cultural anthropology, which focused cultural difference over inferiority. [141] Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, the father of modern social anthropology, published his Social Organization of Australian Tribes in 1931. [142]

By 1900 most white Australians held racist views of the Indigenous peoples, and the Constitution of Australia of that year did not count them alongside other Australians in the census. [143] Racist treatment was also encoded in special Acts governing Indigenous peoples separately from the rest of society. [144] Racism also manifested itself in everyday discrimination, which was termed the 'colour bar' or the 'caste barrier'. [145] This affected life in most settled parts of Australia, though not that much in the capital cities. [145] For example, from the 1890s to 1949, the New South Wales government removed Indigenous children from state schools if non-Indigenous parents objected to their presence, placing them instead to reserve schools with worse education. [145] The same policy was in place in Western Australia, as well, where only one percent of Indigenous children attended state schools. [145] Indigenous residents of New South Wales were also not permitted to buy or drink alcohol. [145] These kinds of restrictions did not apply in Victoria, with a smaller Indigenous population and an assimilationist policy. [145] Furthermore, Indigenous people were often excluded from organisations, businesses, and sports or recreational facilities, such as pools. [145] Employment and housing was difficult to find for them. [145]

Women's groups, such as the Australian Federation of Women Voters and the National Council of Women of Australia, became advocates for Indigenous issues in the 1920s. [146] The first Indigenous political organisation was the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association, established in 1924, with 11 branches and over 500 Indigenous members in a year. [147] It had been partly inspired by Marcus Garvey. [147] In 1926, the Native Union in Western Australia was founded. [148] White advocate groups emerged in the 1930s. [146] Other Indigenous organisations included the Euralian Association set up in 1934, the Australian Aborigines' League in 1934, and the Aborigines Progressive Association in 1937. [148] The latter marked Invasion Day on the 150th anniversary of the First Fleet's landing. [148]

Reserves and protection boards Edit

The only known treaty between Indigenous and European Australians was Batman's Treaty, signed by Billibellary. His son, Simon Wonga, and other Kulin nation leaders requested land in 1859 for cultivation, and were granted 1820 hectares in the Acheron River by the Victorian government. [149] In 1860, the same government established Aboriginal reserves in Coranderrk, Framlingham, Lake Condah, Ebenezer, Ramahyuck, as well as Lake Tyers. [150] Corranderrk was notably successful, becoming practically self-sufficient and winning the first prize for their hops at the Melbourne International Exhibition. [151] Nevertheless, the inhabitants were refused to be given individual land titles or be paid wages. [152] In South Australia, Raukkan and Poonindie were also set up as communities for Indigenous peoples. [153] In New South Wales, such communities included Maloga, Brungle, Warangesda, and Cummeragunja. [154]

However, the reserve system also gave authorities power over Indigenous people, with the Aboriginal Protection Board exercising control over work and wages, adult movement, and child removal in Victoria from 1869 onwards. [155] With the Half-Caste Act of 1886, the Victorian government started removing those with partial European ancestry from the reserves, with the claimed aim to "merge the half-caste population into the general community", which was also followed in New South Wales with the Aborigines Protection Act 1909. [156] This had deleterious consequences for the viability of the communities, leading to their decline. [156] The Queensland Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897 became a model for Indigenous legislation in Western Australia (1905), South Australia (1911), and the Northern Territory (1911), which gave the authorities power over anyone deemed 'Aboriginal' in regards to placing them or their children in reserves, denying voting rights or the ability to buy alcohol, as well as prohibiting interracial sexual relations (requiring a ministerial permission for interracial marriage). [157]

The reserves were subsequently mostly reduced, closed and sold off by the 1920's. [158] Meanwhile, the Protection Boards became more powerful in 1915 in New South Wales after new legislation gave them the power to remove children of mixed ancestry without parental or court approval. [159] Later research shows that the authorities aimed to reunite white families without doing so foe Indigenous ones. [159] Overall Indigenous communities in south-eastern Australia became increasingly under government control, with a dependence on weekly rations instead of agricultural work. [160] The 1897 Queensland Act and its subsequent amendments gave reserve superintendents the right to search people and their dwellings or belongings, to confiscate their property and read their mail, as well as to expel them to other reserves, among other powers. [144] The inhabitants had to work 32 hours a week without pay, and were subject to verbal abuse, while their traditions were prohibited. [144]

World War II led to improvements and new opportunities in Indigenous lives through employment in the services and war time industries. [161] After the war, full employment continued, with 96 percent of New South Wales' Indigenous population being employed in 1948. [161] The Commonwealth Child Endowment, as well as the Invalid and Old Age Pensions, were expanded to Indigenous people outside of reserves during the war, though full inclusiveness only followed by 1966. [161] The 1940's also saw individuals given the ability to apply for freedom from Aboriginal Acts, though onerous conditions kept the numbers relatively low. [162] The Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1948 also gave citizenship to any Indigenous people born in Australia. [162] In 1949, the right to vote in federal elections was extended to Indigenous Australians who had served in the armed forces, or were enrolled to vote in state elections.

The postwar era also saw the increased removal of children under assimilationist policies, with between 10 and 33 percent of Aboriginal children being removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. [163] The number may have been over 70,000 across 70 years. [163] By 1961, the Aboriginal population had risen to 106,000. [164] This went hand-in-hand with urbanization, with the population in capital cities increasing by the 1960's with 12,000 in Sydney, 5000 in Brisbane and 2000 in Melbourne. [164]

In 1962, the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders started advocating for wage equality, successfully pressuring the Australian Council of Trade Unions to join the cause. [165] As a result, in 1965 the Australian Industrial Relations Commission declared that there should be no discrimination in Australian industrial relations law. [166] However, after this pastoralists began to mechanize their operations with fencing and helicopters, as well as stating to employ white Australians. [167] By 1971, Indigenous labour had reduced by 30 percent in some places. [167] Unemployment rose massively during the rest of the decade, with Indigenous people being pushed off pastoral properties and gathering in northern towns such as Katherine, Tennant Creek, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome and Derby. [168]

Indigenous people generally had very poor economic opportunities, with 81 percent of workers being unskilled, 18 percent semi-skilled, and just 1 percent skilled in New South Wales in the mid-'60s. [169] Health differences to the general population were massive, with many times worse infant mortality rates and child health, especially in the Northern Territory. [170] Issues of malnutrition, poverty and poor sanitation led to health effects on children potentially affecting school success. [171] The lack of skills in New South Wales was accompanied with only 4 percent having finished secondary or apprentice training. [172] Heavy drinking was also widespread. [173]

Notable Indigenous individuals during the post-war era included activist Douglas Nicholls, artist Albert Namatjira, opera singer Harold Blair, and actor Robert Tudawali. [174] Many Indigenous people were also successful in sports, with 30 national and 5 commonwealth boxing champions by 1980. [175] Lionel Rose had become the world bantamweight champion in 1968. [175] In tennis, Evonne Goolagong Cawley won 11 Grand Slams in the 1970s. [175] Notable players in rugby and Australian rules football included Polly Farmer, Arthur Beetson, Mark Ella, Glen Ella, Gary Ella. [176]

Activism Edit

In the 1950's, new political activism for Indigenous rights emerged with 'advancement leagues', which were biracial coalitions. [177] These included the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship in Sydney and the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League. [177] Similar leagues existed in Perth and Brisbane. [178] A national federation for them was established in 1958 in the form of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. [178] Conflict over white and Indigenous power within the organisations led to their decline by the 1970's. [179]

Following the Sharpeville massacre, racial issues became a bigger part of student politics, with an educational assistance program called ABSCHOL established by the National Union of Students. [177] In 1965, Charles Perkins organised the Freedom Ride with University of Sydney students, inspired by the American Freedom Riders. [180] The reaction by locals was often violent. [180]

Political rights Edit

All Indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections in Australia by the Menzies government in 1962. [181] The first federal election in which all Aboriginal Australians could vote was held in November 1963. The right to vote in state elections was granted in Western Australia in 1962 and Queensland was the last state to do so in 1965.

The 1967 referendum, passed with a 90% majority, allowed Indigenous Australians to be included in the Commonwealth parliament's power to make special laws for specific races, and to be included in counts to determine electoral representation. This has been the largest affirmative vote in the history of Australia's referenda.

In 1971, Yolngu people at Yirrkala sought an injunction against Nabalco to cease mining on their traditional land. In the resulting historic and controversial Gove land rights case, Justice Blackburn ruled that Australia had been terra nullius before European settlement, and that no concept of Native title existed in Australian law. Although the Yolngu people were defeated in this action, the effect was to highlight the absurdity of the law, which led first to the Woodward Commission, and then to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

In 1972, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established on the steps of Parliament House in Canberra, in response to the sentiment among Indigenous Australians that they were "strangers in their own country". A Tent Embassy still exists on the same site.

In 1975, the Whitlam government drafted the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, which aimed to restore traditional lands to Indigenous people. After the dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor-General, a reduced-scope version of the Act (known as the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976) was introduced by the coalition government led by Malcolm Fraser. While its application was limited to the Northern Territory, it did grant "inalienable" freehold title to some traditional lands.

In 1984, a group of Pintupi people who were living a traditional hunter-gatherer desert-dwelling life were tracked down in the Gibson Desert in Western Australia and brought into a settlement. They are believed to have been the last uncontacted tribe in Australia. [182]

A 1987 federal government report described the history of the "Aboriginal Homelands Movement" or "Return to Country movement" as "a concerted attempt by Aboriginal people in the 'remote' areas of Australia to leave government settlements, reserves, missions and non-Aboriginal townships and to re-occupy their traditional country". [183]

In 1992, the Australian High Court handed down its decision in the Mabo Case, declaring the previous legal concept of terra nullius to be invalid. This decision legally recognised certain land claims of Indigenous Australians in Australia prior to British Settlement. Legislation was subsequently enacted and later amended to recognise Native Title claims over land in Australia.

In 1998, as the result of an inquiry into the forced removal of Indigenous children (see Stolen generation) from their families, a National Sorry Day was instituted, to acknowledge the wrong that had been done to Indigenous families. Many politicians, from both sides of the house, participated, with the notable exception of the Prime Minister, John Howard.

In 1999 a referendum was held to change the Australian Constitution to include a preamble that, amongst other topics, recognised the occupation of Australia by Indigenous Australians prior to British Settlement. This referendum was defeated, though the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the preamble was not a major issue in the referendum discussion, and the preamble question attracted minor attention compared to the question of becoming a republic.

In 2004, the Australian Government abolished The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), which had been Australia's top Indigenous organisation. The Commonwealth cited corruption and, in particular, made allegations concerning the misuse of public funds by ATSIC's chairman, Geoff Clark, as the principal reason. Indigenous specific programmes have been mainstreamed, that is, reintegrated and transferred to departments and agencies serving the general population. The Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination was established within the then Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, and now with the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to co-ordinate a "whole of government" effort. Funding was withdrawn from remote homelands (outstations). [184]

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This article incorporates text by Anders Bergström et al. available under the CC BY 4.0 license.

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The struggle continues

Today, about three percent of Australia’s population has Aboriginal heritage. Aboriginal Australians still struggle to retain their ancient culture and fight for recognition—and restitution—from the Australian government. The state of Victoria is currently working toward a first-of-its-kind treaty with its Aboriginal population that would recognize Aboriginal Australians’ sovereignty and include compensation. However, Australia itself has never made such a treaty, making it the only country in the British Commonwealth not to have ratified a treaty with its First Nations peoples.


Adapting to a changed environment

It has been argued previously that these specialised tools became more common as a people responded to increased climatic volatility and less secure food resources, with an intensified El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) regime after 4,000 years ago.

These current findings support the notion that the First Australians adapted with ingenuity and flexibility as they quickly dispersed into every bioregion across the country.

For instance, evidence for the earliest ground-edged axe use in the world comes from the Kimberley.

The very early presence of people in the interior deserts of Australia, as well as their very early use of a backed microlith, changes how we understand the adaptive and technological sophistication of early Aboriginal peoples.

The arid zone has often been characterised as an extreme environment occupied only by transient dwellers. Several European explorers perished in their early attempts to explore and traverse Australia’s arid core.


Kakadu archaeological discovery proves First Australians arrived at least 65,000 years ago

NEW evidence has been found at an ancient rock shelter. It has big implications for the history of Australia - and the world.

Discoveries at this rock shelter on a lease surrounded by Kakadu National Park has pushed human habitation in the area back to 65 000 years. Picture: Glenn Campbell Source:AAP

NEW proof has been found showing Aboriginal people lived in Australia up to 18,000 years earlier than once thought, at the same time now-extinct species of giant animals roamed the land.

A team of archaeologists have uncovered a treasure trove of evidence with global significance for the history of human evolution, confirming the colonisation of Australia at least 65,000 years ago.

That’s much earlier than previous estimates of between 47,000 and 60,000 years. The discovery was made at the Northern Territory’s Madjedbebe rock shelter, located on the traditional lands of the Mirarr people surrounded by the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

It sets a new minimum age for the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and across South Asia, and the subsequent interactions of homo sapiens with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

A piece of ground Ochre with striations on it, found at the site. Picture: Glenn Campbell Source:AAP

Findings from the excavation have this week been published in Nature magazine, and lead author Associate Professor Chris Clarkson says the new chronology places people in Australia more than 20,000 years before the continent-wide extinction of megafauna such as giant kangaroos and wombats. The site contains the oldest ground-edge stone axe technology in the world, the oldest known seed grinding tools in Australia and evidence of finely-made stone points which may have served as spear tips.

Hundreds of thousands of unearthed artefacts from the dig also revealed strong Aboriginal cultural continuity, with huge quantities of ground ochre in a region known for its spectacular rock art.

Traditional owners May Nango and Mark Djandjomerr with a stone axe found at the site. Picture: Glenn Campbell Source:AAP

“People who were camping here were really innovative, dynamic, artistic people,” Prof Clarkson said.

The site is located on indigenous land excluded from Kakadu National Park as a result of the Jabiluka uranium mining lease granted in 1982, held by Rio Tinto’s Energy Resources of Australia.

Two decades ago traditional owners led an international campaign against proposed uranium mining at Jabiluka, and all work there has since halted and the site rehabilitated.

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Justin O𠆛rien says the study confirms the sophistication of the Aboriginal toolkit and underscores the need for conservation of the Jabiluka area.

Traditional owners say the discovery has huge importance. Picture: Glenn Campbell Source:AAP

For the first time in Australia, a landmark agreement gives the Mirarr people full control over the excavation, including curatorial powers and the final say over what happens to the artefacts at the end of the dig.

Bininj elder Mark Djandjomerr has been camping at the site with his family since he was a child, and says it has huge cultural importance to his people. Traditional owner May Nango is proud to share her history but is worried the landscape won’t be protected for future generations if mining goes ahead. “This country belongs to Mirarr . we𠆝 like to stay forever,” she said.

Human habitation in the area has been pushed back to 65 000 years by carbon dating this grindstone. Picture: Glenn Campbell Source:AAP


Contents

The ancestors of present-day Aboriginal Australian people migrated from South East Asia by sea during the Pleistocene epoch and lived over large sections of the Australian continental shelf when the sea levels were lower and Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea were part of the same landmass, known as Sahul. As sea levels rose, the people on the Australian mainland and nearby islands became increasingly isolated, and some were isolated on Tasmania and some of the smaller offshore islands when the land was inundated at the start of the Holocene, the inter-glacial period which started about 11,700 years ago and persists today. [6] Prehistorians believe that it would have been difficult for Aboriginal people to have originated purely from mainland Asia, and not enough numbers would have made it to Australia and surrounding islands to fulfil the beginning of the population that we have seen in the last century. This is why it is commonly believed that most Aboriginal Australians have originated from South East Asia, and if this is the case, Australian Aboriginals would have been among the first in the world to have completed successful sea voyages. [7]

A 2017 paper in Nature evaluated artefacts in Kakadu and concluded "Human occupation began around 65,000 years ago". [8]

A 2021 study by researchers at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage has mapped the likely migration routes of the peoples as they moved across the Australian continent to its southern reaches of what is now Tasmania, then part of the mainland. The modelling is based on data from archaeologists, anthropologists, ecologists, geneticists, climatologists, geomorphologists, and hydrologists, and it is intended to compare the modelling with the oral histories of Aboriginal peoples, including Dreaming stories, as well as Australian rock art and linguistic features of the many Aboriginal languages. The routes, dubbed "superhighways" by the authors, are similar to current highways and stock routes in Australia. Lynette Russell of Monash University sees the new model as a starting point for collaboration with Aboriginal people to help uncover their history. The new models suggest that the first people may have first landed in the Kimberley region in what is now Western Australia about 60,000 years ago, and had settled across the continent within 6,000 years. [9] [10]

Genetics Edit

Studies regarding the genetic makeup of Aboriginal Australian people are still ongoing, but evidence has suggested that they have genetic inheritance from ancient Eurasian but not more modern peoples, share some similarities with Papuans, but have been isolated from Southeast Asia for a very long time.

Aboriginal people are genetically most similar to the indigenous populations of Papua New Guinea, and more distantly related to groups from East Indonesia. They are quite distinct from the indigenous populations of Borneo and Malaysia, sharing relatively little genomic information as compared to the groups from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. This indicates that Australia was isolated for a long time from the rest of Southeast Asia, and remained untouched by migrations and population expansions into that area. [11]

In a 2001 study, blood samples were collected from some Warlpiri people in the Northern Territory, to study their genetic makeup (which is not representative of all Aboriginal peoples in Australia). The study concluded that the Warlpiri are descended from ancient Asians whose DNA is still somewhat present in Southeastern Asian groups, although greatly diminished. The Warlpiri DNA lacks certain information found in modern Asian genomes, and carries information not found in other genomes, reinforcing the idea of ancient Aboriginal isolation. [11]

In a 2011 genetic study by Morten Rasmussen et al., researchers took a DNA sample from an early-20th-century lock of an Aboriginal person's hair. They found that the ancestors of the Aboriginal Australian population split off from other Eurasians between 62,000 and 75,000 BP, whereas the European and Asian populations split only 25,000 to 38,000 years BP, indicating an extended period of Aboriginal genetic isolation. These Aboriginal ancestors probably migrated into South Asia and then into Australia, where they stayed, with the result that, outside of Africa, the Aboriginal peoples have occupied the same territory continuously longer than any other human populations. These findings suggest that modern Aboriginal Australians are the direct descendants of migrants who left Africa up to 75,000 years ago. [12] [13] [14] This finding is compatible with earlier archaeological finds of human remains near Lake Mungo that date to approximately 40,000 years ago. [ citation needed ] The idea of the "oldest continuous culture" is based on the geographical isolation of the Aboriginal peoples, with little or no interaction with outside cultures before some contact with Makassan fisherman and Dutch explorers up to 500 years BP. [15]

The Rasmussen study also found evidence that Aboriginal peoples carry some of the genes associated with the Denisovans (a species of human related to but distinct from Neanderthals) of Asia the study suggests that there is an increase in allele sharing between the Denisovan and Aboriginal Australian genomes, compared to other Eurasians and to Africans. Examining DNA from a finger bone excavated in Siberia, researchers concluded that the Denisovans migrated from Siberia to tropical parts of Asia and that they interbred with modern humans in South-East Asia 44,000 years BP, before Australia separated from New Guinea approximately 11,700 years BP. They contributed DNA to Aborigines along with present-day New Guineans and an indigenous tribe in the Philippines known as Mamanwa. This study makes Aboriginal Australians one of the oldest living populations in the world and possibly the oldest outside of Africa, confirming they may also have the oldest continuous culture on the planet. [16]

A 2016 study at the University of Cambridge by Christopher Klein et al. reported that Papuan and Aboriginal peoples developed distinct markers around 58,000 years BP that distinguished them from the original out-of-Africa migration around 72,000 years BP, pointing to a single migration henceforth untouched by other groups. The study suggests that it was about 50,000 years ago that these peoples reached Sahul (the supercontinent consisting of present-day Australia and its islands and New Guinea). The sea levels rose and isolated Australia (and Tasmania) about 10,000 years ago, but Aborigines and Papuans diverged from each other genetically earlier, about 37,000 years BP, possibly because the remaining land bridge was impassable, and it was this isolation which makes it the world's oldest civilisation. The study also found evidence of an unknown hominin group, distantly related to Denisovans, with whom the Aboriginal and Papuan ancestors must have interbred, leaving a trace of about 4% in most Aboriginal Australians' genome. There is, however, huge genetic diversity among Aboriginal Australians based on geographical distribution. [17]

Changes around 4,000 years ago Edit

The dingo reached Australia about 4,000 years ago, and around the same time there were changes in language (with the Pama-Nyungan language family spreading over most of the mainland), and in stone tool technology, with the use of smaller tools. Human contact has thus been inferred, and genetic data of two kinds have been proposed to support a gene flow from India to Australia: firstly, signs of South Asian components in Aboriginal Australian genomes, reported on the basis of genome-wide SNP data and secondly, the existence of a Y chromosome (male) lineage, designated haplogroup C∗, with the most recent common ancestor around 5,000 years ago. [18] The first type of evidence comes from a 2013 study by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology using large-scale genotyping data from a pool of Aboriginal Australians, New Guineans, island Southeast Asians, and Indians. It found that the New Guinea and Mamanwa (Philippines area) groups diverged from the Aboriginal about 36,000 years ago (and supporting evidence that these populations are descended from migrants taking an early “southern route” out of Africa, before other groups in the area), and also that the Indian and Australian populations mixed well before European contact, with this gene flow occurring during the Holocene (c. 4,200 years ago). [19] The researchers had two theories for this: either some Indians had contact with people in Indonesia who eventually transferred those Indian genes to Aboriginal Australians, or that a group of Indians migrated all the way from India to Australia and intermingled with the locals directly. [20] [21]

However, a 2016 study in Current Biology by Anders Bergström et al. excluded the Y chromosome as providing evidence for recent gene flow from India into Australia. The study authors sequenced 13 Aboriginal Australian Y chromosomes using recent advances in gene sequencing technology, investigating their divergence times from Y chromosomes in other continents, including comparing the haplogroup C chromosomes. They found a divergence time of about 54,100 years between the Sahul C chromosome and its closest relative C5, as well as about 54,300 years between haplogroups K*/M and their closest haplogroups R and Q. The deep divergence time of 50,000+ years with the South Asian chromosome and "the fact that the Aboriginal Australian Cs share a more recent common ancestor with Papuan Cs" excludes any recent genetic contact. [18]

The authors concluded that, although this does not disprove the presence of any Holocene gene flow or non-genetic influences from South Asia at that time, and the appearance of the dingo does provide strong evidence for external contacts, the evidence overall is consistent with a complete lack of gene flow, and points to indigenous origins for the technological and linguistic changes. They attributed the disparity between their results and previous findings to improvements in technology none of the other studies had utilized complete Y chromosome sequencing, which has the highest precision. Redd et al. used ten Y STRs, a method that has been shown to massively underestimate divergence times. Gene flow across the island-dotted 150-kilometre-wide (93 mi) Torres Strait, is both geographically plausible and demonstrated by the data, although at this point it could not be determined from this study when within the last 10,000 years it may have occurred – newer analytical techniques have the potential to address such questions. [18]

Bergstrom's 2018 doctoral thesis looking at the population of Sahul suggests that other than relatively recent admixture, the populations of the region appear to have been genetically independent from the rest of the world since their divergence about 50,000 years ago. He writes "There is no evidence for South Asian gene flow to Australia . Despite Sahul being a single connected landmass until [8,000 years ago], different groups across Australia are nearly equally related to Papuans, and vice versa, and the two appear to have separated genetically already [about 30,000 years ago]". [22]

Environmental adaptations Edit

Aboriginal Australians possess inherited abilities to stand a wide range of environmental temperatures in various ways. A study in 1958 comparing cold adaptation in the desert-dwelling Pitjantjatjara people compared with a group of white people showed that the cooling adaptation of the Aboriginal group differed from that of the white people, and that they were able to sleep more soundly through a cold desert night. [23] A 2014 Cambridge University study found that a beneficial mutation in two genes which regulate thyroxine, a hormone involved in regulating body metabolism, helps to regulate body temperature in response to fever. The effect of this is that the desert people are able to have a higher body temperature without accelerating the activity of the whole of the body, which can be especially detrimental in childhood diseases. This helps protect people to survive the side-effects of infection. [24] [25]

Aboriginal people have lived for tens of thousands of years on the continent of Australia, through its various changes in landmass. The area within Australia's borders today includes the islands of Tasmania, Fraser Island, Hinchinbrook Island, [26] the Tiwi Islands and Groote Eylandt. Indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands, however, are not Aboriginal. [27] [28] [29] [30]

In the 2016 Australian Census, Indigenous Australians comprised 3.3% of Australia's population, with 91% of these identifying as Aboriginal only, 5% Torres Strait Islander, and 4% both. [31]

Aboriginal people also live throughout the world as part of the Australian diaspora. [ citation needed ]

Most Aboriginal people speak English, [32] with Aboriginal phrases and words being added to create Australian Aboriginal English (which also has a tangible influence of Aboriginal languages in the phonology and grammatical structure). [33] Some Aboriginal people, especially those living in remote areas, are multi-lingual. [32] Many of the original 250–400 Aboriginal languages (more than 250 languages and about 800 dialectal varieties on the continent) are endangered or extinct, [34] although some efforts are being made at language revival for some. As of 2016, only 13 traditional Indigenous languages were still being acquired by children, [35] and about another 100 spoken by older generations only. [34]


Australian dig finds evidence of Aboriginal habitation up to 80,000 years ago

A groundbreaking archaeological discovery in Australia’s north has extended the known length of time Aboriginal people have inhabited the continent to at least 65,000 years.

The findings on about 11,000 artefacts from Kakadu national park, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, prove Indigenous people have been in Australia for far longer than the much-contested estimates of between 47,000 and 60,000 years, the researchers said. Some of the artefacts were potentially as old as 80,000 years.

The new research upends decades-old estimates about the human colonisation of the continent, their interaction with megafauna, and the dispersal of modern humans from Africa and across south Asia.

“People got here much earlier than we thought, which means of course they must also have left Africa much earlier to have traveled on their long journey through Asia and south-east Asia to Australia,” said the lead author, Associate Prof Chris Clarkson, from the University of Queensland.

“It also means the time of overlap with the megafauna, for instance, is much longer than originally thought – maybe as much as 20,000 or 25,000 years. It puts to rest the idea that Aboriginal people wiped out the megafauna very quickly.”

Clarkson said the Madjedbebe rock shelter where the artefacts were found – which has been excavated four times since the 1970s – had been controversial in the past, but the processes used to date the artefacts meant the team could say “precisely” that the area was occupied 65,000 years ago and “hopefully put the controversy to rest”.

The findings also suggested people crossed over from south Asia at a time that was cooler and wetter, with lower sea levels allowing easier sea crossings.

The significant trove of thousands of artefacts was buried in 2.6 metres of sand and sediment on the western edge of the Arnhem Land plateau. The site at Madjedbebe is on the traditional lands of the Mirarr people, but currently within the confines of the Jabiluka uranium mining lease, and surrounded by the 20,000 hectares of the heritage-listed Kakadu.

Madjedbebe site custodian May Nango and excavation leader Chris Clarkson in the pit. Photograph: Dominic Oɻrien/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation

Much of the success of the five-year-long project is credited to a unique and benchmark-setting agreement between the researchers and the Mirarr, who retained total control over the dig and the artefacts.

The discovery adds western scientific evidence to Indigenous cultural knowledge about the length of time their ancestors have occupied the land.

“We’d like to tell people we were here long enough – tell all the Balanda [non-Indigenous people] about the stories, that people were here a long time,” Mirarr traditional owner May Nango said.

More than 10,000 artefacts were uncovered in the “zone of first occupation”, including ochre and reflective paint substances, as well as the oldest unbroken ground-edge stone axes in the world, by about 20,000 years, and the oldest known seed-grinding tools in Australia.

“What we found was it’s not just one kind of hatchet head we’ve got, but four or five quite different kinds,” said professor Richard Fullagar from the University of Wollongong.

Fullagar also said there were significant consistencies in the discovered technologies, throughout the timeframe.

“There’s a huge variety of these things spread over thousands of years. In some ways there are strong similarities with what happens at the very beginning, but there are also remarkable changes.”

In the deepest levels of sediment, some artefacts were estimated to be about 80,000 years old – or at least 95% likely to be older than 70,000, the report noted. This did not necessarily indicate occupation, and there was some chance artefacts had shifted in the movement of the earth. However the layer of earth at 65,000 years was found to be a dense occupation layer, with multiple experiments finding no suggestion the earth had shifted.

Edge-ground hatchet head being excavated. Photograph: Chris Clarkson/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation

Artefacts were both carbon dated and dated using optically stimulated luminescence, a technique that measures the radiative signature of a grain of sand to measure when it was last exposed to sunlight.

That dating method meant samples had to be extracted in complete darkness under red lights.

“We worked in darkroom conditions,” the University of Wollongong research fellow Prof Zenobia Jacobs said. “The moment we expose it to UV or sunlight it will reset that signal within seconds.”

That date was confirmed by researchers at the University of Adelaide, who tested a blind sample, and at New Zealand’s Waikato University.

The site has been excavated twice by Clarkson’s team, under a special agreement with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, in partnership with the current leaseholders, Energy Resources of Australia.

Under the agreement, which Clarkson described as one of the strongest in Australia, the Mirarr have total control over the extent of the dig, and veto power. All discoveries must be reported to them and all artefacts must be returned to the Mirarr at the end of the project.

“They have to bring it back here, it belongs to this place,” said May Nango, a Mirarr traditional owner. “We trust them to work this place.”

Nango said the country had to be protected for the younger generations, and she was worried about non-Indigenous people coming in and clearing out trees or mining.

“We like to stay forever, we’re buried here too. We like to stay forever on our land, and we like to teach our young kids too so they remember our old people who gave us the stories.”

Clarkson and traditional owner Nango at the dig. Photograph: Glenn Campbell

David Vadiveloo, a lawyer and consultant to the corporation, said the agreement set a benchmark for “hard and fast obligations” on the university to ensure control over the site remained with the Indigenous custodians.

“Most [Australian] agreements we were able to site when we were trying to draft this gave a sort of looser understanding that the university would respect the rights of the traditional owners and would do their very best,” he said.

“It was very clear in our minds that the Mirarr did not want this to be a project about them, they wanted this to be a project that was partnership with them.”

The strength of the agreement benefited the researchers, fostering trust to the extent that many members provided information about the origins of materials or the specific uses of implements, drawn from their own cultural knowledge.

It also potentially saved the project from a premature shutdown, when human bones were found very early on in the dig.

“The Aboriginal community wanted things stopped, and the agreement allowed them to then enter into discussion from a position of control,” said Vadiveloo.

“If there had no been an agreement, I would hazard a guess that the community would have shut the dig down, but because the agreement was so robust, because they knew they could control what was done with everything that was removed, how it was going to be removed, how it was going to be stored – particularly in relation to bones of ancestors – they were then cautiously happy for the dig to proceed.

“That means you get a great outcome for the research and a great outcome for the community feeling they maintained control over what’s happening on their country.”

Researchers are now systematically surveying the surrounding area to find additional sites, to see if even older evidence of occupation can be found.

Simon Mudjandi, a Mirarr traditional owner, said his family had travelled through the area and camped at Madjedbebe for generations.

“I feel proud to come from here because country is important and country needs people,” he said.

“It’s special because it has a lot of sacred sites, and back in the old days our old people used to walk over here looking for bush tucker. They used the rocks and axes.”

Mark Djandjomerr, a Bininj elder and family to Mirarr, said he camped at Madjedbebe as a boy, taking shelter with his family as they walked between communities, avoiding nearby hunting safari sites.

“Mirrar people own this country,” he said. “This is Mirarr home, we need to protect it.”

Clarkson standing in front of the 2015 excavation area with local Djurrubu Aboriginal rangers Vernon Hardy, Mitchum Nango, Jacob Baird, and Claude Hardy. Photograph: Dominic Oɻrien/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation


Watch the video: Die Aborigines in Australien. Doku Lehrfilm