Aboriginal Australians: Black Responses to White Dominance, 1788-2001

By Richard Broome | Go to book overview

1
Traditional Life

The Aranda people of Central Australia believe that sometime in the distant past, sleeping superhuman beings, who were at the one time human and animal, spontaneously broke through the surface of a lifeless and cold earth. As they did so, the sun began to shine, the winds blew and the rains came. These great ancestors then freed the humans and breathed life into them and into the land around them. They performed marvels, great creative deeds and composed stories and ceremonies to lay down guidelines of behaviour. Then, weary from their efforts, they returned to the rocks, trees and waterholes or to the sky. Similarly the people of Arnhem Land believe that their life began when the Djanggawul sisters and their brother came across the sea from the north bearing their sacred mat and dilly-bag from which all life was produced.

Prehistorians prefer to believe that the Aborigines came to Australia from South East Asia. If this is true, then it is fairly certain that they came by design and not by chance. It is unlikely that castaways from the Asian mainland, even had they reached Australia alive, would be in sufficient numbers to found a thriving population here. This view means that the Aborigines were among the world's first successful sea-voyagers.

We can only guess at why they came. Perhaps famine, warfare, curiosity, or sea-level changes drove them to Australia. It is most likely that they came when the sea levels were lowest and more land exposed than now. These levels, up to 200 metres below present levels, were experienced 20,000, 60,000 and 120,000 years ago. The Aboriginal adventurers still had to cross straits in their island-hopping, and still had to navigate across about 100 kilometres of water to reach Australia.

How long ago did this great migration occur? Recent radio-carbon dating has revealed human remains about 30,000 years old at Lake Mungo in southern New South Wales and up to 45,000 years old at Keilor near Melbourne. Even if the Keilor find is the oldest that will be made (and this is extremely unlikely as the Aborigines came from the north) their first arrival in Australia must be more than 50,000 years ago

-13-

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