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Indigenous Australians

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains images and names of deceased persons in the form of photographs, or printed material.


Australia's First People

Many First Nations Australians would say with conviction that they have always been connected to this Country, based on what they have learned from their ancestors about their precise place within the landscape. For all practical purposes, scientific research would show that this is indeed the case. [1]

Indigenous Australian Peoples' first discovered and explored of the continent of Australia at least 50,000 years ago [2], with some recent studies this may be as much as 65,000 years ago [3] [4]

Initially, populations were most likely spread around the coastline, where the most abundant food sources were to be found, before penetrating the interior. By 40,000 years ago they had reached what is now the island of Tasmania across a land bridge that disappeared 12,000 years ago as the sea level rose. However, it is suggested that population numbers declined about 21,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. [5]. Eighty per cent of the land became uninhabitable, and "there was likely a birth rate decline of over 60 per cent". They sought 'refuge' in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory), the Kimberleys, Pilbara, Darling Ranges (Western Australia), Flinders Ranges (South Australia), the southern part of the Great Dividing Range (Victoria and New South Wales), Clarke Range, Atherton Tableland (Queensland); and inland away from the coastal regions, the Blackstone (Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia), Musgrave (South Australia) and MacDonnell Ranges (Northern Territory), and in central Tasmania. [5] However, sea-level changes during and after the Ice Age greatly affected the position of the coastline and extent of habital areas now under the sea [6]. Tindale's 1974 map of 'Tribal Boundaries in Aboriginal Australia' [7] does not appear to show any blank areas.

An AIATSIS map attempts to represent all the language, tribal or nation groups of the Aboriginal people of Australia based on information available between 1988 and 1994 [8].

The SBS 2016 program DNA Nation provides the most recent evidence for the origin of Australian Aboriginal people in Africa [9]; via central or southern Asia, which is where the genetics points to for the origin of the Aboriginal and New Guinea populations [10]. Furthermore, the DNA genetic groupings show the earliest basal lineages in the north of Australia, with the descendants, as in a Family Tree, in the south, implying permanent settlements along the way.[9].

In the 200 years from the arrival of the first fleet of invaders in 1788, bringing convicts and settlers, there has been a decimation of the numbers of the First Peoples of this Land. This has been brought about through the loss of the Peoples’ access to their land with their food supplies, the introduction of diseases and drugs by the settlers and random and organised killings, including massacres [11], of the People, sanctioned by the various Colonial and State Governments, termed Frontier Wars [12]. They are shown on a map of Australia Wikipedia largely for the period 1788 to 1872 but with the information incomplete for Western Australia. In Queensland, 65,180 Aborigines were killed compared with 1,500 Native Police and settler-inflicted fatalities. In Tasmania, abduction of women by Straitsmen, from about 1790, disease, introduced by colonists together with murder and warfare, continuing abduction, poor conditions in government established Settlements, reduced the population from estimates between 3,000 and 15,000 [13] to 47 in 1847, to 2 or even only 1 in 1876.

The organised Government removals of the Aboriginals into Reserves and Stations with the segregation of children (‘Stolen Generation’), across the whole of the country, compounded physical damage to the people with mental trauma by their removal from ‘Country’, loss of language and a complete change in lifestyle that had served them well for tens of thousands of years.

Language Groups

When white people arrived they tended to describe First Nations Australians using terms that had been adopted for First Nations peoples on other continents. This was not always appropriate and, for example, the use of the term 'tribe' has more recently been replaced by the use of 'peoples', 'nations', or 'language groups'. It is therefore these language groups which are most commonly used to subcategorise indigenous Australians and those with indigenous ancestry on WikiTree.

The significant cultural diversity of First Nations Australians is reflected in the more than 200 languages and 600 dialects which are indicated to have existed before the invasion of Europeans[14], while The Wikipedia article on Australian Aboriginal Languages suggests "around 290-363[15].

Challenges in Tracing and Describing Indigenous Australian Ancestry

Unfortunately, births, deaths and marriages of Aboriginal people were often not registered for various legal reasons. One of the earliest recorded was for Woollarawarre Bennelong (c.1764 – 1813) as he had been taken to England to meet King George III, and his birth was estimated from his presumed age.[16] Australia's Constitution was only amended in 1967 to recognise indigenous Australians and to enable the Federal Government to enact legislation in relation to them.[17] Before this change the handling of information about indigenous peoples was inconsistent across the country.

AIATSIS, the Aboriginal Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies is a good place for guidance, as for example with the Tindale Genealogies.[18] Norman Barnett spent many years in the field across Australia researching the indigenous people with his major work titled 'Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names',

"a compendium of data dealing with every known Aboriginal group in Australia. Often criticised, both at the level of detail and for its controversial definition of 'tribe', the book and accompanying maps remain incontrovertibly as a classic work of Australian anthropology".[19]


  • David R Horton, 1996, The AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia. [1]
  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: 'Dawn' Names Index ('Dawn' and 'New Dawn' were magazines issued by the New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board between 1952-1975)


  1. Cooper, A., Williams A., & Spooner, N. (2008, Aug 7) When did Aboriginal people first arrive in Australia? The Conversation, accessed 1 Jan 2021
  2. O’Connell, James F., Allen, Jim, Williams, Martin A. J., Williams, Alan N., Turney, Chris S. M., Spooner, Nigel A., Kamminga, Johan, Brown, Johan and Cooper, Alan (2018) When did Homo sapiens first reach Southeast Asia and Sahul? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 115 (34) 8482-8490
  3. Malaspinas, Anna-Sapfo; Westaway, Michael C.; Muller, Craig; Sousa, Vitor C.; Lao, Oscar; et al. (21 September 2016). "A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia" Nature. 538 (7624): 207–214. doi:10.1038/nature18299
  4. Wright, Tony (2017, Jul 20) "Aboriginal archaeological discovery in Kakadu rewrites the history of Australia", 20 July 2017 The Sydney Morning Herald
  5. 5.0 5.1 Judd, Wes (2013, Sep) Ice Age struck indigenous Australians hard Australian Geographic
  6. The Conversation: Cave dig shows the earliest Australians enjoyed a coastal lifestyle. May 19, 2017
  7. Tindale, Norman, B. (1974) Tribal boundaries in Aboriginal Australia University of California Press
  8. AIATSIS (1996) Map of Indigenous Australia Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  9. 9.0 9.1 SBS Television, DNA Nation
  10. Australia's human history older than thought
  11. Wikipedia
  12. Wikipedia
  13. Wikipedia
  14. Creative Spirits website: Aboriginal languages
  15. Wikipedia: Australian Aboriginal languages
  16. Wikipedia: Bennelong
  17. .id consulting pty ltd, "Recognising indigenous populations in the Census: a short history", 24 May 2017
  18. AIATSIS, Tindale genealogies
  19. Norman B. Tindale: An Obituary

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