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Indigenous peoples of Australia

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Indigenous peoples of Australia

For a more complete list of Indigenous peoples of "Australia" (groups, kinship groups, communities and other collective designations) see List of Indigenous Australian group names; for general information, see Indigenous Australians

There are several hundred Indigenous peoples of Australia; many are groupings that existed before the British colonisation of Australia in 1788. Before Anglo-Europeans, the number was over 400.

Indigenous or groups will generally talk of their "people" (sometimes their "mob"[1]) and their "country". These countries [2] are ethnographic areas, usually the size of an average European country, with around 200 on the Australian continent at the time of European arrival.

Within each country, people lived in clan groups: extended families defined by various forms of Australian Aboriginal kinship. Inter-clan contact was common, as was inter-country contact, but there were strict protocols around this contact.

The largest Sovereign Original language group people today are the Anangu Pitjantjatjara who live in the area around Uluru (Ayers Rock) and south into the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in South Australia. The second largest Aboriginal community are the Arrernte people who live in and around Mparntwe (Alice Springs). The third largest are the Anangu Luritja, who live in the lands between the two largest just mentioned. The Aboriginal languages and dialects with the largest number of speakers today are the Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri and Arrernte.


  • Australian Capital Territory 1
  • New South Wales 2
  • Northern Territory 3
  • Queensland 4
  • South Australia 5
  • Tasmania 6
  • Victoria 7
  • Western Australia 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Australian Capital Territory

  • Ngunnawal people or Ngunnawal people were the first inhabitants of the area which is now occupied by the city of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory. They spoke the Ngunnawal language. The city of Canberra is named after the Ngunnawal word Kambera. Many other place names around Canberra are Ngunnawal names, such as Tuggeranong, Ginninderra, Murrumbidgee, the suburb Ngunnawal and many road names.

New South Wales

Portrait of Bennelong, senior man of the Eora people, who was given a brick hut on Bennelong Point where the Sydney Opera House now stands, and later travelled to England in 1792 and met King George III.
  • The Eora people were the original occupants of the Sydney region in 1788 when the first Anglo-European colonists arrived. Some of the words of original provenance still in use today in Australian English are from the Eora language: dingo, woomera, wallaby, wombat, waratah, boobook owl, wallaroo. Bennelong was a senior member of the Eora people, who served as an interlocutor between the British and Eora people, and travelled to England, and later returned to Australia in 1795. He died at Kissing Point (known now as Ryde) on 3 January 1813. Bennelong Point, where the Sydney Opera House now stands, is named after him. He lived there after he persuaded New South Wales Governor Arthur Phillip to build a brick hut for him on the point.
  • The Muthi Muthi people are a tribe of the Kulin Nation of river peoples. The Muthi Muthi are often referred to as a 'Victorian incursion' wedged between the Baarkinji desert people of the west and the Wiradjuri mountain people to the east. Muthi Muthi lands include the world famous Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area, and Nimmie Caira.
  • The Tharawal people are an Aboriginal sub-group of the Dharug language nation in the area around Wollongong, south of Sydney. They are famous for the name of the boomerang coming from their language.
  • The Wonnarua people (‘people of the hills and plains’) have territory located in the upper Hunter Region.

Northern Territory

  • Alyawarre who live north-east of Alice Springs. In 1980 they lodged a land claim, which was handed back to them on 22 October 1992. The size of the land was 2065 km².
  • Anmatjera from an area near Mount Leichhardt, Hann and Reynolds Ranges, and northeast to Central Mount Stuart. Artist Clifford Possum is an Anmatjera man. Emily Kngwarreye was also an Anmatjera woman.
  • The Arrernte people speak the Arrernte language, and live in the Arrernte area of Central Australia. The population of Arrernte people living on Arrernte land (including Alice Springs) is estimated at 25,000, making it the 2nd largest of all Central Australian Aboriginal countries, after Pitjantjatjara. In most primary schools in Alice Springs, students (of all races and nationalities) are taught Arrernte (or in some cases Western Arrernte) as a compulsory language, often alongside French or Indonesian languages. Additionally, most Alice Springs High Schools give the option to study Arrernte language throughout High School as a separate subject, and it can also be learned at Centralian College as part of a TAFE course. Future plans are that it will be included as a university subject. Approximately 25% of Alice Springs residents speak Arrernte as their first language.
  • Luritja is a name used to refer to several dialects of the Western Desert Language, and thereby also to the people who speak these varieties, and their traditional lands. The Luritja lands include areas to the west and south of Alice Springs, extending around the edge of Arrernte country, which lie roughly between Alice Springs and Uluru. The total population of Luritja people (including Papunya Luritja) is probably in the thousands making them the 3rd largest of the Central Australian Aboriginal populations. It includes the town of Papunya.
  • The Murrinh-Patha are a small group, living inland from the settlement of Wadeye, between the rivers Moyle and Fitzmaurice. Their language, also called Murrinh-Patha, is still spoken by about 900. The Murrinh-Patha culture is characterized by typical Native Australian social structure, including a complex kinship system with elaborate behavioral norms for interactions between the different kinship groups.
The Pitjantjatjara people (or Anangu) live in the area around Uluru
  • The Pitjantjatjara people (or Anangu) is an Aboriginal people of the Central Australian desert who speak the Pitjantjatjara language. Their influence extends from the area near Uluru in the Northern Territory to the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia. Their language is one of the most widely spoken Aboriginal languages.
  • Warlpiri is a large group in the Northern Territory. There are 5,000–6,000 Warlpiri, living mostly in a few towns and settlements scattered through their traditional land, north and west of Alice Springs. Their largest community is at Yuendumu. Many Warlpiri, unlike people from other Aboriginal language and community groups, do not speak even a word of English. Warlpiri are famous for their tribal dances. Many Warlpiri have toured England, Japan, and most recently Russia, performing their dances.
  • The Yolngu inhabit north-eastern Arnhem Land in Australia. Some Yolngu communities of Arnhem land re-figured their economies from being largely land-based to largely sea-based with the introduction of Macassan technologies such as dug-out canoes, after the Macassan contact with Australia. These seaworthy boats, unlike their traditional bark canoes, allowed Yolngu to fish the ocean for dugongs and turtles. Some Aboriginal workers willingly accompanied the Macassans back to their homeland across the Arafura Sea. The Yolngu people also remember with grief the abductions and trading of Yolngu women, and the introduction of smallpox, which was epidemic in the islands east of Java at the time.


  • The Guugu Yimithirr are another language group. There are still several hundred speakers of the Guugu Yimithirr language, mostly living in and around Hopevale, Cooktown, and Wujal Wujal on Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. The site of modern Cooktown was a meeting place of two vastly different cultures when, in June 1770, the local Aboriginal Guugu Yimithirr people cautiously watched James Cook's crippled sailing vessel – HM Bark Endeavour – limp up the coast of their territory seeking a safe harbour. The word kangaroo comes from the Guugu-Yimidhirr name for a Grey Kangaroo, gangaroo.
  • The Kalkadoon people live in the area around Mount Isa in Western Queensland. There was fighting between the Kalkadoon and police in the nineteenth century; in 1884, 200 of them were massacred at "Battle Mountain" in a fight against police.
  • There are a number of Torres Strait Islander groups inhabiting the Torres Strait Islands between mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea.

South Australia

  • The Adnyamathanha or Adynyamathanha (Pronounced: ) are an Indigenous Australian people from the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Adnyamathanha is also the name of their traditional language.
On the 30 March 2009, the Adnyamathanha people received a consent determination, in the Federal Court of Australia, for recognition of their Native Title rights over a very large area (around 41,000 square km) of land running East from the edge of Lake Torrens, through the Northern Flinders Ranges approaching the South Australian border with New South Wales.
The Adnyamathanha are made up of the Kuyani, Wailpi, Yadliaura, Pilatapa and Pangkala, which are the traditional groups of the Northern Flinders Ranges and (with the Kokatha) the areas around Lake Torrens. The name Adnyamathanha means "rock people" and is a term referring to the Lakes Culture societies living in that area. They share a common identity, which they get from their ancestors, this common bond is their language and culture which is known as Yura Muda. The origins of the Adnyamathanha are told through creation stories, passed down from generation to generation.
In 1851 the first Europeans settled some of the Adnyamathanha land. This led to many conflicts due to the aboriginal people being pushed off their land. In response to the settling, Aborigines stole sheep, which in turn led to retalitory killings. Aboriginal stockmen and housekeepers soon became a way of life for the early settlers.
  • The Dieri is an Australian Aboriginal group and (now extinct) language from the South Australian desert—specifically Cooper and Leigh Creek, Lake Howitt, and Lake Hope, Lake Gregory and Clayton River and low country north of Mount Freeling. The Dieri protested the Marree Man geoglyph, saying that it had caused them harm and was exploiting their Dreamtime stories.
  • The Kaurna people have traditional lands in and around the Adelaide Plains. The Kaurna people lived in independent family structures in defined territories called pangkarra. The Kuarna performed circumcision as an initiatory right and were the southernmost community to do so. The last surviving speaker of Kaurna as a mother-tongue died in 1931; her name was Ivaritji .
  • The Maralinga Tjarutja inhabit the remote western areas of South Australia. They are a Southern Pitjantjatjara people. The Maralinga Tjarutja native title land was handed back to the Maralinga people in January 1985 under legislation passed by both houses of the South Australian Parliament in December 1984 and proclaimed in January 1985. Maralinga people resettled on the land in 1995 and named the place Oak Valley Community. The local Aboriginal people were not warned effectively of the explosions from 1950s nuclear testing and many suffered terrible after-effects from fallout, although the 1984/1985 Royal Commission could find no evidence of this for the Maralinga Tjarutja.
  • The Narungga were people of the Yorke Peninsula, many of which were removed by missions as part of the stolen generation.[2][3]


Indigenous Tasmanian communities
Tasmanian Aborigines at Oyster Cove
  • 20th century historians previously held that


  • The Gunai or Kurnai nation live in the area of south eastern Victoria, around Wilsons Promontory, Sale, Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Snowy River and Mallacoota. The Gunai people resisted the European invasion of their land. Many were killed in fighting between 1840 and 1850. In 1863 Reverend Friedrich Hagenauer established Ramahyuck Mission on the banks of the Avon River near Lake Wellington to house the Gunai survivors from west and central Victoria.
  • The Kulin alliance is one of the indigenous nations of Australia who lived in central Victoria, around Port Phillip where Melbourne now stands, and Western Port, up into the Great Dividing Range and the Loddon and Goulburn River valleys. It included the Wurundjeri and Bunurong clans. On 6 June 1835 John Batman signed a 'treaty' (known as Batman's Treaty) with the Wurundjeri people where he purported to buy 2,000 km² of land around Melbourne and another 400 km² around Geelong, on Corio Bay to the south-west. In exchange he gave the eight elders, whose marks he acquired on his treaty, a quantity of "blankets, knives, tomahawks, scissors, looking-glasses, flour, handkerchiefs and shirts." By 1863 the surviving members of the Wurundjeri and other Woiwurrung speakers were given 'permissive occupancy' of Coranderrk Station, near Healesville. William Barak was the last ngurungaeta of the Wurundjeri-willam clan. Bunjil is seen as the culture-hero or god of the Kulin people. The Bunurong were referred to by Europeans as the Western Port or Port Philip group.
  • The Yorta Yorta people traditionally lived around the junction of the Goulburn and Murray Rivers in present-day northeast Victoria. Family groups include the Bangerang, Kailtheban, Wollithiga, Moira, Ulupna, Kwat Kwat, Yalaba Yalaba and Nguaria-iiliam-wurrung clans.[1] Prominent Yorta Yorta people include Burnum Burnum and Sir Douglas Nicholls.The language is referred to generally as the Yorta Yorta language.

Western Australia

Detail from and his own people, and assisting in the exploration of the region.[4] Many placenames in Western Australia are named after Noongar words, especially ending in "up" or "in/ing" (both meaning "place of" in different dialects) such as Joondalup, Manjimup, Narrogin and Merredin.
  • The Spinifex people, or Pila Nguru, have their traditional lands situated in the Great Victoria Desert, in the Australian state of Western Australia, adjoining the border with South Australia, to the north of the Nullarbor Plain. They maintain in large part their traditional hunter-gatherer existence within the territory, over which their claims to Native title and associated collective rights were recognised by a 28 November 2000 Federal Court decision. The Australian Royal Commission was unable to determine if Pila Nguru people had been exposed to damaging levels of radiation from fallout after the nuclear testing near Maralinga in the 1950s.
  • The Jarrakan are one of several groups in the north of the state.


  1. ^ " : home". 
  2. ^ Laurent Dousset. "Detailed record of the Narangga". 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Green, Neville (2005). "Mokare (c. 1800 - 1831)".  

External links

  • Journeys in Time - Australian Aboriginal Tribes A joint project between Macquarie University and the State Library of New South Wales retrieved 16 January 2007
  • Aborigines - The First Australians
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