Aboriginal culture varied between different areas. In all areas, they had a strong attachment to the land, which was an integral part of their beliefs. Their main belief was based on the Dreamtime. This extended back to the time of their creation and was linked right up to the present day. They worshipped a Rainbow Serpent as an ancestral being. Other ancestral beings were the Yowie and the Bunyip.
Their music goes back thousands of years. The most common instrument was a clapping stick, to which they would sing and chant various songs. The didgeridoo, often thought to be the world’s oldest wind instrument, was only played in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. This instrument is made of a thin piece of hollow wood from three to nine feet in length and makes a long droning noise. Its use goes back at least 1,500 years, based on cave painting datings. It was played at corroborees and other ceremonies.
Ritual ceremonies were an important part of Aboriginal life. People would often gather from miles around to attend them. Tribes from an area almost the size of Victoria would meet at the annual bunya nut feast in the Sunshine Coast range north of Brisbane.
The two best known types of ceremonies were the corroboree and the bora. A corroboree was a large gathering of people, with Dreamtime interaction through dancing and singing. Another large gathering was at a bora ceremony where young males aged around 12-15 years were initiated as part of tribal customs. The ceremony differed in various parts of the country and sometimes involved circumcision and scarification. Part of the ceremony had the boys walking along a sacred pathway between two previously constructed bora rings of earth embankments, perhaps fifty and twenty-five feet in diameter and a few hundred yards apart.
Aboriginal art goes back about 50,000 years to the time of their arrival in Australia. It includes painting rocks and caves, wood carving, sculpture, and clothing and ornaments worn on ceremonial occasions. Images of the Rainbow Serpent were frequently drawn on rocks. The belief was that the Rainbow Serpent lived in the painting and would take revenge on anyone not respecting the painting.
Unfortunately, the lifestyle and culture of the Australian Aborigine could not withstand European settlement and disintegrated quite quickly in many areas. Settlers cleared forests and grazed cattle on traditional hunting grounds. Aborigines fell victim to white man’s diseases. Survivors were often rounded up and sent to reserves where they had to rely on the whites to provide them with food, clothing and shelter.