There are two groups of First Nations people that became the indigenous people of Australia: the Aboriginal Australians and the Melanesian Torres Strait Islanders.
During the Ice Age, New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania were a single landmass; Aboriginals are believed to be the same group that comprised the initial wave of migration out of Africa as the Melanesians about 70,000 years ago.
The people who would become known as ethnic Melanesians settled in Papua (New Guinea) as well as the Torres Strait, a landform between New Guinea and Australia. The people who would become known as Aboriginals continued traveling until they arrived on the modern day mainland of Australia as well as the eastern landmass of Tasmania.
Once the ice melted, Papuans and Torres Strait Islanders were separated from mainland Australian Aboriginals and Aboriginal Tasmanians by the Pacific Ocean. This natural border caused the Melanesians and Aborigines to develop into two genetically distinct ethnic groups.
While the Torres Strait Islanders sustained their agrarian societies with the help of trade with New Guineans, the Aboriginals lived in isolation from the rest of the world for over 50,000 years and formed one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
According to the indigenous Dreamtime worldview, ancestral spirits inhabited the earth creating life and turning into natural phenomena like trees and rivers once they were done.
This goes hand in hand with the idea of timelessness, no true idea of past, present and future or beginning and end; they are on the earth and will become part of the ancestors. a spirit created the Earth and entrusted humans to treat animals and nature in a respectful manner; after death, humans transition from Earth to the spiritual realm.
The Aboriginals enjoyed complex kinship and belief systems and a fisher, hunter, and gatherer lifestyle that sustained their communities without depleting or destroying the environment. They neither domesticated animals nor widely engaged in traditional agriculture.
Because the continent was so abundant in natural resources, the indigenous people in Australia only had to work a few hours a day to sustain themselves. They spent the rest of their time in leisure, pursuing creative pastimes such as dance, song, art, and storytelling.
This post is part of my series on the history and culture of the Oceanic region. To learn more, check out this post.
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