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The land and its people

Indigenous Australia

Aboriginal people in Australia are the custodians of one of the oldest continuous living cultures in the world. Archaeological evidence suggests that Australia has been continuously inhabited for more than 60,000 years.

Did you know?

One in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speak an Australian Indigenous language at home.

Another distinct group, of Melanesian origin, are the Torres Strait Islander peoples who first settled on islands north of the mainland, between the tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea, thousands of years ago.

Today, most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in cities and towns. Many people still remain on their traditional lands and maintain aspects of their traditional lifestyles in a modern-day Australia.

Prior to European settlement it is estimated that around 250 different languages were spoken. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages remain strong in some communities, it is estimated that more than 100 languages have been lost and around 110 are endangered. Efforts are underway to keep language strong in communities and to revive vulnerable languages.

Children's hands with ochre paint
(James Fisher,Tourism Australia)

Indigenous culture is diverse and strong and makes a vital contribution to Australia's national identity.

Indigenous people contribute in many areas including the arts, media, academia, politics, sport and business. The 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, a professional Australian Rules football player, is an Adnyamathanha man from the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

A national referendum, held on 27 May 1967, removed references from the Australian Constitution which discriminated against Indigenous people and excluded Aboriginal people from being counted in the census. The referendum saw the highest 'yes' vote ever recorded in a referendum in Australia, with just over 90 per cent of Australians voting for the change. The referendum and the High Court decision on 3 June 1992 which recognised native title and Indigenous peoples' entitlements to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of their traditional lands, are important milestones in Australian history.

In 2008, the Australian Parliament passed a motion of Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples for past mistreatment and injustices, especially the Stolen Generations, who were Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families.

Today, the Australian Government is committed to working in partnership with Indigenous people, families and communities to make sure children go to school every day, adults have jobs and communities are safe places to live. To achieve this, the Government is working closely with Indigenous Australians to ensure that better services and outcomes are delivered on the ground. The Australian Government is also committed to achieving recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia's Constitution.

2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, responds to the crowd at an AFL match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground
2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, responds to the crowd at an AFL match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (Greg Ford, AFL Media)
Last Updated: 1 October 2014
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