It is estimated that Australia’s native population, the aboriginals settled the region about 50,000 years ago.
In coming to this island continent, there was then a natural barrier to interaction with other peoples. Like Native Americans, they developed a special relationship with the land and were mostly hunter-gatherers. They saw their environment as the core of their culture and each of the hundreds of tribes would stay within their traditional territory. This resulted in the development of unique languages and traditions and they lived in harmony with the land.
Each tribe adapted to their surroundings and used the resources at hand to develop tools. That these tools were often consistent in basic form shows that tribes had interaction with one another but they would use the materials at hand, be it fish bones, stone and tree limbs depending on where they were.
Disputes were rare among the aboriginals and were usually settled with little or no bloodshed. Each tribe had its own heritage and traditions were passed down through generations via storytelling, art and means of learning what plants to eat and how to catch wild game.
Like ancient cultures throughout the world, the aboriginals developed songs, dances, formal ceremonies and music. What made aboriginals unique was the use of the Dreaming. The Dreaming was a way the aboriginals passed down their beliefs and traditions through generations and also included storytelling and painting. Meaning “to see and understand the law”, they included songs from the most distinctive instrument called the didgeridoo. Many tribes used this horn made from tree limbs that had been hollowed out by termites to create a unique droning sound.
An amazing commonality the ancient aboriginals had with people who lived over 10,000 years ago in Europe is cave paintings. Paintings near Uluru, named by Europeans “Ayers Rock” bear a striking resemblance to those found at Lascaux, France. The images are often similar, depicting the animals they saw around them and even the outlines of hand prints.
Recent studies of the genetics of aboriginals have found that there is a great deal of genetic diversity among the tribes, especially across the continent. This supports the idea that they stayed close their original tribe across hundreds of generations and even became biologically adapted to the areas in which they lived. It has been discovered that some tribes developed an ability to survive temperatures below zero degrees as they adapted to cold nights tens of thousands of years ago. Europeans from this time learned to protect themselves from the cold with warm clothing.
Of the estimated 600 different tribes of aboriginals that existed around the time that Captain Cook first came to Australia, there were perhaps 250 languages among them. There were about 25 main languages with various subsets, indicating that while language developed over time in each area of the continent, interaction between tribes lead to regional styles and distinctions.