Contemporary Aboriginal Spiritualities

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this post may contain images, quotes, or voices of deceased persons.

Some of the sections in this article have more in-depth posts. If you want a better understanding of the content, click the little number next to the section.

This only has SOR1 content right now. If someone is willing to add SOR2 notes, that would be great.

Also, if you’re on a newer syllabus than 2009, some of this might no longer be relevant.

1.1. Discuss how Aboriginal Spirituality is determined by the Dreaming

  • The Dreaming is the spiritual aspect of Aboriginal beliefs, encapsulating both the physical and spiritual dimensions

1.1.1. Kinship

  • Kinship is a highly sophisticated network of relationships within Aboriginal cultures
  • Kinship:
    • Designates roles and responsibilites within tribes
    • Creates a sense of belonging
  • Totems are a key aspect of kinship, tying the individual to the land, and determines where they fall within the kinship system
  • Kinship is also linked to the Aboriginal beliefs around ancestral beings, as well as the metaphysical connection of Aboriginal peoples to the Dreaming

1.1.2. Ceremonial Life

  • There are 4 key aspects of ceremonial life:
    1. Rites of passage
    2. Social information
    3. Personal connections
    4. Spiritual connections

Ceremonial life links Aboriginal people, land and identity

  • Represents the presentness of the Aboriginal Dreaming

    In case you don’t remember the preliminary content for this bit, the Dreaming occurs in the past, present AND future. Ceremonies serve to remind Aboriginal peoples of this.

  • Passes on the beliefs and practices of Aboriginal Spiritualities to younger generations

1.1.3. Obligations to Land and People

  • Aboriginal identity is inextricably connected to the Land, and to their Ancestral Beings
  • Rituals and ceremonies are performed on sacred sites (which are on the land), and serve as a meeting point between Aboriginal people and the Dreaming
  • As a result, Aboriginal people consider themselves caretakers of the land, as it is in their best interests to maintain and preserve nature

1.2. Discuss the continuing effect of dispossession on Aboriginal spiritualities in relation to:

1.2.1. Separation from the Land

  • Loss of land directly resulted in loss of spiritual identity
    • Since Aboriginal spirituality is directly and inextricably connected to the Land, and to sacred sites, removing their access to the land inhibited their ability to fulfil spiritual and moral responsibilities
  • As a result, Separation from the land led to the loss of Totemic identity, and the inherent destruction of the intricate kinship framework which Aboriginal culture is based on

1.2.2. Separation from kinship groups

  • Compounding on separation from the land, removal from kinship groups destroyed thousands of years of tradition, relationships and culture
    • Aboriginal youth were not able to learn their traditional stories and beliefs
    • Since Aboriginal spritiuality is primarily oral, rather than written, the stories were lost as community Elders passed away

1.2.3 The Stolen Generations

Servant or Slave?

From the late 1800s until 1967, indigenous and so-called “half-caste” (half-European, half-indigenous) children were forcibly removed from their families under government authorization, and were trained as house- or farm-hands.

The Bringing Them Home Report1 (completed in 1997, publicly released in 2007) brought to light the impact on Aboriginal culture, such as loss of heritage, culture, language, land, and community.

While many clain that “Australia never had slavery,” this report demonstrated that Australia had higher numbers of slaves per capita than the USA at any point.

In the words of Larissa Behrendt, and Indigenous academic and writer, “People will say ‘yeah, well thats something that happened in the Southern states of America, but we didnt have that here’, but for the child who was working for nothing in someone else’s kitchen, with no other choice, cannot escape - is beaten when they don’t do their work, is abused in other ways - it’s slavery." 2

  • 7.2% of Australia is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
    • Within this 7.2%, the suicide rate is 2.3x higher than the national average
    • Over 20% of homeless Australians are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander (despite being less than 10% of the national population)
    • The life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is 20 years lower than the average Australian

1.3. Outline the importance of the following for the Land Rights Movement:

Native Title: The rights of Indigenous Australians to the land, as recognised by the High Court of Australia

1.3.1. Native Title (Timeline)

1992 - Mabo vs The State of Queensland (No 2):
  • High Court declared that the Meriam people have a traditional right to posess and live on the Islands of Mer (Murray Islands)
  • First successful Land Rights case
  • Abolished Terra Nullius, recognising that “native title exists and is recognised by the Common Law of Australia (6:1)" (Judges Mason (Chief Justice of Australia), Brennan, Deane, Dawson, Toohey, Gaudron, & Justice McHugh)
1993 - Commonwealth Native Title Act:
  • Determined the rights of Indigenous Australians to claim Native Title
  • Determined which types of land Native Title could be claimed on
  • Prioritised established properties (e.g. suburbs and developed land) over native title, but allowed claims on unserviced and pastoral land.
1996 - Wik People vs The State of Queensland:

Why is Queensland always getting into fights with Aboriginal people ?!?!

  • Response to the Wik peoples' Native Title claim on land which was under pastoral (mining/farming/agricultural) leases
  • Outlined the conditions for Native Title, and determined that “Native Title rights and Pastoral Lease rights can coexist, but where they are inconsistent, the pastoral rights prevail (4:3)" (Majority: Toohey, Gaudron, Gummow, Justice Kirby. Dissent: Brennan (Chief Justice of Australia), Dawson, Justice McHugh)
1998 - Native Title Amendment Act
  • Made changes to the Native Title Act (1993), which restricted the abilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to claim land under Native Title
  • For example Federal land (land directly owned by the Federal Government e.g. Military Bases) could not be claimed
  • Rather than negotiating with Aboriginal people, native title was reduced to consultation, meaning the pastoral owners could ignore anything the Aboriginal claimants said.

Basically undoing the last 10 years of progress in one afternoon.

If you get a question on the impact of the Land rights movement, mentioning that the Native Title Amendment act was actually a backwards step is an easy way to get more marks.

1.4. Analyse the importance of the Dreaming for the Land Rights Movement:

  • The main drive of the Land Rights Movement was the loss of spiritual connections to the land.
  • While the Land Rights Movement is seen as a legal battle for non-Aboriginal Australians, Aboriginal people see it as a spiritual reclamation, enabling them to reconnect with their traditions and beliefs.
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References/Extra Context 3


  1. Bringing Them Home Report ↩︎

  2. SBS on Slavery in Australia ↩︎

  3. Post: Religion and Beliefs in Australia post-1945 ↩︎

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