Aboriginal people in Australia

Explore the diversity of Aboriginal people: Population facts & statistics, life expectancy, identity, remains repatriation, suicide and racism & how to avoid stereotypes.

Selected statistics

103
Rank of Aboriginal Australians on the United Nations Index of Human Development (which considers life expectancy, literacy and standard of living). [1]
4
Rank of all Australians on the United Nations index.
517,200
Number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2006. [2]
60%
Percentage of Aboriginal children who went on a holiday or trip away in 2007. [3]
28%
Percentage of Aboriginal children with teenage mums.
20%
Percentage of Aboriginal teens not living with either parent.
3
Times the Aboriginal male suicide rate is higher than non-Aboriginal men. Most suicides happen between 25 and 34 years of age. [4]
80%
Percentage of Aboriginal people living in capital cities. [5]
24.5%
Percentage of Aboriginal people who were married in 2016; 11.2% were either divorced or separated. [6]
61%
Percentage of Aboriginal people who had never married in 2016. [6]
46%
Percentage of Aboriginal people who believe they have high trust towards Australians in the general community. [7]
27%
Percentage of Australians in the general community who believe they have high trust towards Aboriginal people. [7]
86%
Percentage of Aboriginal people in 2018 who agree they are proud of Aboriginal and TorresStrait Islander cultures (90% in 2016). [7]
62%
Percentage of Australians in the general community in 2018 who agree they are proud of Aboriginal and TorresStrait Islander cultures (60% in 2016). [7]

List of articles

A non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal person in the Queensland floods.
A white and an Aboriginal man muse about the floods that hit Australia in 2011. What do you think the Aboriginal person's answer tells you about the situation of his people? Cartoon: Danny Eastwood, Koori Mail [8]

Indigenous people around the world

Australia is not the only country that has indigenous peoples. (Check Wikipedia for an extensive list.)

CountryAboriginal groupsPercentage of population
Australia250 Aboriginal nations, Torres Strait Islanders3%
Canada First Nations, Inuit, Métis4.9%
New ZealandMāori 14.9%
NorwaySámi (Lapps)1.1%
SwedenSámi (Lapps)~0.3%
USANative Americans1.6%

Honoured Aboriginal people

Time and again I've come across badges of honour bestowed upon Aboriginal people I didn't know had received that recognition. Help me extend this list!

Companion of the Order (AC)

PersonYearReceived for...
Evonne Fay Goolagong Cawley2018Services to tennis and her work as a role model and advocate for young Aboriginal people.
Lowitja Lois O'Donoghue Smart1999Fierce determination to improve the lives of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

Officer of the Order (AO)

PersonYearReceived for...
Banduk Marika2019Distinguished service to the visual arts, particularly to Aboriginal printmaking and bark painting, and through cultural advisory roles.
Deborah Joy Cheetham2014Distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Aboriginal artists, and to innovation in performance.
Nyunggai Warren Stephen Mundine2016For long and outstanding service to the community and local government.
Rhoda Ann Roberts2016Distinguished service to the performing arts through a range of leadership and advocacy roles in the development, promotion and presentation of contemporary Aboriginal culture.

Member of the Order (AM)

PersonYearReceived for...
Carolyn Maria Briggs2019Significant service to the Aboriginal community.
David Gulpilil Ridjimararil Dalaithngu1987Service to the arts through the interpretation of Aboriginal culture.
Djambawa Miniyawainy Marawili2010Service to the arts as a sculptor and painter, to the preservation of Aboriginal culture, to arts administration and as a mentor of emerging artists.
Dr Donna Marie Odegaard2016Significant service to Aboriginal cultural heritage through roles with broadcast media organisations, to education and training, and to reconciliation.
Dulcie Gladys Flower OAM2019Work on the 1967 Referendum Campaign, her role in the establishment of the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, and her work as a nurse.
Faith Thomas2019Significant service to women's cricket, and to the Aboriginal community.
Kenneth (Ken) George Wyatt1996Service to the Aboriginal community particularly in the fields of health, education and employment through his work with the WA Department of Health and Education and the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.
Prof Marcia Langton1993Service as an anthropologist and advocate of Aboriginal issues.
Dr Robert Francis Isaacs OAM2016Significant service to the Aboriginal community through the advancement of social justice, education, health and housing initiatives, and to reconciliation.
Solomon "Sol" David Bellear1999Service to the Aboriginal community, particularly in relation to the administration and development of health policies.
Suzanne Margaret (Aunty Sue) Blacklock2016Significant service to the Aboriginal community through advocacy roles for improved child welfare, kinship care and cultural identity.
Victor George Chapman2019Significant service to the Aboriginal community, to tertiary education, and to the visual arts.

Medal of the Order (OAM)

PersonYearReceived for...
Dulcie Gladys Flower1994Service to the community, particularly on the area of Aboriginal health worker training.
Kathleen Mary Mills2019Service to the Aboriginal community.
Dr Robert Francis Isaacs2000Service to Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, through housing administration and participation in instrumentalities concerned with health, welfare and education.
Alfred Neal2019Service to the Aboriginal community, particularly to the 1967 Referendum Campaign.
Arthur "Big Artie" Henry Beetson1987Service to the sport of Rugby League.
Cherry Wulumirr Daniels2016Service to the Aboriginal community of the Northern Territory.
Colin Francis Watego2016Meritorious service to Aboriginal Affairs in the Australian Defence Force.
Diana Rosemary Travis2019Service to the Aboriginal community, particularly to the 1967 Referendum Campaign.
Ruth Wallace Hennings2019Service to the Aboriginal community, particularly to the 1967 Referendum Campaign.
Duncan Tod Smith2016Service to Aboriginal youth, and to the community.

The Order of Australia has five levels (top to bottom): Knight/Dame of the Order (AK/AD), Companion of the Order (AC), Officer of the Order (AO), Member of the Order (AM), and Medal of the Order (OAM). You can search names in the database of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Many Aboriginal people don't have a birth certificate

You need a birth certificate to get a job, open a bank account or engage with many basic government services: getting a driving licence or passport, enrol in school, getting a government benefit or tax file number.

"Without a birth certificate, it is difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to fully participate in society," says Dr Paula Gerber, from the Monash Faculty of Law. [9] But that is exactly the situation many Aboriginal people or their children are in.

Studies found that between 17 and 29% of Aboriginal children under 16 years of age do not have birth certificates because their parents did not register them. [9][10]

There are several reasons for this: [9][10]

  • Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry offices are only located in capital cities, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from Aboriginal communities.
  • Aboriginal people still suffer from the traumas inflicted by the policies that led to the Stolen Generations. In their memory, contact with bureaucrats is inherently linked to trouble and potential child removal.
  • Many have trouble reading formal English and fear harm could be done to them again.
  • Fees, especially for late registration, might be prohibitive.
  • Aboriginal mothers were teenagers when they had their first child.
  • Mothers lived in more socioeconomically deprived and remote areas or gave birth in a rural hospital.
  • Mothers smoked during pregnancy or had an alcohol‐related diagnosis around the time of the birth.
  • The mother did not have private hospital insurance or her own birth was not registered.

A missing birth certificate has also been linked to unlicensed driving and subsequent incarceration. [10]

You can watch a summary video or download a PDF copy of the Queensland Ombudsman's 2018 Indigenous Birth Registration Report.

Tip

Births, Deaths and Marriages Registries can exercise discretion to waive fees. Ask for the discretion to be exercised if you have trouble paying the fee.

Are Aboriginal people Australian citizens?

A recurring topic in the discussion about Aboriginal identity and self-image is if Aboriginal people are Australian citizens in the sense of the law.

The answer is important as it has consequences for the discussion of self-determination and rights to the land.

Michael Anderson, Convenor of the Sovereign Union of First Nations and Peoples in Australia and Head of State of the Euahlayi Peoples Republic, has researched the issue extensively. He concludes:

"The First Nations and Peoples in Australia are not, and have never been, British subjects nor Australian citizens. Any review of Australia's citizenship and the status of British subjects will show that First Nations and Peoples in Australia have at no time been made subjects of the kings or queen of England by way of Letters Patent or Orders in-Council, stating that the kings or queens of Britain recognise us as part of the monarch's realm and/or dominions. Early records show by way of legislation that First Nations Peoples within Australia have always been classified as ‘aliens’ under State protection laws."

Aboriginal people and assimilation

Until 1965 Australia had an assimilation policy in place which aimed at making Aboriginal people blend into white society as much as possible. Though abandoned decades ago, being 'assimilated' has become some kind of cuss word, even among Aboriginal people, especially those living in big cities or working for the government.

The following story was written by an Aboriginal woman in response to general accusations of some Aboriginal people becoming 'assimilated'. [11]

"How am I assimilated?"

"I don't see myself as any different from any other blackfulla. I know who I am, I know my country, my family ties, my culture and customs, so how am I assimilated? Is it just because I have an education and work in a government department? If so, then that to me is not assimilation or stereotyping, it's using the knowledge and skills I have to provide a better, more culturally appropriate service to Aboriginal people and community.

"[Working for the government] I can change the thinking of those around me so they are better informed when working with my people and my community... I help break down those stereotypes that non-Aboriginal people have of my people and make sure that my people are given a voice when it comes to policy and procedures that have a direct impact [on us].

"[We haven't given up,] we are just using the tools that whitefullas have given us to empower our people and create a culture of change."

Get migrants better opportunities?

For several years there were tensions between the African and Nyoongar communities in the main migrant resettlement areas in Perth's northern suburbs [12]. But why?

Elders believe that receiving an official welcome to country when they arrive to Australia is particularly important for black migrants, especially Africans.

Many Aboriginal people still feel oppressed in Australia and notice that migrants seem to get preferential treatment. "There's a feeling amongst a lot of Aboriginal people that newcomers to our country, no matter what race, get better opportunities and access to services than they do," says Nyoongar elder Irene Stainton. [12]

Nyoongar man Grant Garlett agrees. "There are a lot of problems that we've been trying to deal with for years and we never get anywhere. A lot of migrants do get more attention and facilities and all of that stuff," he says.

Aboriginal skin groups

Aboriginal people differentiate between different 'colours' or skin groups. Once you know a person's skin group you know their relation to you, their obligations, and how they must be treated.

References

View article sources (13)

[1] 'Indigenous well-being in four countries: An application of the UNDP'S Human Development Index to Indigenous Peoples in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States', Martin Cooke1, Francis Mitrou, David Lawrence, Eric Guimond and Dan Beavon 2007, Table 7
[2] 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Population', Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2008
[3] NSW Aboriginal Legal Service newsletter, 3/2011
[4] 'Talks focus on suicides', Koori Mail 448 p.47
[5] 'Inept Govt policy denying Indigenous jobs--report', Koori Mail 471 p.36
[6] [6a] '2016 Census: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples QuickStats', Australian Bureau of Statistics 23/10/2017
[7] [7a] [7b] [7c] '2018 Australian Reconciliation Barometer', Reconciliation Australia

Harvard citation

Korff, J 2019, Aboriginal people in Australia, <https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people>, retrieved 21 September 2019

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