For over at least 50 000 years, Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples led ecologically sustainable ways of life in all areas of Australia. They used and adapted the available resources of their local area to suit their individual needs, which is reflected in the differing customs of the many Aboriginal Nations and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The land provided everything communities needed: food, clothing, tools, weapons and ceremonial objects. Important knowledge regarding survival was entrusted to individuals to ensure the continuance of each community. This important knowledge was, and still is, kept and passed on through story, song, dance and art.
Spiritual beliefs of each Aboriginal nation or Torres Strait Islander community explain the past and embrace the present and the future. For example, Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples believe that ancestral beings created landscapes and geographic features, as well as human society and the languages and customs for living. These beings eventually ‘died’ as bodies, but their spirits remain in the landscape, the sky and the waters — their life-giving and sustaining powers still exist within each living thing to this day.
It is important to acknowledge the diversity of the many Aboriginal Nations and Torres Strait Islander communities within Australia, each with their own specific cultural and spiritual beliefs. Always start by talking with your local contacts to understand the specific local connections to Country and Place in your area.
The following video helps explain Place from a Torres Strait Islander perspective.
Stories Under Tagai: Traditional Stories from the Torres Strait (State Library of Queensland) .
This video features John Whop, a Mabuiag Island Elder, from the Torres Strait, Far North Queensland, and tells the story of the Indigenous Knowledge Centres of the Torres Strait Islands and their work gathering and retelling community stories.
Relationships to Country are complex and interrelated. The terms nation, Country or Place are often used by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples to describe family origins and associations with specific parts of Australia. For example, a Gamilaraay man from south-west Queensland might say, ‘The Narran lakes area is my Country’, or ‘I am a Simpson from Gamilaraay Country’. Descriptions of Country, particularly traditional associations, will differ from individual to individual, depending on the associations passed down through family and community.
Country/Place: refers to the land to which Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples belong; where the spiritual essence of their ancestors remains in the landscape, the sky and the waters.
Nation: describes cultural groupings based on clan and language. At the time of English colonisation, there were more than 500 different clan groups or nations around Australia, with distinctive cultures, beliefs and languages. In this way, Australia was a lot more like Europe than early settlers realised.
Traditional custodian/owner: means the First Nations people of a Country or Place. As knowledge is passed from generation to generation, Elders and the most senior knowledge holders are normally considered to be rightful holders of this title. The term ‘custodian’ helps to express the important point that both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples have important responsibilities to their Country/Place, rather than a sense of the land and waters as their property.
More information about relationships to Country/Place can be found on the websites of the following organisations:
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) — search for Country, Place
- Reconciliation Australia — search for Country
- State Library of Queensland — search for Aboriginal Country, Torres Strait Islander Country
- National Indigenous Television (NITV) — search for Country, Place.