Reconciliation Australia

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Land and Culture

Land and Culture

“No English words are good enough to give a sense of the links between an Aboriginal group and its homeland.” W.E.H Stanner

Land plays a central and defining role in Indigenous cultures across Australia. In the Dreaming, the traditional Indigenous cultural underpinning for the creation of country, the land and the people in it are interconnected and inseparable. Despite huge regional differences in Indigenous cultural practices across Australia, the importance of land to culture and identity is universal.

Mostly referred to by Indigenous people as ‘country’, the struggle for recognition of Indigenous possession prior to colonisation finally came with the famous 1992 High Court Mabo decision, which formally recognised these rights and extinguished the decree of terra nullius (meaning empty land; land not legally belonging to anyone) that had for 200 years legally defined Australian land.

Native Title was the legislation subsequently brought in to allow Indigenous groups to claim their land and decide who used it.

While many aspects of Indigenous culture date back tens of thousands of years, culture is a combination of traditional and contemporary practice. It is wrong to assume that because something is not traditional, it’s not cultural. Indigenous culture is flexible, adaptable, diverse and changing. It reflects the broad range of Indigenous groups and individuals in this country.

View high profile and everyday Australians speaking about the centrality of land to Indigenous culture. Directed and Presented by Tim Gibbs.

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For more information visit the following links:

Implications of land rights reform for Indigenous health.

This article discusses the nexus between Indigenous health and living ‘on country’.

Dust Echoes.

Dust Echoes is a series of twelve animated dreamtime stories from Central Arnhem Land, telling stories of love, loyalty, duty to country and Aboriginal custom and law.

Land Rights in the Northern Territory.

Explanation of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory), the landmark legislation passed in 1976.

The Native Title Research Unit at AIATSIS.

High quality independent research and policy advice promoting the recognition and protection of native title.

The Yirrkala Bark Petition.

In 1963, the Yolngu people of Yirrkala sent bark petitions to the House of Representatives in protest against the Commonwealth Government’s granting of mining rights on their land.

Painting Country.

Watch a clip from this documentary about Indigenous artists from Balgo using acrylic paint to tell stories about culture and country.

Connection to and caring for country.

Read about connections to and caring for country programs through this Northern Land Council resource.

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