Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lived in harmony with the land for approximately 50 thousand years with their culture considered to be one of the oldest continuous cultures outside of Africa.
In order to do justice to the story of Aboriginal Darebin, we need to look further afield to Aboriginal Victoria and even to Aboriginal Australia, as all are inextricably linked.
Just as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples moved through their traditional lands freely, without boundary fences and walls, so too the Aboriginal history of Darebin reaches far beyond our current municipal borders.
Darebin City Council acknowledges that this is by no means a comprehensive re-telling of the Aboriginal history of the local area, nor is it the only way that even this small part of the story could be told. Council also recognises that contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history within our municipality, and further afield, is constantly evolving. Much of the contemporary history remains with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to whom it belongs. This information may be shared by the relevant parties and this website will be updated in due course.
This resource complements the Darebin Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Recognition Discovery Map.
Aboriginal people believe that the earth, stars, humans and animals were created in a time commonly referred to as the Dreaming/Dreamtime (a non-Indigenous terms created in an attempt to comprehend Aboriginal spirituality). It was during this time that societal structures, spirituality, rules for social behaviour, and the relationship between life and the land (lore) were determined. While the term Dreaming/Dreamtime is commonly used across mainland Australia, the stories from this time differ between different language groups, communities and individuals. Similarly to Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islander people believe in the Tagai, stories which form the cornerstone of spirituality and establish order in the world. A common theme of the Dreaming/Tagai is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are a part of, and hold a deep spiritual connection with the land. They do not 'own' the land as we understand ownership today; rather, they are custodians – a part of the land while the land is a part of them.
An estimated 770,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of about 700 different language groups inhabited the whole of Australia prior to British contact (referred to by many people as invasion).
These different groups (referred to as clans, language groups or countries – these terms may be used interchangeably throughout this website), lived within different geographic boundaries, such as mountain ranges and rivers, (rather than within state and territory boundaries which didn't exist at that time), and maintained different languages, beliefs, practices and traditions. Clans would have extensive knowledge of the resources, and significant sacred sites within their country, as well as the history, and seasonal changes, of the land and the availability of resources.
From the time of the Dreaming/Tagai, and continuing today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have existed within an oral culture.
This means that teaching and culture were not written in books but were passed down to the next generation through dance, song, stories, play and rituals.
Children are taught the lore of their language group through stories told by their Elders. The sharing of these stories is as much about entertainment as the passing on of culture and lore. Some stories were, and remain, sacred and are only shared with certain people. These include stories only shared with men or women who have carried out certain initiation rites.
Skills such as gathering and hunting traditional foods may be taught through hands on learning (kinaesthetic learning), and play based learning (use of toys, games and play). Skills required for hunting, such as spear and boomerang throwing, may employ the use of models of traditional tools and weapons. Traditionally children would have learned how and what food to gather while gathering food with their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. During this time, children would have also learned how to live in harmony with the environment and about seasonal changes.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lore (traditional values and societal rules) relating to land, language, ways of living, kinship, relationships and identity was handed down by the Creation Ancestors at a time immemorial.
Examples of lore included how to share resources, land and resource management, marriage, sacred rituals, as well as the role of men and women.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have upheld their lore for thousands of generations. Traditional consequences for failing to abide by lore may have resulted in the offender being verbally reprimanded, physical punishments (such as wounding the offender), banishment, or death, depending on the severity of the offence.
Connection to Country
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people maintain a deep connection to their country (land of their language group). This connection, amongst other things, influences movement through country and land management, movement into other clan's countries, and health.
Contrary to popular belief, Aboriginal people were generally not nomadic. Rather, clans moved through their country, as smaller family groups, to different predetermined campsites, in order to hunt and gather food when it was seasonally in abundance.
Both men and women were responsible for food provision with men hunting larger animals, and women and children gathering vegetables and hunting small animals that they may have happened across.
As part of their food gathering practices and movements, many clans would employ sophisticated techniques such as fire farming. This technique involved using fire to flush animals out of their burrows, or burn off grassed areas in order to promote growth for following years. Aquaculture, the practice of setting fish and eel traps, were also commonly employed in south-eastern Australia (including what is now Victoria)
Family groups and clans would generally remain within their own country. However, individuals or clans would occasionally move through or meet on another clan's country. In these circumstances individuals or groups would wait at the border of the land which they wished to enter until they were met by an Elder who could perform a tanderrum ceremony or grant safe passage through the land.
Tanderrum ceremonies indicated that visitors were welcome on country and were granted temporary use of resources. All of the clans involved would have an understanding of reciprocity, cooperation and respect. Various clans often came together to perform ceremonies and rituals or to attend corroborees.
Individuals travelling through other clans countries did so in order to deliver messages or invitations to ceremonies and the like. In these cases, individuals would carry a message stick which allowed the carrier safe passage, similar to our modern day passports. These small, usually wooden, sticks were carved with markings which identified the sender of the message, supported the verbal message that the carrier would deliver, and may have identified the carrier's place within their clan.
Aboriginal Health and Healthcare
Connection to country, and subsequently connection to culture, is a major component of health and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This complex connection takes into account relationships with people, nature, and a deep connection to the past and to the Dreaming. Each of these aspects may then be linked to and effect aspects of individual's social and emotional wellbeing.
The National Aboriginal Health Strategy (NAHS) defines health as:
Not just the physical wellbeing of the individual but the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community. This is a whole-of-life view and it also includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life.
This definition indicates that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander model of health is a holistic one which takes into account all aspects of one's personal life as well as connections to country, culture, family and community.
Aboriginal lore also sets out the role of men and women. The Dreaming sets out gender roles and ceremony, much of which is sacred information specific to either men or women. While some of these rituals and initiations occur at the time of puberty, this gendered partition may also be present during healthcare. This would have traditionally been observed in order to maintain secrecy around gendered information (commonly referred to in modern times as Men's or Women's Business).
The NAHS definition of health also speaks about the concept of the life-death-life cycle. During times of loss and bereavement some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people observe a period of cultural practices and protocols commonly termed 'Sorry Business'. Some of these protocols may include not speaking the name of the person or refraining from showing images of the deceased person. There is also an expectation that all family members will attend funerals and observe sorry business.
However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe in a more complex kinship system which includes extended family members (Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents etc.).
The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines family as:
"two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who are usually resident in the same household".
This system, while increasing the number of supports, also defines roles and responsibilities for family (or more widely, community members, as we consider the role of clans or language groups). Roles and responsibilities within the kinship structure may include obligations around social and financial support, the passing of culture and cultural practices from one generation to another and the care, education, and raising of children. Rather than being the sole responsibility of biological parents, children may be raised or cared for by a collective group made up of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and parents.
In previous generations, resources shared among family and clan groups would have included food, land and knowledge. While these resources continue to be shared today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders may now find themselves obliged to share financial resources as well.
Read about Aboriginal History in Victoria.