The literal translation of the word 'Aborigine' is: the people who were here from the beginning. It doesn't have the same meaning with the word 'indigenous', which means originating in an area.
There is no written record regarding prehistoric Aboriginal Australia. Knowledge of the past is found in archaeological evidence and Aboriginal oral traditions, which have been handed down from generation to generation.
Prior to colonization, which began in January 1788, the Australian Aborigines lived a lifestyle based on their Dreamtime beliefs. They had survived as a race for thousands of years and their lifestyle and cultural practices had remained virtually unchanged during that time.
However colonization imposed changes on the Aborigines as people who lived in areas that were being settled by the Europeans, were forced off their land as towns and farms were developed.
The sort of changes that took place usually commenced with explorers entering the area of a tribe and being challenged by the people for trespassing on their land. The Europeans usually responded by shooting at the people. Many were killed. When settlers followed the explorers and began felling trees and building farms, they restricted the ability of the Aborigines to move freely around their land. They also destroyed their traditional food sources.
These changes that began in the Sydney and Parramatta districts from 1788, took place throughout the continent at different times and with increasing speed colonization spread throughout the entire continent. The settlers had arrived in this country to build a new life for themselves and their families and were not interested in the affects colonization was having on the Aborigines. In fact they were often considered to be a pest and a nuisance. Thousands were massacred to make way for farms and settlements, while the rest were killed by diseases such as influenza.
On the other hand some Aboriginal people adapted to the Whitman’s laws and the new lifestyle. In doing so, many were reduced to pauperism and were beggars. Others broke the traditional tribal lore’s by accepting Brass Plates and by moving into the traditionallands of other tribes. In many cases they had no option in doing this as they were facing starvation or the gun.
Overall, the Australian Aborigines went through stages of being conquered through an ‘invasion’ and taking of their lands. Many adapted to the new lifestyle and became reliant on alcohol, tobacco and handouts of food and clothing. However the settlers were often contemptuous of the Aborigines and separated them from their society and the people became the fringe dwellers of society. Others were removed from their families and placed into institutions. From the late 1830s the remnants of the tribes in the settled areas were moved onto Reserves and Missions where they were ‘managed’ by Whitemen and were forbidden from teaching their children their language and customs.
During the 1900s separation was an official government policy which lasted for many decades and today, many Aboriginal people do not know their origins. They are descended from or the names of their parents and or grandparents. They are a lost generation.
Australian Aborigines - the original inhabitants of the continent - are one of the best known and least understood people in the world. Since the nineteenth century they have been singled out as the world’s most primitive culture and the living representatives of the ancestors of mankind. Aborigines are therefore probably more familiar to the rest of the world than are the white Australians who immigrated to the continent from Britain and other European countries.
Aborigines have occupied Australia for at least forty thousand years. They came originally from southeast Asia, entering the continent from the north. Although Aborigines are Homo sapiens, biological isolation has meant that they are not racially closely related to any other people. Because of their relative cultural isolation, Aborigines were forced to develop their own solutions to the problems of human adaptation in the unique and harsh Australian environment.
The population of Australia at the time of the arrival of the whites in 1788 was probably between 250,000 and 500,000. The pattern of Aboriginal settlement was like that for present-day Australians, except in the tropical north, with most of the population living along the coasts and rivers. Densities varied from one person for every thirty-five square miles in the arid regions to five to ten persons for every one square mile on the eastern coast. Residential groups ranged in size from ten to fifty people, with some temporary ceremonial gatherings reaching up to five hundred.
To conclude, before colonization there were between 200 and 250 Aboriginal languages spoken throughout the continent of Australia. In other words the Aborigines did not speak the same or ‘one’ language. It has also been estimated that there were as many as 600 languages spoken at the time of colonization. However, it has also been said, that there was one language and several dialects.