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Two distinct cultural groups

Australia’s first peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are two distinct cultural groups. Each with their own languages, kinship structures, cultural practices, traditions and customs and ways of life. There is great diversity within these two broadly described groups exemplified by the over 250 different language groups spread across the nation. It is important to acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of these peoples.

Each culture has its own flag to symbolise and celebrate their separate and unique identities. In July 1995, both the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag were proclaimed as official flags in section 5 of the Flags Act 1953.

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Watch this video which discusses this topic of two diverse cultures.

Cultural Days of Significance

There are a number of cultural days of significance for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The attendance at community events and ceremonies need to be respectfully considered as an opportunity for children and their families to commemorate or celebrate. These significant days include but are not limited to:

  • Survival/Australia Day
    • January 26 is not a day of celebration for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples — the date marks the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, the beginning of invasion and dispossession. While it may be a day of sadness it has also been re-named Survival Day for very a good reason — that despite the injustices of the past, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples have survived.
  • National Day of Healing (formerly National Sorry Day)
    • The Bringing them home report recommended that a National Sorry Day be held each year on 26 May to acknowledge and remember the history of forcible removal of children and the current impacts on family. As a result the community-based organisation National Sorry Day Committee was formed. In 2005 the National Sorry Day Committee renamed Sorry Day as a National Day of Healing for all Australians.
  • Mabo Day
    • 3 June, celebrates the work of Eddie Koiki Mabo (c. 29/6/1936 – 21/1/1992), a Torres Strait Islander man known for his role in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and his role in the landmark decision of the High Court of Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius (“land belonging to nobody”).
  • National Reconciliation Week
    • At the end of May each year National Reconciliation Week celebrates the rich culture and history of the first Australians. It’s the ideal time for practitioners to join the reconciliation conversation and to think about how the work they do can contribute to better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Coming of the Light
    • This is a significant day for Torres Strait Islander people who are predominantly of Christian faith. This day recognises and celebrates the arrival of Christianity at Darnley Island on 1 July 1871.
  • NAIDOC Week
    • NAIDOC Week is celebrated annually in the first full week of July, not just in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities, but also in increasing numbers of government agencies, schools, local councils and workplaces.
  • National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day
    • National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day (NAICD) is an annual event celebrated on 4 August each year, having been established by the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) in 1988.
    • Each year, SNAICC has a theme for Children’s Day to highlight a significant issue, concern or hope for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
    • SNAICC encourages all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations, mainstream child and family welfare services, government agencies, schools, preschools, child care services and any organisations with an interest in children to celebrate National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day.

Understanding Aboriginal culture

Aboriginal peoples comprise diverse Aboriginal nations, each with their own language and traditions, and historically lived on mainland Australia, Tasmania and many of the continent’s offshore islands.

Australian Aboriginal culture varies throughout the country and people from different regions have different languages, weaponry, utensils, tools, basketry, art styles, ceremonial dress and beliefs in ancestral beings. Reverence for the land and oral traditions are emphasised.

The following map indicates only the general location of larger groupings of people, which may include smaller groups such as clans, dialects or individual languages in a group. 

Note

‘A key characteristic of the collective Aboriginal community is to help the spirit of a child emerge as he or she grows and experiences life. This is done by letting the child know who they are in relation to their family, the broader society, the environment and the living spirits of their sacred ancestors and land.' (SNAICC 2011)

From 'Growing up our way' a SNAICC resource.

The Aboriginal flag was designed in 1971 by artist Harold Thomas, a Luritja man from Central Australia and was first flown on National Aboriginal Day in 1971 in Adelaide.

Symbolic meaning:     

Black: represents the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.

Red: represents the red earth, the red ochre and a spiritual relation to the land.

Yellow: represents the sun, the giver of life and protector.

Understanding Torres Strait Islander culture

Torres Strait Islander people are the Indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands. The Torres Strait is 150 kilometres across and joins the Coral Sea to the east with the Arafura Sea to the west. Trade in artefacts made of pearl shell, turtle shell, feathers, canoes and tools are very important in the life of Torres Strait Islanders. These islands are characterised by unique cultural, linguistic and geographic differences.

Culturally, the islands are divided into 5 groups, as outlined in the map above.

Northern islands (also called Top/North Western (Gudamaluilgal) islands).
Includes: Saibai, Boigu (Talbot Island), Dauan (Mt Cornwallis Island), Warul Kawa (Deliverance Island).

Western islands (also called Near/Lower Western (Malvilgal) islands). Includes: Moa (Banks Island), Badu (Mulgrave Island), Mabuiag (Jervis Island), Pulu Islet, Nagi (Mt Ernest Island).

Southern islands (also called Inner (Kaiwalagai) islands). Includes: Muralag (Prince of Wales Island), Waiben (Thursday Island), Ngurupai (Horn Island), Kiriri (Hammond Island), Bedanug or Bedhan Lag (Possession Island).

Central (Kulkalgal) islands. Includes: Aureed Island, Gerbar (Two Brothers), Iama (Yam Island), Poruma (Coconut Island), Warraber (Sue Island), Masig (Yorke Island).

Eastern (Meriam) islands. Includes: Mer (Murray Island), Dauar (Cornwallis Island), Waier Island, Erub (Darnley Island), Ugar (Stephens Island).

Source: https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/torres-strait-islander-culture#toc1

The Torres Strait Islander flag designed by the late Bernard Namok, was first launched in 1992.

Symbolic meaning:

Green: the two mainlands of Australia and Papua New Guinea;

Blue: the Torres Strait waters;

Black line: the Torres Strait Islanders;

The five pointed star: the five island groups (Northern, Western, Southern, Eastern and Central Islands);

White: Christianity and peace;

Dhari head dress: represents Islanders and their customs.

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