Indigenous Australians Essay


Indigenous Australians live all across the country. As of 2006, there was a 21 million population in total, including 517,000 indigenous Australians. Given different conditions in various regions of Australia, they have to move in groups, so they could be more mobile and protected. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, such a pattern of existence was unchanged until Europeans arrived in 1788. Australian culture went through many fundamental changes, due to constant conflicts between two groups of people. The social organization of indigenous Australians faced changes too since the new government implemented horrifying adoption strategies when indigenous Australian kids were forcibly taken away from their families and assimilated through Western schools. Another dark page in Aborigine history is the “pacification campaign”, which took place in the 1880s.

Starting from 1965, the government has tried new methods, looking towards a commonwealth of various cultures. It was a logical reaction to protests and voices of Australian activists talking about the discrimination. In the 1970s, the Australian government introduced new laws, protecting determination rights of indigenous people, though leaving such problems as suicide rates, unemployment, and alcoholism unsolved. Looking for jobs, more indigenous Australians moved to cities.


According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, most indigenous tribes from either coastal or inland zones have three features in common. Members of tribes cooperate to survive, they depend on the success of hunt and gathering, and their societies have a strong religious base. Most anthropologists agree that pre-European Australian societies built according to a particular order: clans, sub-sections, sections, semi-moieties, moieties, tribes. These groups play important role in social relationships.

Indigenous Australians classify themselves in details. Descent structures are built from smaller groups, where all members have common ancestors. Exogamous marriages are possible between such groups. Another type of cooperation, Hordes, are structures based on some practical needs.

There are many determinations of what kinships are. Goudelier described kinships as two poles with various concepts stretched in between. Some concepts are abstract, such as religious ceremonies or marriage. Other ideas are concrete, like details of relationships between members, and a system of specific titles. Dousett cites Tonkinson, who describes kinship as a network of relationships, each two of which are not related to each other. Stone points to relationships that are recognized based on marriage. In turn, Dousett writes about a particular “biological idiom”, which includes a set of institutions, norms, cognitive recognition, and rules.

Indigenous Australian concept is quite different than European systems, since it’s more than just a blood relation. According to Tonkinson, kinships play an extremely important role in various small groups. It provides regulation of interpersonal behavior, which allows such groups to survive. Kinship is a base for many networks that share resources among indigenous people. A strong tradition requires every Australian to share his or her sources with others, especially when somebody needs help. According to Schwab and Liddle, individuals have a right to share or refuse to share, depending on their capacity. Dousett points out differences between European and Aboriginal concepts. While European model considers only direct relation to a certain group, Aborigines also pay attention to business relations. Kinship is also an opportunity to assess contributions of each individual in society, related to other members. They use words “mother” and “father”, talking to the oldest members of the clan. These words are not only titles but also signals for a certain behavioral model that is appropriate in each particular case. These rules also determine sexual access. Thus, kinship is a fundamental term that determines almost all interpersonal relationships, as well as ways of socialization.

To explain how societies of indigenous Australians work, Doulett refers to Henry Lewis Morgan. This American anthropologist and lawyer described kinship as a classificatory system used among indigenous Australians. These people consider various types of relations, and based on them recognize somebody as a member of the group. According to Morgan, this system illustrates earlier stages of the evolution of society. As well as simple groups consisting of two individuals developed into complicated tribal systems, intermarriages became more popular, which made it possible to build cities and states.

Social Control and Socialization

Not only rules of kinship can be seen in adult societies, but in groups of children as well. Parents teach their children to socialize with group members who are the same age, and such socialization takes place at the same time as they learn how to hunt and gather food. Boys learn hunting, and girls collect food with their mothers. Gender roles also include certain restriction regarding brothers and sisters, who cannot spend time together. “Sons in law” and “mothers-in-law” are not allowed to play with each other. This rule gains power when a boy becomes old enough to marry, and create his own family.

Kinship is also a system that determines leadership. In this case, the more complex issues, the more old members consider them. Elders of every clan meet to discuss important matters.

Along with that, there is no strict system of social classes. Every indigenous Australian has to go through certain stages and learn some skills, determined by his or her age. At the same time, economic and religious opportunities are not determined by age or other hierarchic factors.


In the indigenous Australian society, marriages are not just a part of personal relations, but also a tool of negotiation among different groups. Future marriages are arranged in the same way as barter deals. Each marriage confirms certain agreements between two groups. Most of these obligations come into power even before marriages are formally registered. Marriages also support agreements between groups regarding spouses for future marriages. This is a reason why many moieties support marriages with members of another particular moiety only.

According to Houseman, marriages are products of social constructs. Marriages link two individuals in order to establish certain long-term relations. Along with this, a ritual of the wedding also links other people who are related to the groom and bride. It makes marriage and kinship interrelated systems.

Houseman also writes about marriages among indigenous Australians as of guarantees of social stability. He thinks that marriage combines various factors and that all marriages are interrelated by a circular principle, starting from core marriages, and to outer marriage. He even provides specific terms, such as “matrimonial community”, “deliminated marriage network”, and “connobium”.

“Deliminated marriage networks” are net structures based on wide groups. These groups are linked according to expectations of members. These expectations determine possible marriages. Each marriage forms its own web of relatives from both sides, who are now related to each other. The “core of deliminated marriage networks” consists of various genealogical systems of “reconnected marriage”. Thus, members may be re-linked to each other with new marriages. In these terms, “matrimonial community” is a community that consists of people who are not directly related to each other, but related only by these marriages. “Connobiums” are a kind of a consequence, since they appear as a result of multiple marriages between different groups.

At the same time, maintaining the existing ties isn’t a key agenda of marriages among indigenous Australians. Most moieties and clans intermarry because it helps maintain a certain order in a land structure, protecting lands from other groups and sharing knowledge. All these things are reflected in various rituals.

Kinship after Colonization

Indigenous Australian culture changed due to colonization. Westernization affected almost all parts of life, and kinship is no exception. Many Aborigines were shocked by Western culture, and kinship was partially replaced with new modern norms or disappeared at all. Many indigenous Australians who haven’t managed to adjust to the new standards became alcoholics, others committed suicide as the last attempt to escape a new reality. According to Daly and Smith, indigenous Australians earn less than non-Aboriginal Australians, and poverty level hasn’t changed since the 1990s.

The most important factor that changed kinship system forever was marriages with Europeans. The more indigenous people move into cities, the stronger influence of European culture. Even in 19th century, Aborigines moved to new places searching for jobs. Even in the 1990s, Aborigines still explored new cities, even though governmental structures reported migration losses. Many indigenous Australians were no longer 100% Aborigines but were raised in interracial marriages. The same situation was observed in the USA during the era of slavery. Everyone who moved to the cities should adapt to new conditions, accepting elements of European systems of relationships. Leaving lands of their ancestors, Aborigines have been losing any support of their community. These people had no material or emotional support in difficult situations, like searching for places to live or jobs. Another factor that determined further cultural changes in Aboriginal society was children (especially those adopted by European families) who studied European curriculum, focused on European values and English language. They had to forget all norms and rules of their tribes.

A Portrait of Life and Self-Destruction

Many common problems of Aboriginals in the 20th century were reflected in the book Aboriginal Suicide Is Different: A Portrait of Life and Self-Destruction. Reviewing this work, Layton pointed out the absence of particular psychological patterns among Aborigines who committed suicide. There are no patterns of mental disorders that would make this group of Australians different than others. Most common reasons for suicide are unemployment, alcoholism, and drug abuse. The same situation is observed among non-Aboriginal Australians who have died from suicide. Layton suggests that racial factor may not play a significant role in suicidal statistics. He wrote about social conditions of the 1980s when traditional Aboriginal social structures have been almost destroyed under the pressure of modern culture. Along with this, Government policies made indigenous Australians completely dependent on state-sponsored programs.

According to Wooten, growing poverty among Aborigines was only supported by new policies that allowed their self-determination. He states that the only way out of this complicated situation is to help Aborigines adapt to modern life. The government just created a kind of a prison instead. He suggests training indigenous people to get out of this zone of isolation. Wooten thinks that official organizations focused on helping Aborigines must develop a new approach, judging people based on their performance, without forgetting any shortcomings of support.

Given the growing interest in indigenous heritage, Aborigines could benefit from studying and renewing their traditional kinship system. According to Doulet, if indigenous Australians want to regain their lands, they have to learn more about kinship, since it will help get more information about each particular clan, and so stronger any claims regarding the property.

Doulet notes that European colonization and assimilation laws caused big damage to the whole Aboriginal social system. Every particular system included a relatively small number of members, representing only certain clans, moieties, or groups. They had no chances to resist all the changes brought by white people, such as the loss in population, deportation from their ancestral lands, and all kinds of assimilation and cultural changes. The traditional Australian social system relied on minor groups tied by personal relationships.

Nevertheless, Australian government did change its policy, which is a significant effort towards indigenous people. In 1965, Aborigines were allowed to choose whether they want to assimilate or not. Fifteen years later, they finally have got a determination right. Many organizations help Aborigines rehabilitate after hundreds of years of discrimination. Obviously, it’s not enough. Indigenous Australians must also help themselves integrate into modern society. Training programs will work only if more Aborigines participate in them, developing their skills, and becoming a significant voice in the decision-making process. Educated Aborigines may think of studying their traditional social systems, readjusting kinship according to the new reality.


In this essay, we considered some factors that had an impact on Australian Aborigines’ kinship system, and which aspects of their economic and social life have changed during the last few centuries. We also analyzed possible ways of solving problems caused by colonization processes.