Indigenous Australia

Rotate Your Device!

This content is too wide to fit your screen.
Rotate the device to landscape view.

The Nations of Aboriginal Australia

Indigenous Australians named all of Australia in their languages before British colonisation.

Aboriginal, (meaning from the beginning) and other European words are used because there is no Aboriginal word that refers to all Aboriginal nations.

About 80% of the Torres Strait Island population now resides outside the Torres Strait and terms such as Murray Island Peoples and Mer Island Peoples are also used.

Koori, Murri, and Nyoongah are appropriate for the areas where they apply.

There are local names for particular language groups, for example Gamilaroi (NSW) or Pitjantjatjara (NT/SA).

Some people use Nunga in general reference to people who reside in and around the area of Adelaide.

The People of Aboriginal Australia

The local Indigenous community can clarify appropriate use of all of these terms, and can be consulted for further advice.


These terms stress the humanity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  • Indigenous Australian people
  • Aboriginal people
  • Torres Strait Islander people

The Aboriginal English words blackfella and whitefella are used by Indigenous Australian people all over the country; some communities also use yellafella and coloured.


Although less appropriate, people should respect the use of these terms.

  • Aborigines
  • Blackfella
  • Whitefella
  • Yellafella
  • Coloured

Inappropriate terms tend to suggest that Aboriginal people are all the same, and thus stereotypes Indigenous Australians.

The Colonisation of Aboriginal Australia

Indigenous Australians named all of Australia in their languages before British colonisation.

Part of the process of colonisation has been the renaming of places and natural features all over Australia.

The best-known example, Ayers Rock was a British name imposed on Uluru, a significant site in Central Australia which should be respected and recognised.

Uluru - Central Australia

The White Australia Policy

Exemption certificates

Governments classified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people according to skin colour and parentage

Exemption certificates were issued to Aboriginal people with lighter skin colour.

This allowed them the same basic freedoms that people without Indigenous heritage took for granted as citizens.

The assumption was that any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person with any European blood was more intelligent, and a fitter member of Australian society.

White Australia Policy

Until 1972 when the White Australia Policy was abolished, Indigenous Australian people were excluded by definition.

Racism in 1993

Aboriginal people have never had chiefs, kings nor queens.
This was a colonial strategy to raise up individuals for the authorities to deal with.

Colonial governments had no experience of dealing with the structures of Indigenous societies, and this was a way of trying to make Aboriginal societies conform to English experience of chiefs in other countries.

It was a way of honouring individual status, but there was usually an element of mockery, for example such names as King Billy or Queen Gooseberry.

Note however that many Aboriginal people who are descended from colonially appointed kings and queens are proud of this ancestry.

Elders in Indigenous Australian Society

Elders are men and women who are respected for their wisdom and knowledge of their culture and maintain social order according to the Law. The word Elders should be written with a capital letter as a mark of respect.