Aboriginal Australia

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The Nations of Aboriginal Australia

Tindale's Catalogue of Australian Aboriginal Tribes


The People of Aboriginal Australia

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 local Aboriginal 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.

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

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


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

  • Aborigines
  • Blackfella
  • Whitefella
  • Yellafella
  • Coloured

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

The Colonisation of Aboriginal Australia

Aboriginal 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.

The White Australia Policy

Until 1972 when the policy was abolished, Aboriginal Australian people were excluded by definition.

Governments classified 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 Aboriginal 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.