This is an NFSA Digital Learning resource. See all Digital Learning websites.
Mabo home
Diversity & Unity
The diverse lifestyles and food gathering demands generated an enormous range of technologies, dwellings and lifestyle supports. While desert dwellers lived a highly mobile lifestyle, in Tasmania and in the south east of the mainland communities were more sedentary, the dwellings more substantial and technology complex.
However, such cultural diversity cannot only be attributed to the impact of the environment on traditional aboriginal communities.

Of the more than two hundred languages spoken by aboriginal people at the time of white colonisation, most languages have not survived because of the high death toll from disease, murder and ill treatment, and because colonial 'welfare' policies for many years discouraged their use.

For the remaining speakers, distinctions between languages serve as flexible markers of other kinds of differences among Indigenous Australians. The public presentation of these differences is a matter for Indigenous Australians' negotiation, sometimes serious, sometimes playful. In some areas - for example among the Western Desert people now calling themselves Martu - recent colonial pressures have encouraged neighbouring dialects to coalesce into a common (Martu) language. This gives people a choice as to whether to emphasise their shared regional culture or to celebrate the fine cultural distinctions within their region.

To think of Indigenous Australians as being a culturally varied ensemble of 'peoples' or 'nations' is no more accurate than to think of them as unified under a label such as 'the Indigenous people of Australia'. Whether it is more appropriate to dwell on diversity or on commonality depends on context. On the one hand, non-Indigenous Australians' awareness of Indigenous cultural diversity has been enriched by linguistic research, by archaeological investigation and by 'product differentiating' tendencies of the burgeoning market for Aboriginal art.

On the other hand, since federation Indigenous political mobilisation around political, social and cultural issues, has created symbols of regional and national commonalities, and governments have encouraged both national and regional political structures.
Keywords: cultural preservation, culture, custom, fishing, hunting, land use, language, language, Tasmania, Western Australia, Western Desert

Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor