First Australians

First Peoples

From your first Welcome to Country, Sydney will provide exciting opportunities to engage with Indigenous cultures through art exhibitions, film festivals, dance, theatre and other dynamic happenings.

The first people of Australia are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, known as Indigenous Australians. Indigenous people are estimated to have lived in Australia for more than 70,000 years and are the oldest continuing civilisation in the world. 

Long called home by many Aboriginal people from eastern Australia, Sydney is becoming a hub for Indigenous peoples from around Australia and will expand your knowledge of the diversity of their lives and societies. Sydney art galleries and museums regularly showcase innovative contemporary Aboriginal art, ranging from acrylic paintings of the Western Desert to bark paintings of Arnhem Land, to urban, politically motivated works. 

Stepping back in time you can see thousands of examples of Aboriginal rock art, engraved in sandstone near beautiful beaches within an hour from Sydney. Visit numerous historic sites and learn about encounters between members of the Eora nation, the traditional owners of the Sydney area, and non-Indigenous settlers. Then visit museums and Aboriginal organisations to find out about Indigenous people’s journey to self-determination, and how they gained civil rights and land rights through political activism. You can also take a guided tour of the Botanic Gardens to learn about Indigenous people’s use of native plants. Depending on the time of year, Sydney also hosts exciting Indigenous musical events.  

Totalling about 3 percent of the nation’s population, their customs, religious traditions and expressive cultures vary from region to region throughout Australia. In mainland Australia, Aboriginal stories about the creation of the land are commonly referred to in English as “Dreaming” stories. They tell of the activities of ancestral beings who journeyed across the land, naming places and “countries” in different Indigenous languages as they did so. 

Although only about 120 Indigenous languages are still spoken in Australia, they encode important information about the environment and different ways of knowing and being in the world. While many Indigenous Australians now live in urban areas, most retain a connection to their traditional countries from which they gain spiritual strength and identity. 

Reflecting the diversity of their lifeworlds, and united by similar historical experiences of colonization, Indigenous people’s contemporary political and cultural representations will complicate your ideas about Australia’s national identity. Continuing to assert their cultural authority, their cultural productions include film, television, music, drama, dance, writing and visual art, for which they are internationally renowned.

- Petronella Vaarzon-Morel, Instructor for Anthropology of Indigenous Australia and Indigenous Australian Art: An Analytical Survey.