Tribal voices

The Sydney Morning Herald ICON

  Roulla Yiacoumi looks at the people, culture, health, music and art of Aboriginal Australia.

  Saturday, March 31, 2001

  Stories of the Dreaming

Indigenous Australians believe Dreamtime was when everything on Earth was created. This site contains a wonderful collection of Dreamtime stories from around the country. Read how the emu came into being, why the waratah, which was once white, is now red, and how water first reached the arid plains of central Queensland. You can read, listen or watch the stories, which are read aloud by various narrators. The site explains the importance of storytelling in this culture and why some stories are sacred and can be told only to certain people.

  National Native Title Tribunal

If you have no idea what native title is, or what the difference between native title and land rights is, this site is worth a look. The tribunal doesn't decide whether or not native title exists; its purpose is to help people resolve native title applications through mediation. The site explains how to make a native title claim and details the lengthy process. Not much in the way of light reading here (it's a Federal Government site) but informative all the same.

Yothu Yindi

Easily Australia's most successful Aboriginal musical export, Yothu Yindi has produced a stunning site to showcase the band. You can listen to music samples, watch video clips and find tour dates. The site has an annoying Java scroll feature that r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y brings up the text on the site. So do yourself a favour and hit the "Text Version" link and read at your own pace. By the way, did you know Yothu Yindi means "child and mother"?

 Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre

The Arrernte Aboriginal tribal group, 100km south of Alice Springs, has run the centre since 1995. Online visitors can study the culture, peruse an art gallery and book a desert tour. The truly adventurous can step in to the Didgeridoo University of Central Australia. Odd as this sounds, it contains a detailed tutorial outlining the intricacies of mastering the didgeridoo, including circular breathing and how to make owl and kookaburra sounds.

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

Indigenous Australians die, on average, 18 to 19 years earlier than non-indigenous Australians. Babies born to indigenous women are twice as likely to have a low birth weight, and the level of kidney failure among indigenous people has reached epidemic proportions. Barely three months old, this well-developed site is full of such glum statistics and health information for indigenous Australians. HealthInfoNet takes on a broad definition of "health", and also addresses social, emotional and cultural factors. There is a noticeboard for job vacancies, a listing of upcoming health conferences and even a medical glossary.

  Lakes Entrance Aboriginal Art Group

Sure, there are some nice paintings and carvings you can buy here, but the best thing about this site is the Indigenous Business Directory. You can support Aboriginal businesses in the fields of tourism and hospitality, arts and culture, and even auto services. The only drawback is that the directory is Victorian-based. A national version should definitely be considered.

  The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

When former ATSIC commissioner the late Charles Perkins said visitors to the Sydney 2000 Olympics would be met by burning buildings and torched cars as part of an Aboriginal protest, all hell broke loose. But while ATSIC has had a colourful past, including controversy over its management, it has worked persistently to promote issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The site addresses several areas of concern, including deaths in custody, the stolen generation, mandatory sentencing, native title, unemployment and housing. The "Fact or Myth" part of the site is curious; rather than being upfront and dispelling untruths about Aboriginal  people, history and even ATSIC itself (aside from a handful of "fact sheets"), the section is used to promote the sale of a $9.95 book which will do just that.

Aboriginal Languages of Australia

Indigenous Australians spoke hundreds of languages but most are now extinct, according to site editor David Nathan. The site contains detailed information about 40 of the remaining languages, including Arrernte, Yolngu, Noongar, and Pitjantjatjara. There are excellent references to further online and offline reading materials, including a link to the Aboriginal Studies WWW Virtual Library.

Aboriginal Australia

An extremely thorough and user-friendly site, brings together a bunch of Aboriginal-run enterprises. You can shop for books, homewares, art and clothing; plan a holiday with an Aboriginal flavour; and learn about various aspects of Aboriginal culture, including spirituality and bush medicine.

Ending Offending

There's no getting around this: most inmates in Northern Territory correctional facilities are Aboriginal. This site takes a peek inside to see how education, art and music are being used to help offenders overcome alcohol and drug-abuse. The Prisoner Education Unit offers courses in construction, hospitality and horticulture. More than 100 inmates are enrolled in music-related courses such as songwriting, stage lighting and band management.

There's always a nasty lawyer somewhere ready to rip down unauthorised fan sites. This one, dedicated to Aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman, formerly lived at "Cathy's lawyers wanted me to remove it," writes the site's creator, Woopa Nice. So here it is, in a new location with a mouthful of a URL. The site takes a while to download, but persevere. Grammar aside, a lot of thought has been put into creating a slick, one-stop site for Cathy Freeman photos, press clippings and vital statistics. Hopefully, the site will be relocated soon. Currently hosted on a free Web page hosting service, an annoying pop-up window activates every time you click on a link.


We have all seen the distinct red, black and yellow Aboriginal flag, but did you know it was born out of a need to stand out at demonstration rallies? Aboriginal artist Harold Thomas designed the flag in 1971 after attending land rights campaign marches and decided a more visible presence was required. The black symbolises the Aboriginal people, the red represents the earth and the yellow circle in the centre is the sun. Interestingly, Thomas has dismissed the much-mooted idea of somehow combining the Aboriginal flag with the Australian flag, declaring "our [Aboriginal] flag is not a secondary thing".

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service is responsible for protecting and preserving Aboriginal sites, including burial grounds, carved trees, engravings and paintings. There are more than 18,000 known sites in NSW, many dating back thousands of years. This site explains the significance of the protected areas and where they can be found. The service also maintains a database of the sites that will cost you $30 a pop to access.

Australian Stone Tools

A bit thin on graphics, this site contains a basic assessment of various Aboriginal artefacts. Assembled by student Stephanie Hawkins at the Australian National University in Canberra, it presents a series of early tools used by Aborigines, including grinding stones, blades, spears and axes. A history of the implements explains their origins and uses, and a detailed bibliography contains useful references for further investigation. The Aboriginal tools are on loan from the Australian Museum, Sydney.

Apology Australia

"This site is provided in good faith as an opportunity for the people of Australia to apologise for the suffering of the stolen generation," writes webmaster Anthony Shipley. Almost 20,000 people have answered the call, visiting the site to register their names. The site doesn't tell you what will become of this list, whether it be presented to the Government or simply act as a peaceful protest. There are Sorry T-Shirts ($15) and Sorry Song CDs ($10) to buy, as well as a list of upcoming reconciliation events in each State.

The hardest word

  "Bringing Them Home" Report

In August 1995, then attorney-general Michael Lavarch asked the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission to examine laws that had facilitated the removal of indigenous children from their parents. This controversial report does not make easy reading. It contains distressing accounts of babies taken from their mothers at birth, young children kidnapped and abused by authorities and Aboriginal camps raided so children could be taken and placed into homes. The report found that the laws that separated indigenous children from their families "have contributed directly to the alienation of indigenous societies today".

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation

As official as "Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation" sounds, this group is a non-political, self-funded outfit seeking to raise awareness of reconciliation issues. Its most successful campaign to date has been a "Sea of Hands" in 1997, where thousands of plastic hands bearing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were planted in front of Parliament House. Some 250,000 people have signed an online petition calling for justice and reconciliation. The site also contains an easy-to-understand background to native title, including a summary of the High Court's Mabo and Wik decisions.

Other sites dealing with indigenous issues:

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

Indigenous Australia


Wirudgerie Didgeridoos


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