Aboriginal Australian Religion
Its forms and practices have been profoundly influenced by the impact of colonialism, both past and present.
Some Indigenous Australians share the religious beliefs and values of religions introduced into Australia from other cultures around the world, particularly Europe. But for most people religious beliefs are derived from a sense of belonging-to the land, to the sea, to other people, to one's culture.
The form and expression of spirituality differs between Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Aboriginal spirituality mainly derives from the stories of the Dreaming, while Torres Strait Islander spirituality draws upon the stories of the Tagai.
"So the sad thing about it all was the missionaries didn't realise that we already had something that tied in with what they'd brought to us. They saw different as inferior, and they didn't ask us what it was that we had. And it's very sad because if they had asked... things may have been different today.
Our people, before the white man came were very spiritual people. They were connected to land and creation through the great spirit, there was a good great and a great evil spirit... And Satan was the great evil one. So there wasn't much difference in what the missionaries brought and what we already had..."
Wadjularbinna Doomadgee, Gungalidda Leader, Gulf of Carpentaria, 1996
Since the European colonisation of Australia, Indigenous Australians have had contact with missionaries and their missions. This relationship has been a difficult one. In some instances missions became instruments of government policy, engaging in practices such as forcibly separating Aboriginal children from their families in order to maximise control over the child's education into Christian ways and beliefs. In this way, missions contributed to the suppression of Aboriginal cultural practices and languages.
However, not all missions were agents of government policies. Some respected Aboriginal ways of life and the importance of ceremonies and cultural practices.
What is the Dreaming?
"The Dreaming means our identity as people. The cultural teaching and everything, that's part of our lives here, you know?... it's the understanding of what we have around us."
Merv Penrith, Elder, Wallaga Lake, 1996
The Dreaming has different meanings for different Aboriginal people. It is a complex network of knowledge, faith and practices that derive from stories of creation, and it dominates all spiritual and physical aspects of Aboriginal life. The Dreaming sets out the structures of society, the rules for social behaviour and the ceremonies performed in order to maintain the life of the land.
It governed the way people lived and how they should behave. Those who did not follow the rules were punished.
The Dreaming or Dreamtime is often used to describe the time when the earth and humans and animals were created. The Dreaming is also used by individuals to refer to their own dreaming or their community's dreaming.