The First Australians

Classical Aboriginal Australian patterns covering present-day mainland Australia and Tasmania.
Yugambeh Aboriginal warriors demonstrating traditional fire making during a culture show.
An Australian bush fire.
Rock painting depicting kangaroo hunting.
Rocks and trees, two things which Aboriginal Australians held sacred.
Vintage photo of an Aboriginal Australian man.

The first humans arrived in present-day Australia from Asia some 50 000 years ago. Known as Aboriginal Australians, these people were hunter-gatherers, sustaining themselves by eating plants, animals and whatever else the Australian wildlife offered. There is also evidence that the Aboriginal Australians, despite being nomads, managed the land they lived on in various ways. They did, for example, clear up areas of land by way of fire. This was done in order to lure animals to the fresh plants that would soon grow from the ashy soil.

Fires changing the landscape

Apart from stimulating plant growth, fires were also used as a way to flush out game. Sometimes, though, the fires grew larger than the Aboriginal Australians had intended and spread out of control. This led to many areas regularly being exposed to fire, and as a consequence, here, forests over time adapted and became dominated by fire-retardant plants. Large wildfires, furthermore, may also have contributed to animals such as giant kangaroos and marsupial lions going extinct in Australia shortly after humans arrived on the continent.

Their inadvertent landscape alterations notwithstanding, the indigenous people had — and often still have — great respect for nature. In large part, this respect stemmed from the belief that trees, rocks, rivers and many other things were created by the venerated creator ancestors. The creator ancestors, it was said, after disappearing from the earth as physical beings, remained as spirits within the trees, the rocks and the rivers which they had created, making these elements sacred.