Everyday Life

Nomadic Lifestyle

Aborigines in front of their shelters

With much of Australia having a mild climate, people often slept in the open. Warmth and comfort was provided by a camp-fire, and often people kept warm by sleeping between two small fires. The dingo, as a camp dog, also slept beside people providing warmth.

Aboriginal housing mostly consisted of simple shelters made from a framework of straight branches, then covered with leafy branches or sheets of bark.

Aborigines in front of larger shelters

The covering depended on locally available materials at the time. In some areas sheets of soft paperbark, easily pulled from trees, were available. In other areas stiffer sheets of thick stringy-bark were cut from trees. If there weren’t any of these trees around, then bushes and leafy branches were used.

In the tropical north, where a richer environment allowed people to camp in the one area for longer, more elaborate structures were built. Sometimes elevated platforms with a fire below was used, this was designed to make smoke and repel mosquitos and other insects.

Simple shelter made of bark

In wet and cold conditions, closed dome-shaped shelters were made, commencing with a framework of sticks bent over and meeting in the centre. These were between one to two metres high and this framework was covered with available materials – sheets of bark when available. In the desert they used layers of grass, twigs and leaves.

In the tropical north, broad palm leaves were sometimes used. The shelters had one or two entrances, and sometimes were as large as 3 metres across. These were big enough that a small fire could be made inside. While a fire provided warmth when it was cold, it was also used to make smoke to repel mosquitos when they were bad. The shelters could be closed to stop either rain or mosquitos coming in. This was done by placing bushes at the small entrance.

Winter shelter covered in grass

Very simple wind breaks and lean-tos were used during the day. These were temporary shelters to protect a person or their camp-fire from the wind. Bark could be curved and placed sideways, partially dug into the ground to fix it. Another way was to construct a simple frame of saplings and make a wall from branches and other vegetation.

Sometimes a pile of bushes was used as a low windbreak to protect a daytime fire.

In many regions of Australia shallow caves provided natural shelters from the weather. A bed of paperbark or leaves was used and sometimes the walls were adorned with paintings.

Stone houses is only known from two regions of Australia, on High Cliffy Island off the Kimberley coast and in one district of Victoria. In these regions, stone circles about two metres across and 1.5 metres high were erected forming the shelter walls. Branches and vegetation were placed over these to form a roof.

Australian Aboriginal people in the Central Desert gathered all their food needs from the land and generally used food only found within their traditional country.

The women were the principal food gatherers searching for seeds, vegetables, fruit and grubs. They used digging sticks and carried the food in Coolamon’s (wooden bowls). Men hunted kangaroo, lizards, snakes, goanna and small birds with boomerangs, throwing sticks and spears.
The collected knowledge gathered over forty thousand years of the location of food and water were saved in the Dreaming stories and regularly re-enacted during ceremony in story, song, dance and art. The retelling of the stories ensures that this vital knowledge is passed on to the next generation.

Women are also responsible for the caring of the young children. At around six years of age, the male children join the men to learn hunting while the young girls remain with the women to learn food gathering.

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