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Climate, Weather and Culture
A culture in which all things past and present are interrelated
Introduction A precious heritage Culture and beliefs Indigenous seasonal descriptions


Introduction to Climate Culture

A history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have lived in Australia for at least 50 000 years, with recent evidence suggesting far earlier human occupation of the Australian continent.  Aboriginal people developed unique methods of living which enabled life and community to flourish in even the harshest environments and have allowed the sustained development of the world's oldest continuing culture.

Australia is home to hundreds of individual nations or countries, each with distinct cultural practices, beliefs and languages. These cultural practices involve a deep spiritual understanding of the environment and govern how communities live with and maintain the land, plants and animals of their region.

Stories are linked with culture as a way of passing information to younger generations. These stories are commonly referred to as Dreamtime or dreaming stories. Dreamtime stories often talk about creation, and explain how natural elements were formed or how species came to be. Included in these stories can be knowledge of hunting locations, animal behaviours and any restrictions or laws that apply to a particular species or region.

Torres Strait Islander culture is heavily influenced by the oceans, the stars and human interaction with the environment. The Torres Strait region is made up of hundreds of islands varying in size and geography, of which 17 are currently inhabited by 20 different communities.

Torres Strait Islander communities have varying cultural practices and traditions, many of which differ greatly from mainland communities. Interactions with mainland Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands have created a cultural identity unique to the Torres Strait Islands.

Adapting to an Ice Age

During the time of known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life on country, there have been great changes in the climate of the continent.

The main weather event of this era was an ice age which arrived approximately 20 000 years ago and lasted for some 5000 years. During which time the average temperatures fell by 10º C, rainfall decreased, and cold, dry winds blew across the land.

What was previously a place of plenty, with ample water supplies and bountiful game, became stark and inhospitable countryside. It has been suggested that 80 per cent of the Australian continent was temporarily abandoned during this period, with people migrating to areas that could provide greater hospitability, access to water and protection from the elements.  

The Bibbulum people of the southwest Western Australia talk of a far off time when it was not as warm and congenial as it is today. Stories of this time begin with 'In the nyitting times..' which translated means 'In the icy cold times of long, long ago....'

About 14 000 years ago, the temperature began to rise and plant and animal populations returned to the levels of earlier days. This allowed Indigenous people to once again extend their area of influence across much of the continent.

These fluctuating temperatures also produced large variations in sea levels, which in turn had far reaching consequences for Aboriginal communities.

At one stage, during the ice age, sea levels were approximately 100 m below their present level, and what is now mainland Australia, was connected to modern Papua New Guinea and Tasmania.

With the rising sea level these land masses separated, with the profound effect of isolating Tasmanian Aboriginal people from their mainland relatives.