Australian Aboriginal culture is the longest continuing culture in the world. South Australia has a long and enduring Aboriginal history and ever evolving Aboriginal traditions.
South Australia is home to over 30 Aboriginal groups, each with distinct beliefs, cultural practices and languages.
Aboriginal creation ancestor stories (sometimes called dreamtime or dreaming stories) explain how natural elements in the landscape were formed or how certain species came to be. The stories describe how creation ancestors shaped and shifted the landscape, how they crafted its beauty and natural resources and then gifted these places to specific groups of people across South Australia. The stories inform cultural practices, which govern how Aboriginal communities live with each other and maintain the land, plants and animals of their country, and are also a way of passing information to younger generations. Aboriginal groups and Traditional Owners consider these stories hold strong significance for them.
Aboriginal sites and the stories associated with them often originate from the very distant past and, importantly, contribute to the living belief systems and customs of many contemporary Aboriginal people. It is essential that research undertaken about South Australia is done hand in hand with Aboriginal people. The creation ancestor stories can be windows into Australia’s geological past and the longevity of the oral tradition can be astounding.
South Australia is archaeologically rich and contains some of the most significant archaeological sites in Australia, with current evidence suggesting Aboriginal people have been present in South Australia for a conservatively estimated 45 000 years before present. There are also many significant areas of traditional Aboriginal land use and occupation in South Australia that have never been archaeologically or anthropologically surveyed.
Australian Aboriginal traditional knowledge, encoded in sites and stories and passed down through generations, has informed unique ways of living and has enabled life and community to endure and flourish, even in the harshest environments. Despite the adversities of climate and social change, traditional knowledge has sustained Australian Aboriginal culture. Sites of significance according to Aboriginal tradition and sites significant to Aboriginal archaeology, anthropology and history are protected in South Australia by the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988.