Australia in the Before Time


Ceremonial life


Ceremonies play a very important part in Indigenous peoples' cultures. They differ from region to region. They were an important part of the education of the young; for example, some ceremonies were a rite of passage for young people between 10 and 16 years, representing a point of transition from childhood to adulthood. Most ceremonies combined dance, song, rituals and often elaborate body decoration and costume. The Elders conducted the ceremonies that were designed to teach particular aspects of the lore of their clan, spiritual beliefs and survival skills. Some ceremonies took place in stages, which could be part of a longer process lasting over several years. For example, ceremonies around death would vary depending on the person and the group and could go for many months or even over years. Decorative body painting indicated the type of ceremony performed. Ceremonial dress varied from region to region and included body paint, brightly coloured feathers from birds and ornamental coverings.

In the Eora nation boys went through a tooth ceremony as part of their initiation, in which their front tooth was knocked out. The missing tooth was a sign to others that the person had been initiated. Or the initiate might have their ears or nose pierced. During the initiation stage, a boy was trained in the skills, knowledges and beliefs he needed for his role as an adult in Aboriginal society. Some initiation ceremonies were secret and only attended by males of the clan. Women were forbidden to attend. Similarly women's ceremonies took place for women only and particular events and particularly places were out of bounds for the boys and men.

Elders also prepared girls for adulthood. They learned culinary and medicinal knowledge of plants and roots, and how to track small animals. Some female ceremonies included knowledge of ritual bathing, being separated from the clan for long periods, and which foods were taboo. Fewer women's ceremonies were recorded when Europeans arrived because most anthropologists and linguists at the time were men.


A snapshot of NaN

  • January
    • The Royal Society approached King George III for financial assistance to fund an expedition to observe the transit of Venus from the South Seas.

  • April
    • The ship HM Bark Endeavour (formerly the Earle of Pembroke) was commissioned by the British Royal Navy Board to undergo a voyage to the South Seas. She was to be captained by Lieutenant James Cook.

  • July
    • Cook was involved with fitting out HM Bark Endeavour while moored in Deptford.

  • August
    • Lieutenant James Cook left Plymouth Harbour for Madeira.

  • November
    • Cook wrote to the Royal Society complaining of the poor treatment he received from the Portuguese viceroy at Rio de Janeiro. The viceroy believed that Cook's real purpose was smuggling or piracy.

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