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Curricula Project Glossary

Indigenous Australian

Australia’s Indigenous peoples are two distinct cultural groups made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, there is great diversity within these two broadly described groups exemplified by the over 250 different language groups spread across the nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples also have their own laws and customs to determine the membership of their group.

It is best not to resort to the acronyms of ATSI or TSI.


An Aboriginal person is 'a person who is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia', and for legal and technical reasons, a person 'who is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia, identifies as an Aboriginal and is accepted by their identified Aboriginal community as Aboriginal'.

Torres Strait Islander

Defined in the same terms as ‘Aboriginal’ people and included under the legal definitions of ‘Aboriginal’ for legal historical reasons, even though they comprise a different cultural, linguistic and ethnic group.


By definition, non-Indigenous Australians are those people who cannot be defined as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander because they are not descended from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander ancestor.

Songlines or Song series

A body of songs that are sung sequentially or in repetitive groups or in repetition by authorised Aboriginal singers and intended to convey a sacred narrative. ‘Songlines’ was popularised by the title of the travelogue by British writer Bruce Chatwin).


The term culture is used in many different ways. In the context of Indigenous people, it refers to the collective social, economic and artistic manifestations of the societies of the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples and encompasses ideas, customs, languages and the distinctive material expressions of these societies.

Cultural practice

A cultural practice usually refers to the customary way of doing something, or the application of an idea, belief or method.


There are an estimated 9,000 human languages, and 600 of them are indigenous to Australia. Many are extinct or endangered. Most Australian (or Indigenous) languages belong to the Pama-Nyungam family whiles others (such as Yolngu Nyulnyulan, Macro-Gunwinyguan, Iwaidjan languages and Torres Strait Islander languages) are classified as Non Pama-Nyungan. Indigenous Australian languages include Creoles.


‘Country’ is an Aboriginal Kriol (Creole) term that refers to the traditional estate of an Aboriginal person, whether a man, woman or child. This may mean a specific area inherited from ancestors and belonging to a descent-based group of people or a larger, more general region in which that person’s ancestors originate.

Land, sea, waters

In many Indigenous cultures, the idea of ‘country' will include all the land, sea and waters within a defined area. These places – be land or water – may have special meanings because they are regarded as being created by spiritual ancestors, and particular places within these estates will be regarded as sacred, or having special religious meanings. These estates are owned by groups who inherit their lands and waters by virtue of being descended from the relevant ancestors with ties or affiliations to these places and the sacred stories about how they were made.

Oral histories

Oral traditions and oral histories in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities are the records of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and they should be regarded as a significant part of Australian history.

Traditional Owner

Definition of a ‘traditional owner’ varies depending on jurisdiction. According to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth):

a local descent group of Aboriginals who: (a) have common spiritual affiliations to a site on the land, being affiliations that place the group under a primary spiritual responsibility for that site and for the land; and (b) are entitled by Aboriginal tradition to forage as of right over that land.


Someone who has gained recognition within their community as a custodian of knowledge and lore, and who has permission to disclose cultural knowledge and beliefs. Recognised Elders are highly respected people within Aboriginal communities.


Of, belonging to, or inherited from an ancestor or ancestors.


Local and indigenous knowledge refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. For rural and indigenous peoples, local knowledge informs decision-making about fundamental aspects of day-to-day life. This knowledge is integral to a cultural complex that also encompasses language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, ritual and spirituality.


Seasonal calendars and seasons are defined ecologically in different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities due to regional, geographical and ecological differences. Most Indigenous seasonal calendars have three large seasons each with two or three sub-seasons, or six seasons.


Kinship is a term that is used to describe how people relate to one other in different cultures. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, the concept of kinship is complex, and has wide implications in Indigenous life and social structure. Kinship determines how everyone relates to one another, as well as their roles, responsibilities and obligations regarding one another, the environment and ceremony.


The term ‘Law’ is an Aboriginal Kriol term that stands in for the expressions in Aboriginal languages, such as Tjukurrpa in Warlpiri and other desert language, and encompasses the religious, spiritual and mundane laws that Aboriginal people observe in their own cultures.

Social order

Social order is a concept used in anthropology and sociology that refers to “the way in which the various components of society—social structures and institutions, social relations, social interactions and behaviour, and cultural features such as norms, beliefs, and values—work together to maintain the status quo.”


In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, traditional practices have been passed down through generations and form an important part of their identity. Traditions are adapted to changing circumstances in all societies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also adapt their traditions for many reasons.

Native title

Native title is the recognition in Australian law, under common law and the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), of Indigenous Australians' rights and interests in land and waters according to their own traditional laws and customs.


An intermediate point on a route or line of travel that may include landmarks such as rivers, mountains or trees.

Moon halo

Circles seen around the moon caused by high, thin cirrus clouds. Ice crystals in Earths atmosphere create the halos by refracting and reflecting light.

Celestial objects

A naturally occurring physical entity in space that is visible from Earth, including star clusters, asteroids, moons and planets.


A simple hand-held device (technology) that can be used as a guide to help identify individual a stars and constellations which are visible in the night sky. Can be used throughout the year and at any time of night. Used to help the students determine what stars are in the sky throughout the night at various times of the year, find directions, and tell time.

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