Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are deeply connected to the natural environment – they believe they come from the land, it’s a part of them and provides them with all their needs. Everything is alive and has meaning, from animals to rocks and trees. They have a spiritual connection to the land, dating back to the Dreaming of time immemorial.
Stories and lessons about how to live on the land have been passed down over many thousands of years and generations from Elders to young people. The tradition of oral storytelling is a special part of Indigenous Australian cultures because it explains the creation of all things, relationships, associations, family, cultural practices, history, lore/law, tribal boundaries, natural phenomena, where to go and not to go, why things happen, and where and when to get certain foods and materials.
Scientific knowledge and information is also shared in oral tradition, with an example being Indigenous cosmology stories such as ‘The Emu in the Sky’, which can be discerned from some of the many stars which make up the Milky Way. Indigenous Australians refer to animals and features of the natural environment as ways to interpret and make sense of the workings of the universe.
Totems derived from the natural environment is another way for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to understand Dreaming stories and lessons in daily life. A totem is an object or thing in nature that is adopted as a clan or family emblem, such as a type of fish, mammal, bird, reptile, plant or other natural feature of the environment. They are an important part of cultural identity, and are especially significant in ceremony, dance, music and song. They are often considered sacred by their owners, meaning that there may be restrictions on hunting or eating certain animals or plants.