SOR1: Religion And Beliefs in Australia post-1945

Contemporary Aboriginal Spirituality

Aboriginal Spirituality as Determined by the Dreaming

Discuss how Aboriginal spirituality is determined by the Dreaming


  • The Dreaming – underpins all aspects of Aboriginal spirituality and traditional life
  • Kinship – fabric of traditional Aboriginal society – everyone is related through the complex web of the Dreaming
  • Totems:
    • Tribes are made up of clans, each descended from a spirit ancestor
    • Totem – a natural part of the region the clan originated from
    • Represents the ongoing life force of the Dreaming – are used at ceremonies
    • Unifies the clan under the spirit ancestor and creates a metaphysical connection with other clans bearing the same totem
    • Transcendent bond between humans and their totem as well as a Dreaming kinship with other individuals bearing the same totem
  • Spirit ancestors:
    • Expect the members of these kinship groups to fulfil certain obligations
    • Required to obey tribal laws and beliefs and to subordinate individual interests to the greater good of the community
    • Reciprocal network of giving and receiving of right and obligations
    • Expect the knowledge will be passed down through the tribe
    • Require the kinship group to act as custodians of designated territory and totems

Ceremonial life

  • Aboriginal ceremonies always reaffirm the Dreaming
  • Vital – event happened in the past – also believed to be happening in the present
  • Usually recreate a moment of the Dreaming – allow participants to spiritually transform
  • Obliged to take part – acknowledge the Dreaming events and show the ongoing metaphysical presence of the parallel Dreaming world
  • Connected to spirituality as it is the expression of spirituality

Obligations to the land and people

  • Land, people and Dreaming- one symbiotic relationship –cannot exist without each other
  • Comprise a complex system of reciprocal obligations and rights – contribute to the ongoing physical and spiritual wellbeing of each other
  • Sacred duty to assist the land in ‘living’ to its potential – performance of ceremonies and rituals
  • The land has certain obligations – provides the necessary tools for performing ceremonies e.g. body decorations derived from the natural landscape
  • Inseparable and timeless connection with land – often regard land as mother

Issues for Aboriginal Spiritualties in Relation to: the effect of dispossession and the Land Rights movement

Discuss the continuing effect of dispossession on Aboriginal spiritualities in relation to:

  • Only make up 7.2% of Aus. population
  • Lower life expectancy – males- 67, females- 72
  • Higher incarceration rates – 20% prison population
  • High unemployment rates – 20% of indigenous population
  • 5x avg. in drug induced mental disorders
  • 2x avg. schizophrenia
  • 2-3x avg. suicide
  • Higher rates of homelessness – 9% of indigenous population

Separation from the land

  • Terra Nullius – forced dispossession of Aboriginal people from the land
  • Squatters denied access to waterholes, hunting grounds and sacred sites
  • Private property \(\rightarrow\) illegal to enter own ancestral territory – shot for doing so
  • Imported stock e.g. cows trampled the earth and muddied water holes, introduction of pests e.g. rabbits damaged the sacred landscape
  • Separation from Dreaming lands \(\rightarrow\) lost spirituality and totemic identity
  • Spiritual despair \(\rightarrow\) slow self destruction still existing today
  • Populations died out or dramatically declined- disease, malnutrition, alcohol dependence
  • Managing to live in a manner that closely resembles the traditional ways
  • Managing to integrate some traditional beliefs into more European way of life

Separation from kinship groups

  • Impossible to detach individuals from the wider community or the Dreaming family
  • Dispossession of people from land \(\rightarrow\) breakdown of the kinship system- isolated from ancestral territory and knowledge that had unified groups
  • Forced to forfeit their places of totemic identity and extended spiritual family
  • Decline of indigenous language – 350-750 distinct dialects \(\rightarrow\) less than 150
  • Many Dreaming stories and myths have died out
  • Dispassion of land and kinship groups \(\rightarrow\) breakdown in the authority of elders- rapidly hastening the separation of kinship groups
  • Without access to dreaming kin – lost ability to fulfil spiritual obligations =
  • Could no longer unite with Dreaming family in ceremonies and rites

The Stolen Generations

  • Protection and Assimilation Act – Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from families
  • Stated was for children’s welfare – attempt to ‘breed out’ Indigenous people
  • Families were cut off from each other – taken great distances away, had names changed, backgrounds erased
  • Cultural genocide
  • Devastating for Aboriginal spirituality and the psyche of those involved
  • 3x higher infant mortality
  • 3x more likely to suffer lifestyle diseases
  • 6x higher unemployment rates
  • Over representation in correctional facilities

Outline the important of the following for the Land Rights movement:

Native Title

  • Terra Nullius extinguished Native Title Acts under state and federal laws
  • NT recognises the rights of Indigenous peoples in relation to the areas of land and water belonging to their particular ancestral tribes and the validity of Aboriginal territorial laws already existing prior to European settlement
  • While not giving actual land ownership title to Indigenous peoples it allows some access to ancestral lands
  • Facilitates use of land for spiritual and ceremonial etc
  • Woodward Royal Commission – first gov’t inquiry to appreciate the crucial link between Aboriginal spirituality and the land
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975 –minority racial groups entitled to the same privileges and rights
  • Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 – endorsed limited recognition of Indigenous people’s rights to the land
  • Native Title Act gave official recognition to the Indigenous way of life, particularly its spiritual connection with the land prior to European settlement


  • 1982: Mabo and a group of others took QLD gov’t to court, wanting legal recognition of their land as their families had lived there since ‘time immemorial’
  • The deep spiritual significance was emphasised by the fact that Mabo repeatedly quoted stories and morals associated with his ancestral deity ‘Malo the Law Giver’
  • Lost in the Supreme Court, took it to the High Court and Federal Parliament passed the Native Title Act


  • 1996: The Wik people of Cape York brought a case to the High Court arguing their right to Native Title on local pastoral land
  • High Court ruled in their favour and decided that Native Title rights and the rights of pastoral leaseholders could exist simultaneously
  • 1998: Native Title Amendment Act – increased the power of the state gov’t over Native Title claims, reducing the rights of Aboriginals to negotiate directly with pastoral leaseholders
  • 2006: Native Title Amendment Act – aims to make the Native Title process ‘more efficient’ and to hasten the processing of the active claims that are awaiting determination

Analyse the importance of the Dreaming for the Land Rights movement

  • Despite over 70% of Indigenous Australians claiming adherence to Christianity- has not diminished sense of ‘country’ and Dreaming connection to land
  • Restored access to ancestral land that enabled the Dreaming to become dynamic reality once again
  • Existence of Dreaming site and the possession of Dreaming knowledge forms the basis of Land Rights claims under the Land Rights and Native Title laws
  • Demonstration of an ongoing affiliation with the land necessary for proof of entitlement – stories, songs, dances and sacred objects
  • Difficulties with secret Dreaming sites – reluctant to reveal whereabouts to invasive scrutiny of the courts
  • Issue – much of the evidence is based on oral tradition – can be dismissed as simple folklore or considered non objective and unreliable
  • Dreaming legends may have adapted to incorporate Christian motifs and experiences

Religious Expression in Australia – 1945 to the present

The Religious Landscape from 1945 to the Present in Relation to: the changing patterns of religious adherence and the current religious landscape

Outline changing patterns of religious adherence from 1945 to the present using census data

No Religion0.38.318.7+18.4
Religion Top 10 Australia
Anglican18.7%No Religion22.3%
No religion18.7%Anglican17.1%
Uniting Church5.7%Uniting Church5.0%
Presbyterian and Reformed3.0%Presbyterian and Reformed2.8%
20062011Growth (%)
No Religion18.6722.3029.41


Account for the present religious landscape in Australia in relation to:

Christianity as the major religious religious tradition

  • Christianity has been and still is the major religion in Australia
  • Post WWII, Australia counted 88% of its population as Christian
  • Today, 64% of Australian identify as Christian


  • Post 1945, the Christian face of Australian society changed dramatically due to the immigration of people fleeing Europe
  • Migrant – huge boost to numbers of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox adherents in Aus.
  • Roman Catholicism boosted almost 6% between 1947 and 1966
  • Eastern Orthodox rose from 0.2% to 3% between 1947 and 1981 – large influx of Greek immigrants
  • Small influx of Jews – reflected as 0.3% to 0.5% between 1933 to 1966
  • More recent waves of Jewish migration to Aus. – almost 17% of Jewish population arrived after 1980
  • 1976 – Islam became present in Aus. 0.3%
  • Between 1966 and 2006 Islamic population risen 69.4% due to immigration from Bosnia, Somalia and Ethiopia

Denominational switching

  • Many people are no longer making life long commitments to one church – more likely to go wherever they feel comfortable and well catered for
  • Within Christian denominations – dramatic swing away from more liberal churches towards more conservative churches

Rise of New Age religions

  • Among the fastest growing faiths in the 2011 census, increasing by 140% since 1996
  • Differ from traditional faiths in that, while they form an overall spiritual movement they lack any unifying creed or doctrine
  • Regardless, adherents tend to share some similar beliefs and practices
  • Why?
    • A reaction against what is seen as a failure of Christianity and other mainstream religions to satisfactorily respond to the needs of people today
    • Concept of something well tried and yet new and different in important
    • Spread out due to the support of celebrities


  • Any movement or concept, which rejects religious belief or adherence
  • 1971: ‘No Religion’ category included on census – explains rapid increase at the time
  • Secular systems based on reason, fact and scientific analysis and therefore, differ from religious systems, which tend to be based on divine revelation and spiritual insight
  • However, today there is less emphasis on conforming and more emphasis on the autonomy of the individual to determine what feels spiritually right to them
  • Increased freedom – rise of secularism and the understanding that religion is essentially a private concern

Religious Dialogue in Multi-Faith Australia: ecumenical movements within Christianity, interfaith dialogue, the relationship between Aboriginal spiritualities and religious traditions in the process of Reconciliation

Describe the impact of Christian ecumenical movements in Australia

  • Ecumenism refers to the movement towards religious unity among Christian denominations
  • Acknowledgement that unity in Christ outweighs the diversity in practice and beliefs in Christianity
  • Developing opportunities to work, worship and dialogue together

The National Council of Churches Australia (NCCA)

  • Formed 1994
  • Grew from the previous Australian Council of Churches
  • Comprised of 19 member churches representing the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Protestant expressions of Christianity
  • Works in partnership with state ecumenical councils and it operates through various commissions each which deals with a specific sphere of influence
  • Faith and unity: week of prayer for Christian Unity
  • Social justice network: annual social justice statements on pressing issues i.e. environment, peace, prisons etc

NSW Ecumenical Council

  • Fellowship of 14 Protestant and Orthodox churches in NSW and ACT
  • Maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” Ephesians 4:3
  • Being committed to the Gospel
  • Proclaiming it together, and living out the implications of the Gospel for service in the world
  • Taize Pilgrimage:
    • Hosted visits fro a brother from the Taize Community in France, as part of our churches’ common commitment to a spirituality of peace and reconciliation
  • Peace and Justice Commission:
    • Works to enhance outcomes for asylum seekers \

Evaluate the important of interfaith dialogue in multi-faith Australia

  • Formal discussion aimed towards developing greater mutual understanding between different religious traditions
  • Allowing different religions to come to a better appreciation of the uniqueness of each other
  • Education to dispel fear and bigotry
  • Seeking opportunities to work together on key issues i.e. asylum seekers
  • Allows religions to come to a better understanding of each other which increases tolerance e.g. education programs run of the ACCJ and State Bodies, Interfaith Iftar 2012 by Affinity Intercultural
  • Promotes religion as having an important role, even in our increasingly secular Australian society
  • Promotes shared prayer and spirituality in times of crisis i.e. the Port Arthur Massacre or the Bali Bombings
  • Creates respect and appreciation for religious diversity which is essential for harmony and peace
  • Has worked to break down the stereotypes and prejudice towards Muslims which has been overtly prevalent in Australia since 9/11 and the Cronulla Riots
  • Can build relationships between different religions so they can more often and more effectively speak out on common issues and uphold shared values i.e. the dignity of the person, the sanctity of human life, care for those in need, justice and peace

Examine the relationship between Aboriginal spiritualities and religious traditions in the process of Reconciliation

  • Christian churches are now actively involved in promoting Aboriginal reconciliation, both at an individual and an ecumenical level
  • Catholic Church is a strong supporter of Aboriginal reconciliation
  • Church leaders have committed the Catholic community to addressing the injustice and disadvantage facing Aboriginal people
  • Actively work in an advocacy role to dismantle or reform social structures, processes and institutions, which are a source of injustice and disadvantage to the Aboriginal community
  • Position of the Anglican Church on Aboriginal reconciliation to similar to that of the Catholic Church – recognise the importance of Aboriginal spirituality
  • 1988: Anglican Church officially apologised for the hurt inflicted upon Aboriginal people and ten years later the General Synod formally apologised to the Stolen Generations
  • Christian Churches work together to collectively assist the Aboriginal community to reclaim its spirituality
  • Examples:
    • National Reconciliation Week: aims to give people across Australia, of all religions, the opportunity to focus on reconciliation
    • Corroboree 2000: hundred of thousands of people from across Australia joined to walk for reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Pranav Sharma
Pranav Sharma
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UNSW Student, site owner and developer.