Indigenous Australians are the first human inhabitants of the Australian continent and its nearby islands and their descendants. Indigenous Australians are distinguished as either Aboriginal people or Torres Strait Islanders -- together they make up about 2.6% of Australia's population.
The earliest evidence of human habitation found to date are that of Mungo Man which have been dated at about 40,000 years old, but the time of arrival of the ancestors of indigenous Australians is a matter of debate among researchers, with estimates ranging as high as 125,000 years ago.
There is great diversity between different indigenous communities and societies in Australia, each with its own unique cultures, customs and languages. In present day Australia these groups are further divided into local communities.
Although there were over 250 spoken languages at the start of white settlement, fewer than 200 of these remain in use – and all but 20 are considered to be endangered. The population of indigenous Australians at the time of permanent European settlement has been estimated at between 318,000 and 750,000, with the distribution being similar to that of the current Australian population, with the majority living in the south-east, centered along the Murray River.
There are a large number of tribal divisions and language groups in Aboriginal Australia, and, corresponding to this, a wide variety of diversity exists within cultural practices. However, there are some similarities between cultures.
Religious demography among Indigenous Australians is not conclusive because the methodology of the census is not always well-suited to obtaining accurate information on Aboriginal people. The 1996 census reported that almost 72 percent of Aborigines practised some form of Christianity; 16 percent listed no religion. The 2001 census contained no comparable, updated data.
In traditional Aboriginal belief systems a creative epoch known as the Dreamtime stretches back into a remote era in history when the creator ancestors known as the First Peoples travelled across the land, creating and naming as they went.
Indigenous Australia's oral tradition and religious values are based upon reverence for the land and a belief in this Dreamtime. The Dreaming is at once both the ancient time of creation and the present day reality of Dreaming. There were a great many different groups, each with their own individual culture, belief structure, and language. These cultures overlapped to a greater or lesser extent, and evolved over time. Major ancestral spirits include the Rainbow Serpent, Baiame, and Bunjil.
The various indigenous Australian communities developed unique musical instruments and folk styles. The didgeridoo, which is widely thought to be a stereotypical instrument of Aboriginal people, was traditionally only played by people of the eastern Kimberley region and Arnhem Land (such as the Yolngu), and then only by the men. Clapping sticks are probably the more ubiquitous musical instrument, especially because they help maintain rhythm for songs.
Contemporary Australian aboriginal music is predominantly of the country music genre. Most indigenous radio stations – particularly in metropolitan areas – serve a double purpose as the local country music station. More recently, Indigenous Australian musicians have branched into rock and roll, hip hop and reggae. One of the most well known modern bands is Yothu Yindi playing in a style which has been called Aboriginal rock.
Amongst young Australian aborigines, African-American and Aboriginal hip hop music and clothing is popular. Aboriginal boxing champion and former rugby league player Anthony Mundine identified US rapper Tupac Shakur as a personal inspiration, after Mundine's release of his 2007 single, Platinum Ryder.
Australia has a tradition of Aboriginal art which is thousands of years old, the best known forms being rock art and bark painting. These paintings usually consist of paint using earthly colours, specifically, from paint made from ochre. Traditionally, Aborigines have painted stories from their Dreamtime.
Modern Aboriginal artists continue the tradition using modern materials in their artworks. Aboriginal art is the most internationally recognisable form of Australian art. Several styles of Aboriginal art have developed in modern times including the watercolour paintings of Albert Namatjira; the Hermannsburg School, and the acrylic Papunya Tula "dot art" movement. Australian Aboriginal poetry is found throughout Australia. It ranges from the sacred to the every day.