Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people were and still are one of the most technologically progressive civilisations in the world. Their adaptability under difficult circumstances is a testimony to their ingenuity. Enduring the diverse geography was crucial to their existence and as such needed equipment to assistance with thriving in these conditions. The extensive collection of Aboriginal innovations that we created show a profound sense about science and dature due to living in "on Country" and by watching the seasons and interacting with nature.
Here are some of the most important innovations that helped our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors thrive through Millenia.
The first superglue!
Spinifex Grass is found in most parts of Australia. The resin is beaten out of the porcupine grass and grass trees. After this process, it is washed and heated it over a fire to create a sticky black substance that is heat sensitive, reusable glue. It was mixed with animal droppings, fur and charcoal and forms cement like properties.
This material that hardens as it cools was used to fuse spears to woomera's, as it is water proof used to patch water vessels and water crafts such as canoes.
Today, the university of Queensland in partnership with Indigenous rangers from Camooweal are using Spinifex grass and resin to commercially manufacturer the world's strongest, thinnest condoms!
Did you know? Boomerangs should only be used by men.
Indigenous culture had a very gender specific culture. With the men having the job of hunting meat the boomerang was designed to be used to disable animals such as kangaroo, wallaby and birds and as such either injuring or killing the animal for the hunter.
The aerodynamic design of Boomerangs, Its design with its angles and asymmetrical arches, displays the asymmetrical lift, one of the most complex principles of aerodynamics.Some Boomerangs are designed to circle more then once. Hunters would mimic different birds, which would trick the birds into think they were under attack and they would fly low and together in a flock whereby the Indigenous hunter could throw the Boomerang and have ore chance of hitting a bird.
The Indigenous hunter had a variety of sizes of Boomerangs and they all had different purposes. From slim, sleek design that was designed to travel fast so that if it missed its target would travel back quickly so they could throw again. Larger Boomerangs were non-symmetrical with one end being heavier then the other so that it picked up speed as it was thrown. These Boomerangs were used for larger animals such as Kangaroo, these would break the leg of the animals and disable them so the hunter could reach them.
Fact: Indigenous people were inventive they even had boomerangs with serrated edges which was designed to clip wings of birds
Traditionally used only by men.
The word “Woomera” is believed to be from the Dharug language of the Eora people of the Sydney basin. The woomera is a wooden Australian Aboriginal spear-throwing device. This tool serves as leverage to achieve greater velocity in spear-throwing. It is also an extension of the human arm that enables the spear to travel at a greater speed and force than possible with an unaided arm.
It is believed that the Woomera was being used as a hunting tool as far back as 5000 year's ago, it is still used today in many remote Indigenous Communities.
This tools had a variety of uses and was dependent on what area of Australia you lived in. Coastal Tribes used fish bones on the tips to spear fish while desert areas used stone tips. Woomera were also used as axe heads, digging sticks and knives.
Weirs and Fish Traps
The ingenuity of Indigenous people has been proven as high-level as we display our innate understanding of engineering, physics, and aquaculture. Through intricate designs of fish traps and fish farms, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been able to achieve a sustainable food source by creating an elaborate system of canals, linked weirs, and ponds out of river stones.
One of the most famous fish traps are located on the Barwon River at Brewarrina, it is believed that these fish traps are one of the oldest manmade structures in the world, also known as Baize's Ngunnhu.
When the water is low you can see the exposed rocks arranged in a circular way. 12 Tear-drop shaped pools that stretch for more then a kilometre. Fish were headed through these ponds and then the hunters would close of the pools with rocks. This forms walls which are at different heights allowing them to be used at different water heights and hence having fish in these traps no matter what the water level.
In 2005 these traps at Brewarrina were added to Australia's national heritage list. They are described as “the largest traps recorded”, showcasing a thorough understanding of “dry stone wall construction techniques, river hydrology and fish ecology”. Due to their size, design and complexity they were considered “exceptionally rare”
Gomolaroi, Wonkamurra, Wailwan & Ngemba people were all involved in maintaining and sharing the traps for thousands of years.
Fish traps can be found all over Australia. Other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities used other materials such as bull rushes and tree branches fashioned to make water fences that is based on fish traps.
Firestick farming is an absolute environmental resource management tool.
Aboriginal people used fire for many reasons but one that is a standout and shows how intuitive Indigenous people are with their country. This is Firestick farming.
While Indigenous people had their own communities they still moved across great tracks of land, hunting and gathering food. Firestick farming was done for a number of reasons.
Signalling their presence in or ownership of the country they were on.
Herding animals to a particular area to hunt.
Regeneration of vegetation for both animals and Aboriginals to eat.
Finding there way home by use of fire trails.
The aboriginal water container is a water carrier made out of wallaby skin.
It was made by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to carry substantial amounts of water through dry and waterless areas.
These water bags helped our people transport large volumes, as large as 6L, over long distances for when people moved from one camp to another.
The water bag was thought to be the inspiration for the ‘household fridge’ from the 1890s, the Coolgardie Safe.
They both applied the same theories such as the capillary action and evaporative cooling.
Stone and Natural Glass Tools
From chisels, saws, and knives to axes and spearheads, stone and natural glass were used to fashion highly sophisticated tools that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people used since the beginning of time.
These tools were used in almost all our daily community activities such as hunting for food, gathering clay or ochre, making clothes, and more.
The Didgeridoo (Didjeridu)
The didgeridoo was developed by Indigenous people of northern Australia. It is believed to be one of the world’s oldest wind instrument.
Customarily, the didgeridoo was played as an accompaniment to ceremonial singing and dancing.
Traditionally, the didgeridoo is only played by men.
The unique sound of the didgeridoo is brought about by different factors such as the vocalisations and circular breathing techniques.
These factors introduce different connecting sound waves between the players’ lips, vocal tract and the didgeridoo itself.
Bush Foods and Medicine
Our peoples found many ways to harvest food and bush medicine from their environment.
Although there is no actual written account of what remedies are created during the early times,
Aboriginal medical treatment was widely attributed to having a balanced diet.
Plants are harvested, heated, boiled or cooked to release their extracts and the essential oils needed to alleviate the ailments of our Aboriginal ancestors.
These medicinal finds, such as the Tea Tree and Eucalyptus oils, are now used extensively all over the world for medicinal and remedial purposes.
Please read our Blog on Bush food
Aboriginal toys were designed to amuse, educate and prepare children to adulthood.
Toy boomerangs, spears and shields help young boys become informed with hunting and cooking food.
On the other hand, girls played with baskets and digging sticks, preparing them for the camp life.
While these are just some of the toys’ functions, toys like spinning tops and toy propellers made out of strips of long leaves were used for competitions.
Aboriginal toys are usually made out of natural materials like plant leaves and fibers, wood, resin, and shells.
This Aboriginal wooden container is called a “Coolamon.” The word “Coolamon” is a term used by the Murri people from the east coast of Australia.
The wooden container is traditionally used by Aboriginal women to carry fruits, nuts, and to cradle babies.
The Coolamon was also used in ceremonies, such as aromatic smoking for purification.
Coolamons are made by men from a hardwood such as a mallee or a bean tree.
The outer barks are removed, and then they’re molded over a fire to create its distinctive sides.
Aboriginal Grinding Stones
Aboriginal Grinding Stones are the mortar and pestle of the Aboriginal people.
The grinding stones are slabs of stone that the indigenous population used to grind and crush different materials.
Usually found in places where Aboriginal people lived, the grinding stones are used mainly for processing different kinds of ingredients for cooking. However, grinding stones are also used for crushing different leaves and barks for medicinal purposes.
The Grinding Stones are usually made from sandstone, quartzite or basalt. The upper stones can either be flat or rounded and may have more than one smooth surface.
The Dilly Bag is a traditional Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island bag.
A dilly bag is woven out of vines or dense dried grasses. Sometimes feathers or animal furs are used to line inside the bag. This would stop small pieces of food falling through holes in the weave.
The dilly bag is mainly used by women to gather food but can be utilised by men to help carry some tools for hunting.
Most dilly bags are oval with a string attached. There are also other forms of dilly bags which are flat, much like the new satchels women wear today.
These are just some of the wonderful inventions by my Aboriginal ancestors. The diversity, innovation and creativity of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Australians has been shown above. Just like any inventions, these were produced out of raw, close-at-hand materials to create solutions that reveal our Aboriginal ancestors’ deep level of understanding of science that is applied to every part of our lives. You could say we were the first inventors. Dion Devow