It is thought that the Aborigines arrived some 45,000 years ago from somewhere in Asia and by 18,000 BC had spread themeselves all over Australia. When the Europeans arrived the Aborigines might have numbered up to 3 million and spoke 200 languages and divided into 500 groups.
Aboriginal tradition is that history begins with Dreamtime, a time before time began and therefore to Aborigines time is not linear and events are recorded by importance and so more important events are seen as closer to the present. In Dreamtime the the first beings came from the sky or the earth and now seen as Ancestors or Spirits who appeared as humans or animals and shaped the landscape with their bodies and also creating humans animals and plants. The Ancestors as they travelled left behind rivers, hills and other features and each was named. Dreamtime is kept alive by stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.
The Ancestor's power is regenerated with the "increase" rituals where some action takes place the most common being dances or painting on the rocks. The ritual of retracing an Ancestor's path is walkabout. As the Ancestors travelled across the land they carried with them "tjurungo" which are sacred objects they hid in the land and the site was marked with a tree or rock.
Aboriginal rock art stretches back 40,000 years and normally illustrates humans and animals constructed from circles, zigzags and animal tracks. The outline is often the actual imprint left by the ancestor. In some cases rock art was used to increases the abundance of animals as can be seen in the rock paintings ar Ubbir in Kakadu National Park. Some of the oldest rock art is called Mimi Art and found in Western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory and show the Mimi spirits who are thought to have lived in Australia before the Aborigines.
Bark paintings were placed on the walls of the shelters built during the wet season. Body painting is used for funerals, initiations and other ceremonies and enable the person to be filled with the power of Dreamtime.
Aboriginals believe the whole creation is a sacred site but specific places have more importance than others. Uluru at the very centre of Australia is of immense importance and it is here that the powerful Rainbow Serpent emerged from a giant rainbow. Close by is the Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and home to the snake Wanambi who lives in a waterhole on the summit in the wet season and slides down in the dry season. Alice Springs is where the sun first came out of the ground as a female Ancestor.
Lake Narran northwest of Sydney was where Baiame appeared on earth as a mortal and was welcomed. Baiame drew a circle on the ground to represent his body from which all life comes and then asked the Aborigines that were present to hold initiation ceremonies and this established the idea of initiation ceremonies within a circle.