local groups were the basic units of Aboriginal society. These groups shared cultural traits
and had economic and ceremonial dealings with other groups, but they did not congregate for
such purposes as warfare or conquest.
In many regions an
individual, by virtue of birth, belonged to a clan that was closely associated with, or
"owned," in a certain sense particular areas of land.
Through other kinship ties, and
through marriage, an individual acquired rights in several areas of land. These relationships,
along with residence and travel for economic reasons, produced a complex pattern of land
identification with local areas.
The result was that all parts
of Australia, while not always wholly occupied at any one point in time, were claimed by
Aboriginal individuals and groups under a customary system of land-tenure law.
The primary structures of
Aboriginal society are, and were, based on kinship. Every person was considered to be kin,
either by blood ties or fictively. Terms of reference for others were almost always those of
kinship a "kind of mother," a "kind of brother," and so on.
With these relationships came
rights, obligations and appropriate ways of behaving. This kinship provided a baseline from
which to operate in the society. One cultural trait normally shared by several local groups
was that of language. Aboriginal languages were fully developed systems of communication that
allowed the expression of concepts as sophisticated as those in any language.
Multi-lingualism is not new to Australia
as, prior to I788, about two hundred distinct languages were spoken, further divided into many
hundreds of dialects.