Skip to main content
Skip sub navigation

A–Z of Indigenous terms


1967 Referendum

On 27 May 1967, Australians voted to change the constitution so that – like all other Australians – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples would be counted as part of the population and the Commonwealth would be able to make laws for them. There was a significant majority in all six states and an overall majority of almost 91 per cent, making it one of the most successful national campaigns in Australia’s history.

The referendum opened the door to First Nations Australian agency, bringing to light many strong leaders and organisations, and an expectation that things could be different.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander People/s

Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders are distinct groups, and the terms are not interchangeable. Use ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’, ‘First Nations Peoples’ or ‘Indigenous Australians’ when referring to all of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.

Aboriginal person means a person who is a descendant of an Indigenous inhabitant of Australia but does not include a Torres Strait Islander.

Torres Strait Islander means a person who is a descendant of an Indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands.

The term ‘Aboriginal’ can be used as an adjective (for example, ‘Aboriginal woman’), but not a noun (for example, ‘an Aboriginal’). Never shorten the term ‘Aboriginal’.

If the relevant group is known, use that in preference to Aboriginal (for example, ‘Gunditjmara woman’). Above all, be guided by how the person identifies themselves, if known.

Acknowledgement of Country and Welcome to Country

An Acknowledgement of Country recognises the traditional ownership of the lands upon which an event is held and may be expressed by any person, including someone who is not an Indigenous Australian.

A Welcome to Country, which has been performed by Traditional Custodians on this continent for many thousands of years, offers visitors safe passage and protection of their spiritual being while they are on someone else’s Country. These ceremonies can have varying formats, from speeches of welcome to traditional dance or smoking ceremonies, and can sometimes be accompanied by music.

Learn more about these ceremonies.


In respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities, never abbreviate ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Torres Strait Islander,’ or use the acronym ‘ATSI’.


Indigenous Australians might use ‘blackfella’ to refer to other people of Indigenous Australian identity. This term isn’t generally appropriate for non-Indigenous Australians to use.

Boon Wurrung people

An Aboriginal people of the Kulin Nation, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land from the Werribee River to Wilsons Promontory.


Aboriginal English for ‘mate’ – for example, ‘How’re you doing, bunji?’


Means ‘come here’. It’s a prolonged clear call that’s used most frequently in the bush to attract attention.


An assembly of sacred, festive or warlike character.


The term often used by Aboriginal Peoples to describe the lands, waterways and seas to which they are connected. It contains complex ideas about law, place, custom, language, spiritual belief, cultural practice, material sustenance, family and identity. Its significance means it should always be capitalised.


Means ‘awesome’ or ‘great’.


The traditional Wadawurrung name for Geelong. It means a ‘tongue of land’.

the Dreaming/the Dreamtime

Called different names in different Aboriginal languages – for example, Ngarranggarni, Tjukula, Jukurrpa, ‘the Dreamtime’ is the period in which life was created. ‘Dreaming’ is the word used to explain how life came to be – the stories and beliefs behind creation. Note that the English translation can be considered an inadequate representation of this complex concept.

The Dreaming also commands the rules and ways of being in Aboriginal culture. The Dreaming is not static or linear – it is the past, but it is also the present and the future. It is constantly evolving to explain events and changes today, such as floods, storms and (negative and positive) occurrences in people's lives.



Someone who has gained recognition within their community as a custodian of knowledge and lore, and who has permission to disclose cultural knowledge and beliefs. Recognised Elders are highly respected people within Aboriginal communities.

First Nations Peoples

Pluralised reference terms such as ‘First Nations’ or ‘First Peoples’ are acceptable language, and respectfully encompass the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and identities. ‘First Nations People/s’ may also be a preferred term when talking about international or global groups of Indigenous Peoples.

Gunditjmara people

Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus is located.

Indigenous Australian

In Australia, an Indigenous person is a person who is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island descent, who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, and is accepted as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in the community in which they live or come from.

Invasion Day/Survival Day

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, as well as many non-Indigenous Australians, believe that 26 January cannot be a day of national unity (‘Australia Day’) as it marks the date of invasion and the start of dispossession in Australia.

The alternative term ‘Invasion Day’ emphasises the British invasion and occupation of First Nations Peoples’ land and the ongoing struggle for self-determination and social justice.

‘Survival Day’ emphasises the survival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture in the face of colonisation, dispossession and ongoing inequality. It reflects on the resilience and endurance of First Nations Peoples.



In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, kinship determines how everyone relates to one another, as well as their roles, responsibilities and obligations to one another, the environment and ceremony. The concept of kinship is complex, and has wide implications in Indigenous life and social structure.


Should not be used interchangeably with ‘Aboriginal’ as it refers specifically to Indigenous

people from south-eastern Australia. It can be used in the Deakin context when referring to the former Institute of Koorie Education (now NIKERI). It’s a familiar term and would most generally be used within Aboriginal communities or between Aboriginal people.

Kulin Nation

An alliance of five Aboriginal nations in south-central Victoria, including the Wadawurrung people who are the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Deakin’s Waurn Ponds and Waterfront campuses are located, and the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which our Burwood Campus is located.


The stories, customs, beliefs and spirituality of Aboriginal people. Passed down from the Dreaming through generations, lore is a guide for Indigenous people about how to live life every day.

Maar Nation

A group of Aboriginal peoples whose traditional lands are in the south-western part of Victoria, including the lands on which Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus is located. 


The Mabo Case recognised the land rights of the Meriam people, traditional owners of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait. It was successful in overturning the myth that at the time of colonisation Australia was ‘terra nullius’ or land belonging to no one.

The High Court recognised the fact that Indigenous peoples had lived in Australia for thousands of years and enjoyed rights to their land according to their own laws and customs. Twelve months later, the Native Title Act 1993 was passed.

The five Meriam people who mounted the case were Eddie Koiki Mabo, Reverend David Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and Celuia Mapo Sale. Eddie Koiki Mabo was the first named plaintiff and the case became known as the Mabo Case.

Mabo Day on 3 June commemorates Eddie Mabo and his milestone campaign for Indigenous land rights.

Makaratta Commission

‘Makarrata’ is a Yolgnu word meaning ‘a coming together after a struggle’. A Makarrata Commission, proposed under the Uluru Statement, would facilitate agreements between First Nations and Australian governments (for example, under native title and land rights legislation), both at a national and regional level, by providing support and momentum, and helping the parties reach agreement.

A Makarrata Commission would also supervise a process of ‘truth-telling’ to allow the full extent of past injustices to be uncovered. This would allow all Australians to understand Indigenous history and help to move towards genuine reconciliation.


A Gunditjmara term that means ‘game ball’ and refers to a traditional game that was played with a possum skin ball. Some elements of Australian Rules Football (AFL) may have come from marn-grook.

men’s and women’s business

Central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is the separation of men’s and women’s business. This isn’t a discriminatory or sexist separation and isn’t to the detriment of either party. Instead, it focuses on roles, ceremonies and lore that are specific and sacred to men and women individually.

The customs and practices within men’s and women’s business are strict, with harsh penalties and punishments if the rules are broken. Men are not to know what happens in women’s business and women cannot know what happens in men’s business.


Indigenous Australians might use ‘mob’ to refer to a group of Indigenous Australians associated with a particular place or country – their kin or family. This term isn’t generally appropriate for non-Indigenous Australians to use.



The traditional Aboriginal name of Melbourne. Naarm can be spelled many ways (also Nairm or Narrm) and is used by the Woiwurrung and Boon Wurrung language groups of the Central Kulin Nation.


National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. NAIDOC Week is held each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

National Sorry Day

An Australia-wide observance held on 26 May each year to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the country’s Indigenous peoples.

native title

The recognition that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have rights and interests to land and waters according to their traditional law and customs as set out in Australian law. Native Title is governed by the Native Title Act 1993.

Native title may include rights and interests to:

  • live on the area and erect shelters and structures
  • access the area for traditional purposes, like camping or for ceremonies
  • visit and protect important places and sites
  • hunt, fish and gather food or traditional resources like bush medicines, water, ochre and wood
  • teach lore, custom and engage in cultural activities.

Native title comes in two forms: non-exclusive possession and exclusive possession.

NIKERI Institute

National Indigenous Knowledges, Education, Research and Innovation Institute. An integral Deakin institution, NIKERI grew from the 34-year legacy of the Institute of Koorie Education (IKE) and continues to be a leader in the teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People through its unique community-based learning model.

More than 1,000 students have graduated from IKE/NIKERI, which seeks to make visible and accessible the value, vibrancy and rigour of Australian First Nations knowledge systems, cultures, traditions, histories, perspectives and insights.

Office of Indigenous Strategy and Innovation

Sits within the DVC Academic portfolio and takes a whole-of-University view to creating an environment that allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff to be successful, safe and supported at Deakin. Provides timely, evidence-based and culturally grounded advice to areas of the University that are seeking to improve outcomes for First Nations Peoples.

Peek Whurrong

Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus is located.


At its heart, reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, for the benefit of all Australians. It’s an ongoing journey to remedy past wrongs and create meaningful change for Indigenous Australians. In a formal sense, reconciliation is based and measured on five interrelated dimensions: historical acceptance, race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity and unity.



Walking routes that crossed the country, linking important sites and locations. Before colonisation they were maintained by regular use, burning off and clearing.

The term ‘songline’ describes the features and directions of travel that were included in a song that a traveller had to memorise and sing to know the route to their destination. Songlines contain information about the land and how the traveller should respectfully make their trip. This includes types of food safe to eat, places to be avoided and the boundaries of each mob’s Country that the traveller could pass through. Examples of ‘signposts’ or ‘markers’ include rock formations, bends in rivers or trees with naturally forming spirals, twists or arches.

One of the great tragedies of colonisation was the eradication and whitewashing of the carefully curated use of Country by Aboriginal people. Songlines were diminished as mere ‘animal tracks’ or ‘natural clearings’ when in truth they were so much more.

Stolen Generations

Thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed by governments, churches and welfare bodies to be raised in institutions, fostered out or adopted by non-Indigenous families. They are known as the Stolen Generations.

The exact number of children who were removed may never be known but there are very few families who have been left unaffected. The removal of children broke important cultural, spiritual and family ties, and has left a lasting and intergenerational impact on the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In April 1997, the Bringing Them Home report detailed the laws, policies and practices that allowed children to be taken from their families, and included case studies contesting the claim made by many non-Indigenous Australians that the removal of children was in their own interests.

The report contained 54 recommendations to redress these wrongs, including the need for an official apology. On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, offered a formal apology to members of the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian Parliament.

terra nullius

The myth that at the time of colonisation Australia was land ‘belonging to no one’.

Torres Strait Islander/s

Use this term when you can be certain that a group is from the Torres Strait or that a person identifies as Torres Strait Islander. Can be used as a noun or an adjective. If the relevant group is known, use that in preference – for example, ‘Meriam man’. Be guided by how the person identifies themselves, if known.

Traditional Owners/Custodians

Aboriginal people who have social, economic and spiritual affiliations with, and responsibilities for, particular lands.


Treaties are accepted around the world as a means of resolving differences between Indigenous peoples and those who have colonised their lands. Also known as Settlement, Agreement, Pact, Accord, Covenant, Compact or Makarrata. Regardless of name, they bind parties together in agreement, outline their rights and obligations, and define the ‘rules’ of their relationship.

A treaty must meet three conditions:

  1. Acknowledge that First Nations peoples were prior owners and occupiers of the land now claimed by the state. It recognises that the state is responsible for the deep injustices done to First Nations peoples and commits through treaty to making

amends for this history.

  1. Be a political agreement reached by a fair negotiation process – involves parties coming to the table as equals working towards a mutually beneficial resolution.
  1. Contain more than symbolic recognition. A treaty recognises that First Nations peoples never ceded their sovereignty and creates space for their communities to exercise sovereignty through a form of self-government. It will also contain agreements on a range of other matters, such as land rights, truth-telling and compensation.


A process of ‘truth-telling’ would allow the full extent of past injustices towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples be uncovered. This would allow all Australians to understand Indigenous history and help to move towards genuine reconciliation.


One of the greatest natural wonders of the world, Uluru is a towering monolith that is some 550 million years old. For the local Aboriginal people, the Aṉangu, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park holds a special cultural significance where earth and memories exist as one.

In 1873, British surveyor William Gosse became the first European to discover Uluru. Gosse named the monolith Ayers Rock after Sir Henry Ayers, the Chief Secretary of South Australia at the time. After more than 35 years of campaigning, the Aṉangu people were finally recognised as the traditional owners of the park in 1985. In 1987, Uluru was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The official name of the park changed to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in 1993.

Uluru Statement from the Heart

An invitation to the Australian people from First Nations Australians. It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty-making and truth-telling.

Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Advisory Council (VCAIC)

The VCAIC embeds self-determination, accountability and a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the highest levels of Deakin. It comprises First Nations voices from around Australia, with expertise from a range of backgrounds including education, justice, health and business. It provides expert advice and consultation on a range of issues and monitors the University’s progress on key strategic initiatives.

Voice to Parliament

A First Nations Voice to Parliament is the first reform called for in the Uluru Statement. This is a constitutionally enshrined body of First Nations with a direct line to federal parliament, able to influence laws and policies that affect First Nations communities firsthand – at the point they originate. A constitutional Voice is both symbolic and substantive recognition.



Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Deakin’s Waurn Ponds and Waterfront campuses are located.


Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Deakin’s Burwood Campus is located.


An informal conversation or sharing of stories that is culturally friendly. Yarning circles (or dialogue circles) are an important process within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture where participants learn from a collective group, build respectful relationships, and preserve and pass on cultural knowledge.