This section illustrates traditional Aboriginal life in northern Queensland, with photographs taken between the1800s and 1913.

Body Adornment

Everyday body adornments were mainly limited to waist belts and arm bands, used to carry items such as a stone knife, hatchet, or other small items. Similarly, any small lizard caught during the day could be tucked into the waist belt, leaving the hands free. More decorative items, such as necklaces and headdresses, were usually saved for wearing at ceremonial times.

Aboriginal Ceremonial Decoration.

It was during ceremonial times that people painted their bodies with natural earth pigments – red and yellow ochres, white clay, and black charcoal. In many areas they also attached bird down, plant down (made from crushing certain flowers or seeds), or naturally occuring cotton to their body decoration.

body paint Russell River

Men and boys with ceremonial body paint, prepared for a coroboree. The man at far left wears a headband with shell pendant over his forehead, nose bone, a large pearlshell pendant from his neck, and a European brass buckle belt. Other men wear nose bones and hold shields, spears, long sword-clubs and a boomerang.

Men and boys from Russell River, northern Queensland, decorated with vertical lines of parrot feather down. The younger boys have more extensive feather decoration on their upper bodies and heads. Two women kneel, undecorated, at the front of the group. Various designs are painted on the large rainforest shields. The large sword-clubs are used in ritualised fighting and ceremonies.

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Some Aboriginal Bush Foods - Insect, Animal and Plant Foods.

A wide range of plants and animals were eaten, and insect foods included certain ants, grubs and beetles, while streams provided fish and eels. Many birds were eaten, including waterfowl, scrub fowl, the Cassowary and the Jabiru. The yellow fat of the goanna (a large Australian lizard) was considered a delicacy.

food collecting Russell River

Queen Adjal and other women and children setting out for a day’s walk, food collecting. (From motion-picture film.)

Spearing fish, Babinda Creek. A man with his two sons are in the water and two women sit on rocks on the far bank.

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food collecting

Tree Climbing to Obtain Food

People climbed trees to catch animals and reach native beehives for honey. Wax from the beehives was used to seal water containers, and as a resin when making weapons and for decoration. Throughout much of Australia, a small hatchet with a stone head was used to cut toe holds into trees to assist in climbing. In these photos, taken in rainforests, strong jungle vines are used like ropes to assist climbing trees in search of both animals and native bee hives’ wax and honey.


A man about to walk up a Eucalyptus tree. Cedar Creek.

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food collecting

Women's Basketry

The range of containers here include the large baskets of woven cane from the rainforests, string bags made from string twisted from plant fibres, usually the bark of certain trees, and a water container made from folded bark and sealed with native bees wax resin.

Three women from Atherton outside their hut, making baskets. Although people have few possessions, every hut has these five main items; a grindstone, a bark water container, one of these large baskets, the large battle sword, and a large shield.

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food collecting

Stone Tools and Grinding Stones

Grind stones about 2 feet (60cm) long and one foot (30 cm) wide are kept in every hut. When people move camp, they leave behind the heavy lower stone, but take the top stone with them. After a season, they will return to the area and use the same lower stone again.

Upper and lower grinding stones made from basalt, used to grind vegetable, nut and seed foods.
Cedar Creek, north Queensland.

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food collecting

Spears, Wooden Tools and Weapons

The types of wooden artefacts used by Aborigines varied throughout Australia, and shown here are those for the region of coastal and northern Queensland.

A group of northern men and women with painted rainforest shields, long spears, boomerangs and large battle sword-clubs. The men have multiple horizontal cicatrices (scars) over their chests and abdomens. Some women wear necklaces. European clothing has been introduced.
Approx 1910. Northern Queensland.

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food collecting

Aboriginal Housing

The type of housing people used depended on the available resources for building. In woodland, large trees have relatively soft stringybark which can be chopped away in sheets and used to make simple housing. In dense rainforests, palm fronds are numerous and these are used instead.

A group of aboriginal rainforest people.

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