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Aboriginal Message Stick

Australian Museum - Joy of Museums - Aboriginal Message Stick

Aboriginal Message Stick

These Aboriginal Message Sticks are a form of communication traditionally used by Indigenous Australians. It is usually a solid piece of wood, of varying length, etched with angular lines and dots. The patterns were used as a general reminder of the message.

Traditionally, message sticks were passed between different clans and language groups to send messages. They were often used to invite neighbouring groups to corroborees, set-fights and games.

An Australian anthropologist wrote of the Wurundjeri people of the Melbourne area:

“The oldest man having made a message stick hands it to the old man nearest to him, who inspects it and if necessary, adds further marks …. Finally, the stick having passed from one to the other of the old men present is handed to the messenger, …”

Message Sticks are often commonly called letters by Aboriginal people. They were transmitted by messengers, who could travel hundreds of kilometres to deliver them. The carrier of the message stick was granted safe passage across other aboriginal nation’s lands.

Australian Museum - Joy of Museums - Australian Aboriginal Shields 2

Aboriginal Australians

Aboriginal Australians refers to the people who are members of the several hundred Indigenous peoples of Australia. The category “Aboriginal Australia” was coined by the British after they began colonising Australia in 1788. The term was used to refer collectively to all the people they found already inhabiting the continent, and later to the descendants of any of those people. The Constitution of Australia, in its original form as of 1901, referred to Aboriginals twice, but without definition.

Before the British colonisation of Australia, there existed several hundred groupings of Indigenous peoples of Australia with their own defined territory. Within each region or country, people lived in clan groups: extended families defined by various forms of Australian Aboriginal kinship. Inter-clan contact was frequent, as was inter-country communication, but there were strict protocols around this contact.

The Australian Aboriginal languages, before colonisation, consist of over 300 languages belonging to an estimated twenty-eight language families. Today, the most significant single language group of Aboriginal people live in the area around Uluru (Ayers Rock) and south into South Australia. The second largest Aboriginal distinct community live in and around Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

Did you know?

  • Australian Aboriginals migrated from the African continent over 30,000 years ago.
  • There were over 320,000 aborigines in 250 tribal groups before the first Europeans arrived in Australia in the year 1778.
  • Each Australian Aboriginal tribe had its own traditions, territory, beliefs and language.
  • Dreamtime is a western term used to describe the basis of Aboriginal cultural and spiritual identity.
  • Dreamtime refers to the Indigenous understanding of the world’s creation.
  • In the Dreamtime tradition, Aboriginal people do not put humans on a level higher than nature.
  • In Dreamtime, they believe that some of their ancestors changed into nature, where they live spiritually.
  • Dreamtime is the Aboriginal way of understanding the world and its impact on their lives.
  • Most of the words borrowed from the Indigenous languages are nouns. Some of these words include koala, wombat, barramundi, kookaburra and boomerang.

Explore Aboriginal Artifacts and Stories


  • What is our Dreamtime story?
  • Did you know that words such as the koala, kookaburra and boomerang are Australian Aboriginal words?

Aboriginal Message Stick

  • Subject:        Aboriginal Message Stick
  • Material:       Wood
  • Dates:           19th & 20th Century
  • Museum:      Australian Museum


“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through.
Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.”

– Australian Aboriginal saying


Photo Credit: GM