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Indigenous Traditional Games

The geography of Australia, the weather, and the nature of the societies that existed here, have ensured an important place for sport. Traditional Aboriginal societies had a rich diversity of games and pastimes.

There is very little left of the traditional games, even in isolated areas where some degree of traditional lifestyle may still exist. These games and sports are worth preserving and efforts need to be made to encourage people to play and understand them.

Traditional games provide the opportunity to learn about, appreciate and experience aspects of Aboriginal culture. They also provide essential training in social interaction.

It is possible to include traditional games in classroom lessons, outdoor education and adventure activities, physical education classes and sport education activities.

Traditional Games include:

For a more detailed look at each of the different games view the following publications in Adobe Acrobat:
Click here to download Adobe Acrobat

Indigenous Traditional Games - Adult version [PDF File]

Indigenous Traditional Games - Child version [PDF File]

In this game from the Torres Strait a number of players stood in a circle and sang the kai wed (ball song) as they hit a ball up in the air with the palm of their hands. The game was played using the thick, oval, deep red fruit of the kai tree which is quite light when dry.

This ball game was played by South Australian Aborigines in the vicinity of Adelaide (Kaurna language). The parndo (ball) was made with a piece of opossum skin, flattish in shape and about the size of a tennis ball. This is a kicking and hand passing game.

Bowl-ball or disc games were played by Aboriginal boys and men in all parts of Australia. For example, in the disc-rolling game common throughout Western Australia a piece of rounded bark (disc) was rolled by one of the players for the other boys to aim at. The boy who set the disc rolling was about 15 metres away from the throwers and would call out gool-gool (going-going) as they started the disc rolling. The boy or young man who succeeded in piercing the disc took the place of the roller. Accuracy of eye and speed in casting the spear were easily learned from the disc game. 

This ball throwing and hitting game was played by Aboriginal people in the Lake Eyre district of South Australia. The balls used were as round as possible and were usually about 8–10 centimetres in diameter. Gypsum, sandstone, mud, or almost any material that was easy to work was used to make the balls. To play the game, players were in two teams and lined up on each side of a dry claypan. Each team then rolled the balls along the ground to the other side with the aim being to break up an opponent’s ball by hitting it while it was moving. When balls cannoned out of play to the sides they were left until the stock of balls was nearly used up. These were often retrieved by the small boys and put into play again. The game was played for hours and usually until the balls left were too few to cause any excitement. The balls were called koolchees.

This object throwing game was observed being played on Mer Island in the Torres Strait late last century. The game is named after the beans of the Kolap tree which were used as throwing objects.

This is a ball game played by the Kabi Kabi people of southern Queensland. The game was played with a ball made of kangaroo skin which was called a buroinjin. Spectators used to mark their applause by calling out ‘Ei, ei’.

Children from the Bogan and Lachlan rivers area of New South Wales played a kind of football with a ball made of possum fur. The fur was spun by the women and made into a ball about 5 centimetres in diameter. It required great agility and suppleness of limbs to play this game with any degree skill. 

The young noongar (or nyungar) girls in the south- west of Western Australia had many games they played just among themselves because after a certain age they were not permitted to play with the boys of the camp. In one of their games a short piece of stick was placed on the ground to represent a nhoba (baby). Each girl had to defend her child from the wanas (digging sticks) of the other girls — all of whom pretended to try and kill the nhoba (baby). Wanas were thrown from all sides at the young ‘mother’, all of which she tried to fend off with her own stick. The mother held her wana between her thumb and forefinger, putting it over her head, behind her back, against her side, in whatever direction the missiles came, thus learning to defend her young ones. In real adult fights women sometimes stood beside their husbands and warded off the kidjas (spears) of their enemies.

A keep-away game of catch ball from the north-west central districts of Queensland played by both genders. Because the action of the players jumping up to catch the ball resembled the movements of a kangaroo the Kalkadoon people sometimes described this game as the ‘kangaroo-play’. The ball itself was made of a piece of opossum, wallaby or kangaroo hide tied up with twine.

This hand hitting or handball game was played with a zamia (Cycas media) seed by the people of Bathurst Island in northern Australia. In the Meda district of north-western Australia players used flat pieces of wood.

Various versions of hockey type games were played in many areas of the Torres Strait and Papua and New Guinea. A hockey game called kokan was played in Mabuiag. The kokan (ball) was between 6 and 8 centimetres in diameter. The game was played on a long stretch of the sandy beach. The kokan was struck with a rough bat or club, baiwain or dabi, which was usually cut from a piece of bamboo, between 60 and 85 centimetres in length, on which a grip was cut. On Mabuiag Island the game was played by both genders. 

In most parts of Australia the young boys (and sometimes girls) played mock combat games for enjoyment and as a practice for adult life. Toy spears or shafts were made from grasses, reeds and rushes. The spears were held at their lighter ends and thrown either with the hand or with a toy woomera (throwing stick).

In areas of North Queensland a game of throwing skill was played. A large sized animal bone (with twine attached to it) was thrown over a net (used to catch emus) and into a pit or hole. Considering the distance to the hole, great skill was required to correctly aim the bone and ensure that it did not touch the net.

On Bathurst Island the children collected the seed heads of the spring rolling grass ( Spinifex hirsutis) growing on the sandhills near the coast. They took the seed heads to the beach and tossed them into the air where they were blown along by the wind. After a start, the children chased the seed heads and tried to pick them up while running at full speed.

In many Aboriginal settlements in remote parts of Australia the children commonly played games with ‘rollers’. These could be toy trucks made from wheel rims or large tins filled with damp mud. The rollers are pushed or pulled with handles made of wire. Sometimes groups of children with rollers have races.

The game of Munhanganing was reported being played by children of the Arnhem Land in northern Australia. Children played this and other running games in the flickering lights from the firebrands of the grown-ups sitting about a camp site.

This was a spear game played by some Aboriginal groups on Cape York Peninsula in North Queensland. The men used a throwing stick ( woomera) to project a big killing spear (kalq) toward the next player. The spear would travel around the circle of men who were armed only with their woomera— which they used to deflect the spear to the next player. When the small boys played they used spears with a blunted end.

The Walbiri people of Central Australia played a stone bowling game. One player threw a stone which was the used as a target by the second player. Players alternated turns with each aiming at the other’s stone.

A spear game recorded being played by the boys at Ulladulla in New South Wales. Small spears were thrown at pieces of wood which were placed into running water. On Dunk Island in Queensland the boys used wood chips and pieces of bark floating on the water or threw objects at small fish.


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