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Maps of Aboriginal Australia

The State Library holds many mapping resources that illustrate the Language Groups and Tribal Boundaries of Aboriginal Australia. These maps can be helpful in understanding the relationships to land observed by different groups, and can be useful for identifying the provenance of cultural material.

Some of the European mapping resources listed represent Indigenous group boundaries as they existed at the time of first European settlement in Australia while others illustrate the more current distribution of language use.

This method of mapping the land is a European phenomenon. The original owners and occupiers of the land relied upon the landmarks of their Dreaming trails to mark their boundaries and navigate their way.

Harley, J. B. and Woodward, David (eds.) The History of Cartography, 1987, Book 3, Cartography in the traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian , and Pacific societies. Chapters 9 & 10: Icons of Country: Topographic Representations in Classical Aboriginal Traditions and Aboriginal Maps and Plans - Explores the difference between Icons, (images arising principally from a context of ritual display), and Maps, depicting political, residential and religious geographies used for communicating practical knowledge to others.

Hercus, L, Hodges, F & Simpson, J (eds.) The Land is a Map, Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia, Canberra : Pandanus Books, c2002

Web Resources

Norman Tindale's map of Tribal Boundaries in Aboriginal Australia was published in 1974 and shows Aboriginal Group Boundaries at the time of European contact.

Tindale (1900 - 1993) worked at the South Australian Museum for nearly fifty years, during which time he served as a scientist, anthropologist and Museum director. Tindale worked on this map for fifty years, and when he began the project in the 1920s he challenged the conventional view that Aboriginal groups roamed across the country, with no fixed attachment to lands. The Tindale map is considered an important record of Indigenous cultural history, showing that Australia was not terra nullius (empty land) when Europeans arrived.

Through a lifetime of fieldwork and consultation Tindale demonstrated that Aboriginal people held a strong territorial connection to the lands they occupied.

Aboriginal Australia, David R. Horton, Aboriginal Australia Wall Map, D R Horton, Aboriginal Studies Press, AIATSIS, 1996.

The AusAnthrop website is dedicated to research and resources in anthropology, for academics and general researchers. Special accent is on Aboriginal Australia, and more specifically on the Aborigines of the Western Desert cultural bloc. Searches on this website in respect to tribal and language groups will result in a map indicating the locality of the group and other information including alternative spellings and names for the group (derived from Tindale).

Speaking Land, part of the South Australian Museum website, shows many aspects of Aboriginal Culture including the mapping of language groups (See Language Distribution)

Printed mapping resources

Map Showing the Distribution of the Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, Norman B. Tindale, Adelaide, 1940, from expedition data and fieldwork among Aboriginal individuals, showing 'Tribal' names, geographical features, major cities, states and references to archaeological sites.

"This map is a reproduction of N.B. Tindale's 1940 map of Indigenous group boundaries existing at the time of first European settlement in Australia. It is not intended to represent contemporary relationships to land."

Tribal boundaries in Aboriginal Australia[cartographic material] / Norman B. Tindale, The Regents of the University of California, c1974

Aboriginal Australia [cartographic material] / David R. Horton ; produced by the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group, AIASTIS, 1996, available online (see above). This map presents work carried out for the Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, 1994. The map endeavors to represent all the language or tribal or nation groups of the indigenous people of Australia. The references used, and some brief information about each group, are included in the Encyclopaedia. The map is available for purchase at the Migration Museum.

Australia's extant and imputed traditional Aboriginal territories[cartographic material] / Stephen L. Davis, Resource Managers Pty Ltd and the Australian Mining Industry Council, c1993.

Current Distribution of Central Australian languages, prepared by John Hobson ; drafting, Julie Carter, Alice Springs, N.T, Institute for Aboriginal Development, 1988, c1985

This map is a general guide to the current location of Aboriginal languages and major dialects of Central Australia, with a pronunciation guide and detailed key.

Language atlas of the Pacific area, S.A. Wurm and Shir Hattori ; cartography, Theo Baumann, Canberra : Australian Academy of the Humanities in collaboration with the Japan Academy, 1981-1983, maps 20 - 23

Key aboriginal tribes, Koorie Boogaja - School Project 1971 - Aborigines Advancement League.

Arthur, Bill and Morphy, Frances (eds). Macquarie atlas of Indigenous Australia : culture and society through space and time, North Ryde, N.S.W. : Macquarie Library, 2005.

Australia Aboriginal Languages, Edgar Ford, Canberra: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1974.

Aboriginal Languages of Australia, Geoffrey N. O'Grady et. al., Victoria, University of Victoria, 1966

"Aboriginal Languages of Australia", in A Revised Linguistic Survey of Australia, W. J. Oates, Lynette F. Oates, Canberra : Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1970

Karte der Eingeboren-Sprachen von Australien (Map of Aboriginal Languages within Australia), in Die Gliederung der australischen Sprachen: geographische, bibliographische, linguistische Grundz ge der Erforschung der australischen Sprachen / von P.W. Schmidt, Wien : Mechitharisten-Buchdruckerei, 1919

You can also use the maps search facility on the National Library of Australia website @ to search for other resources.

Access to maps

Enquiries about the State Library's holdings of maps and access to them is best made to the Information Desk, where maps trained staff will answer enquiries and retrieve relevant maps or other map related resources for use in the Somerville Reading Room. Access arrangements for the Map Collection are as follows:

  • The collection is housed in onsite and offsite storage areas, and material is retrieved from these storage areas on request. Where material to answer an enquiry is onsite, enquirers may be able to accompany maps trained staff to the maps area where there is a maps viewing room.
  • Requests to copy maps are made through the Somerville Reading Room. The adjacent Copy Centre can copy maps including colour photocopying within copyright guidelines. Archival, historical and preservation maps and fragile reference maps cannot be photocopied but in some cases photographic reproductions can be provided.

Searching the State Library catalogue

The online Library catalogue contains details of material in all formats held in the Library. This material includes photographs, (with over 70,000 viewable digitised images), other pictorial items, ephemera, article references, unpublished material held in personal, society and business categories, including mission records, as well as oral histories from interviews with Aboriginal people. Staff can assist with searching the catalogue. Some library materials will be available on the open shelves however some items may need to be specially retrieved, for which prior arrangement should be made.

For further information

Library visitors: Request assistance from Customer Service staff at the Information Desk
Telephone enquiry service: (08) 8207 7250 TTY (08) 8297 7251 Toll Free 1800 182 013
Facsimile: Customer Services(08) 8207 7247
Letter: Customer Services, State Library of SA, GPO Box 419, Adelaide SA 5001