Smoke and smoking ceremonies have long been an important part of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and are still widely practiced today. The smoke is said to have healing qualities and to ward off bad spirits.
Smoking cigarettes is much more recent. It only started a couple of hundred years ago – when it was introduced by traders from Indonesia and European colonists. But nowadays, lots of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people smoke – twice as many as non-Aboriginal Australians.
One in five Indigenous Australians die from smoking related illnesses.
Traditionally Aboriginal people from desert regions used a type of tobacco called Pituri. Some desert people still use it today.
Pituri is a plant that grows wild in the desert from Queensland to Western Australia
The leaves are dried and then mixed with ash and chewed for a long time. Pituri was once used widely for trading, in ceremonies, and recreationally, like cigarettes today. Pituri has high levels of nicotine that make it addictive and may cause other health problems.
Visitors from Indonesia first introduced the practice of smoking native tobacco to Aboriginal people from Northern Australia.
The visitors, known as Macassans, smoked tobacco through a long-stemmed pipe made from a crab claw, hollow root or a reed. This type of smoking became part of Aboriginal social and ceremonial life and is still used today by some of the old people in the Arnhem region.
When Europeans arrived in Australia in 1788, they brought their tobacco and introduced it to Aboriginal people. Tobacco was commonly used in Europe and in the early days of contact with Aboriginal people it was often given as a gesture of goodwill.
In the decades that followed Aboriginal people were moved off their traditional lands into missionary settlements.
Back then tobacco was used as payment for work and good behaviour and to influence Aboriginal people to give up their traditional lifestyle.
Payment in tobacco rations caused many addiction and health problems for Aboriginal people. Although the practice slowed down from the 1940s, it did not stop completely on cattle stations until the late 1960s.