Australia and Tasmania

The extent of work done on matriarchal culture in Australia and Tasmania lags behind that for the other continents. Work on the Indigenous Tasmanians is even more scarce. The few modern investigations that exist, do so largely through the auspices of Australian governmental anthropologyical studies. Elkin 1934 regarded matrilineality as totemic, while Lane and Lane 1962 saw simultaneous matri- and patrilineality. Gale's anthology 1975 collated materials, as Peterson 1978 examined residence patterns in marriage. Langton 1981 considered the damage to traditional systems caused by Western modernity, and Hrdy 2009 noted the discontinuity between Aboriginal classifications and lived reality. Ryan 1996 offered the only significant work to date on Tasmania, reviewing scant colonial documents to find that Tasmanians did not share Australian features, as casually assumed.


Elkin, Adolphus Peter. “Cult-Totemism and Mythology in Northern South Australia.” Oceania 5.2 (December 1934): 171–92.

On the mythological bandwagon, Elkin considered matrilinearity in term s of totemism in his field work.


Lane, Barbara S., and Robert B. Lane. “Implicit Double Descent in South Australian and the Northeastern New Hebrides.” Ethnology 1.1 (1962), 46–52.

The Lanes connected Australian and Melanesian social patterns, generally, ex amining what they called “double descent” systems in Australia, including matrilineage alongside of patrilineage.


Gale, Fay, ed. Women's Role in Aboriginal Society. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1975.

Gale collated a number of studies on aboriginal women's powers and position.


Peterson, Nicolas. The Importance of Women in Determining the Composition of Residential Groups in Aboriginal Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1978.

Originally published in 1969, this became an influential piece, consisting of Peterson's anthropological field work on post-marital choices of re sidence, including the compositions and inter-relationships of the group members.


Langton, Marcia. “Urbanizing Aborigines: The Social Scientists' Great Deception.” Social Alternatives 2.2 (1981), 16–22.

Australian Aborigine and activist Langton noted the destructiveness of forced urbanization on the matrifocal cultures of aboriginal Australia.


Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origin of Mutual Understanding. Boston: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.

Hrdy argued that, although Australian groups are classified as patrilineal, “the women still manage to line up matrilineal assistance” (245).


Ryan, Lyndall. The Aboriginal Tasmanians. 2 nd ed. 1981. Crows Nest, NSW, Australia:

Allen & Unwin Pty, Ltd, 1996.

Although the society still counts as patriarchal, historical Tasmanian women were the primary functionaries in providing shellfish and abalone food provisioning, while the men had no interest in learning Western farming. Women's parties, travelling alone, ridiculed French explorers, exhibiting no shame in their sexuality. Although unremarked by Ryan, food provisioning and sexual freedom of women are basic aspects of matriarchal or matrilineal cultures.