A totem is a spiritual emblem that often takes the form of a plant or animal. They help to define people’s relationships with each other and with Country.
Totems also help define the roles and responsibilities of the clan, family or individual. They are usually sacred, and it may be forbidden to kill or eat the totem animal.
Many Aboriginal beliefs reflect a kinship between humans, animals, plants, and even landscape features. An individual might belong to a network of spiritual and physical entities. As they grow, they learn about their relationship with Country, their people and their totems.
Beliefs such as these influence the way many Aboriginal peoples see the world. There are social responsibilities built into those beliefs. Checks and balances to be considered before or during a hunt, even at the point when eating that animal.
With a totem comes a spiritual responsibility to learn the songs and dances ceremonies of that totem. This ensures a strong and ongoing connection between people and Country.
This is an entirely different way of viewing nature compared to modern Western views.
Koalas are totems of many Aboriginal groups in NSW, including Gumbaynggirr of the Mid North Coast, Birpai of Port Macquarie, and Awabakal of the Hunter region. Each clan is responsible for the stewardship of their totem, ensuring responsible management of resources.