The development of systematic mathematics requires writing, and hence a non-literate culture cannot be expected to advance mathematics beyond the stage of numeral words and counting. The hundreds of languages of the Australian aborigines do not seem to have included any extensive numeral systems. However, the common assertions to the effect that ‘Aborigines have only one, two, many’ derive mostly from reports by nineteenth century Christian missionaries, who commonly understood less mathematics than did the people on whom they were reporting. Of course, in recent decades almost all Aborigines have been involved with the dominant European-style culture of Australia, and even those who are not literate have mostly learned to use English-style numerals and to handle money. Similar qualifications should be understood when speaking of any recent primitive culture.