Traditional Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal people traditionally painted on rock, on the body and in the sand  to tell the stories of their ancestors and their creation stories.

Aboriginal Rock Art

Aboriginal rock paintings appear on cave walls all over Australia.  The best-known are in the Kimberley area of West Australia.  This is probably the oldest art form.  The Wandjina, the ultimate creator,  hunting scenes and the Bradshaw figures or Mimi Spirits are found on many cave walls going back over 40,000 years.  This art form tells us about the activities, the spiritual beliefs and the social activity of the people of the time.

 

Aboriginal Bark Paintings

Painted on the bark harvested from trees.  The bark is first soaked in water and then smoked to create a flat shape for painting.  Bark was also used to make everything from  baskets to canoes.  Most bark works come from Arnhemland and northern West Australia.

 

Aboriginal Dot Paintings

These paintings come from the centre and western desert areas where dots, using acrylic paint are used to create and depict plants, animals, waterholes and land forms.  Originally done in ochre's the Aboriginal desert artists moved onto acrylic paints when they were introduced to them by the missionaries. 

Aboriginal Aerial paintings

 Many paintings of country are viewed from above, "bird's-eye view".  Painted by the artist sitting on the ground, they have been created with an intimate knowledge of land and tell the Dreamtime creation stories of the plants, animals, earth cycles and landscape.

 

Aboriginal Carvings and sculpture

Weapons such as spears for fishing, hunting and fighting were created out of stone and wood.  Coolamuns, baskets for food gathering and small animal and bird figures  were also carved out of the local wood.  Necklaces and other adornments worn for ceremony were made out of feathers and seeds.  Bush string to bind things together was made out of fibres from plants.  These fibres were also used to weave baskets.

 

Didgeridoos

The traditional wind instruments from North East Arnhemland were created out of a tree branch that was hollowed out by termites,  They were cut down and shaped to a long hollow instrument used in ceremony by the men.

 

ABORIGINAL SAND PAINTING

Symbols were drawn in the sand as maps showing the young initiates where to find waterholes, food and teach about hunting and how to recognize animal tracks.

Some very elaborate sand paintings were used for ceremony, they took days and days to create and once the ceremony was over were destroyed.

 

 

WANDJINA the creator spirits

The most powerful image of The Kimberley is the Wandjina rock art, found in the caves of north-west Western Australia.

The Worrorra, Ngarinyin and Woonambal people trace their ancestry directly back to the Wandjina spirit ancestors.

 

Wandjina are only found in the Kimberley region, nowhere else in Australia.

 

 Each image of the Wandjina, painted on the rock caves, is said to have formed at the end of their creation activity on earth after they had created the land forms, the plants, animals and humans.  At the end of their work they lay down in the cave and turned into a painting.

This Wandjina is deeply spiritual to the people of The Kimberley area and a lot of the caves are now protected, many have been and still are hidden to protect them.  These paintings are said to have been done from spiritual beings with no human intervention.  Their image may be copied on bark, paper or canvas for commercial purposes, but their power is greatly diminished when it takes on another medium and painted by a human.

 

Wandjina is a generic term and there are individual Wandjina's with individual names ie Jundart, Lightning Wandjina. 

All Wandjina, when painted, have similar features...they are always painted in full frontal, they have large "owl-like" eyes, long nose and no mouth.  Although stories vary from clan to clan, it is said that if the Wandjina had a mouth and he opened it the rains and floods would come.   Other's say having no mouth stops gossip and telling sacred stories.

 

When the indigenous people of The Kimberley were displaced during early European settlement,  the senior law men who were responsible for retouching the Wandjina in the caves weren't able to continue to do this important task.


It had always been important to keep the painting fresh as this in turn meant that their sacred lands would also remain fresh.

 

In 1996, senior lawman, Charlie Numbulmoore, returned to the caves to retouch the sacred Wandjina, after doing so he said these words

"I made you very good now, I don't know how I did it, very good.  You must be glad because I made your eyes look like new.  That eye, you, like this my eye, I made them new for you people.  My eye has life, and your eye has life too, because I made it new.  Don't try to bring rain, by wife might drown with rain.  The rain might drown her....."

 

There has always been some debate whether the Wandjina is the oldest cave painting, older than the Mimi Spirit, but there does seem to be evidence that the Mimi did predate the Wandjina.

The Wandjina has always been, and still remains, one of the most significant images of The Kimberley.

 

 

Aboriginal Art Australia.....facts

Australian Aboriginal art is the oldest ongoing art tradition in the world, originally painted on the body for ceremony, on the walls of caves and on the ground.  The culture goes back over 40,000 years.

There are more than 100,000 individual rock art sites in caves around the country.

Australian Aboriginal art is now a world-wide art movement.

Before European occupation there were more than 200 different languages and over 600 dialects spoken, all but a handful of Aboriginal languages now exist, approx 20!

The Didgeridoo

originated in a small corner of north-east Arnhem Land and is the oldest wind instrument.  It is symbolic of Aboriginal music and is now played in many music bands by non indigineous people.  The didigeridoo or "yidaki" is made from tree branches that have been hollowed out by termites.

The term "Songlines"

refer to the pathways that criss-cross the country.  The ancient spirit ancestors followed these pathways when they created the people, animals and plant-life.  These ancient boundaries connected communities and created the pathway for the Aboriginal people to share their songs of creation.

Aboriginal people are connected to the land because of their spirit ancestors, they share this knowledge thru their ceremonies where painting, dance and music are all a part. 

The stories or lore is called The Dreamtime, these Dreamtime stories are celebrated and passed down generation to generation to ensure that Aboriginal culture is ongoing.

Finding puts Aborigines among art's avant garde

  • by: Michaela Boland, National arts writer
  • From: The Australian
  • June 18, 2012 12:00AM

 

 ROCK ART

 

The remote site in Arnhem Land where the fragment of charcoal rock art, dated to 28,000 years ago, was found is also home to 1000-year-old art on the ceiling of a rock shelter.

Source: The Australian

ARCHAEOLOGISTS at a remote site in southwest Arnhem Land have made a discovery establishing early Australian Aborigines as among the most advanced people in human evolution.

 

A team led by Bruno David from Monash University has found and firmly dated a fragment of charcoal rock art to 28,000 years ago.  This makes it the oldest painting so far proven by carbon-dating in Australia and among some of the earliest evidence of human painting.

 

The discovery was made last June but has been dated only recently by experts from New Zealand's University of Waikato radiocarbon laboratory.  The piece was discovered by Bryce Barker from the University of Southern Queensland. "The discovery shows Australian Aboriginal people were responsible for some of the earliest examples of rock art on the planet," Professor Barker said.

 

France's Chauvet caves were carbon dated to 35,000 years ago. They were known as the world's oldest confirmed rock art sites until last week, when drawings in Spain's El Castillo caves were dated to 40,800 years.

 

The Bradshaw figurative paintings found throughout the Kimberley are well known internationally, Professor Barker said. "The Bradshaws are often talked about as being the oldest rock art in Australia but the oldest firm date for them is 16,000-17,000 years taken from a wasp nest covering the art."  Professor Barker said he was confident the Arnhem Land rock art would come to be seen as significant as the French and Spanish sites.  "Now we've got this and we are sure we'll push the age back (of Australian rock art) in the future."  "It puts Aboriginal people up there as among the most advanced people in human evolution," he said. "Some of the earliest achievements by modern humans were happening in this country."

 

Some scientists have said that Australian rock art went back 45,000 years but Professor Barker said that date is unproven. He said this new discovery has been "unequivocally dated".  "Some rock art has previously been dated older than 28,000 but there are problems with it (those examples)," he said.

 

Professor Barker and his colleagues have outlined their reasons for asserting the superiority of this new discovery in the next edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

 

The charcoal rock art fragment was excavated by Professor Barker from the Nawarla Gabarnmang rock art site at the headwaters of the Katherine River in the Northern Territory last June. The piece of granite was 60cm underground. It wasn't until October, when Professor Barker re-examined it in the laboratory, that he realised its significance.

 

"Rock art is very difficult to date because it's not organic, it's painted with minerals," he said.

The use of charcoal meant scientists could establish the date of its execution by carbon dating.

The Nawarla Gabarnmang site is only accessible by helicopter but it is providing a rich picture of the region's history. In October 2010 the oldest ground-edge tool was discovered there, prompting scientists to reconsider when the technique of grinding to make tools sharp began.


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