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.



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.



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.



Art of the Tiwi

The Tiwi people live on Melville and Bathurst Islands north of Darwin. 

In the 1900's buffalo shooters came to the island and in 1911 a Catholic mission was established at Nguiu on Bathurst Island.

There are several differences between the art, sculpture and ceremony of the Tiwi islanders and indigenous people who lived on the mainland of Australia.

Tiwi ceremonies are about the initiation, Kulama, that celebrates life and the mortuary rites of the Pukumani.

Tiwi women play an important role in ceremony and are also actively involved in the arts.  In the beginning, when the ancestors came during creation, an old women, Mudungkaka, rose out of the ground at Murupianga in south-east of Melivlle Island.  She was the creator of the land and the rivers.  She bought with her 2 daughters and a son, their decendants settled throughout the island.

The Pukumani ceremony has produced a lot of great art painted on the Pukumani poles.  These poles represent the deceased, there can be up to 20 poles for one grave site which show the seniority of the deceased.

Bark baskets are painted elaborately for these ceremonies and are placed on the top of the poles at the end of the Pukumani ceremonies.

The Tiwi  are great weavers and carvers; elaborately painted and carved spears are still done today, along with woven head and arm bands created with feathers, fibres and reeds in intricate detail.

In the 1930's the Tiwi developed their art skills with sculptures of figures, birds and animals carved out of wood and elaborately painted.

Sculpture has traditionally been the Tiwi's main art form, now paintings, that were originally done on bark in ochres for ceremoney, are today painted on paper and flattened bark for the commercial market.