Facts About Aboriginal Art

Indigenous Australian people commenced aboriginal art in their native land as a means to hand down cultural values and spiritual beliefs to their upcoming generation. They also used it as a form of communication among themselves and with other cultural groups, including Dutch and Portuguese traders and mariners, as they did not have a written language. Rock carving, wood carving, leaf painting, sculpting, and sand painting that carried symbols and icons served as a platform for them, right from in sharing stories to ideas and skills.  In some pictures, you can also catch a glimpse of their human relationships, animals, nature, and love for travel.

As far as its origin is concerned, aboriginal art or indigenous art existed in Australia even before Europeans entered its territory. It is claimed to be more than 40,000 years old, but it started gathering commercial recognition only in the early 1970 era. That's perhaps one reason why this art form is still considered young compared to others. Another interesting fact about it is that indigenous art primarily witnessed male participation; but, today, you can see that this style of art has become prevalent among almost 60% of the women.

Types of Aboriginal Art

The artwork by Aboriginal Australians can be divided into two main groups: traditional indigenous art and contemporary indigenous art.

The traditional form of artworks

Under old style art methods, you will come across stone arrangements, rock carvings, etc. Here is a brief about these and others.

Stone Arrangements

A kind of rock art, these stone arrangements include the use of usually 30 cm size of stones laid over several meters of ground in different patterns. These mainly depict spiritual ceremonies.

Wood Carving

In this style, aboriginals used wood or a sharp stone for carving. They also used heated wire for creating designs on the objects.

Rock Painting

One of the excellent examples of rock painting is stencil art, in which you can see handprinted motifs. Other than this, you may also have heard about charcoal drawing that is done on the piece of rock. These have been recovered from south-western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. Charcoal drawing is said to be 28,000 years old. In Australia, you will encounter rock art almost everywhere. For an experience of this, you can go to Bradshaws, the western Kimberley region. Apart from this, other sites that are worth visiting for it include - Ubirr, the Kakadu National Park; Laura, Queensland; Carnarvon Gorge; and Uluru.

Weaving and String-art

Under this category, basket weaving is quite popular. You can also see pieces of jewelry, such as necklace, made by Tasmanian aborigines.

Sand Painting

This artwork has been there since ages and took a different form in modern times. In the old times, people used a wide range of colors, such as yellow, brown, red, and white in paintings. Each color represented the elements of Mother Nature. For example, brown signified the soil/ earth, yellow symbolized the sun, white stood for the sky and the clouds, and red indicated desert sand. These paintings comprised different figures, like animals, lakes, etc. You can also see some images denoting the stories and legends which were probably shared by indigenous people with non-indigenous people.

The contemporary indigenous art methods

One of the significant marks of modern paintings is the use of watercolor. The practice began in the 1934 era when Rex Batterbee, a famed Australian painter, helped Albert Namatjira (an aboriginal artist) and others to learn landscape painting with watercolor. The style had western influence. Soon when this art form caught popularity, it was being referred to as Hermannsburg School because Hermannsburg Mission Centre in the Northen Territory is where the teaching had first started. Painting exhibitions in Adelaide, Melbourne and other cities of Australia created a massive response, and consequently, Namatjira who by then had earned lots of fame received the status of an Australian citizen. Since then, contemporary art style continued to evolve and rediscover itself.

Another interesting example from modern times is the evolution of sand painting or dot painting into permanent forms. Now canvas replaced the soil or desert sand on which images of the secret ceremonies were drawn. Aborigines adopted modern techniques and materials to create their artwork. All these changes took place because of one person - Geoffrey Bardon, an art teacher in Australia.

Aboriginal Art Tour in Australia

Aboriginal art gives you a window to learn about the culture and lifestyle of Aborigines in Australia. From how they survived under extreme weather conditions to the story of their transformation, there are many things that you can know by exploring their artworks. For a sneak peek into this, you can go to any of the following places:

Kakadu National Park, the Northern Territory:


Declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kakadu houses 20,000 years old to some of the recent rock artwork for its visitors to explore. The paintings transport you back to thousands of years back in history to let you see the kind of relationship aborigines had with their land. These also depict their spiritual connection. Ubirr and Burrungkuy are the two art galleries here. You can find a good range of naturalistic paintings and x-ray art (traditional paintings containing images of animals and stories).

Laura, Queensland:

Tucked in the lap of northern Queensland, this small Australian town probably has the broadest range of ancient rock art compared to any other place in the globe.

Apart from these, Uluru and Carnarvon Gorge are two other sites where you will get a chance to view some of the most exceptional artworks. In Uluru, you can also attend dot painting workshops for a distinct experience. If you travel to Victoria, you can drop in at the site of Wurdi Youang to treat your eyes to stone arrangement art. You can see how 100 stones spread over 50 meters form a beautiful oval shape resembling an egg. Additionally, there are many art galleries in the country that display different paintings by different artists. From traditional to modern art, you can immerse yourself in them to know about the aborigine communities, their practices, and beliefs from close quarters.