WEA: Adult Learning


Online Learning

An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Art

  • None of the examples of Aboriginal Art in this course are secret or sacred. They are open for everyone to view. The information and explanations given in this course are also open for everyone to read.
  • For the purpose of this short course, art is considered to be the visual expression of Australian Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal art is the visual expression of the environment, laws, religion and everyday life of the Aboriginal people of Australia. Aboriginal art connects the past, the present and the future.

Number of pages: 15

Background Information

In 1788 there were probably between 750,000 and 1 million Aboriginal people living in Australia. They lived in approximately 600 close knit but distinct community groups (tribes) with strict laws, their own language and complex social structures which ensured their survival. The territory which each community group occupied was protected and maintained by its traditional owners. It is a myth that all traditional Aboriginal people were "nomadic", suggesting an aimless, unintelligent wandering about the landscape in the vague hope that they might find some food somewhere.

Movement of people, within their community boundaries, was purposeful and related to their detailed understanding of environmental factors which determined the location of food sources, or for ceremonial and religious reasons. Coastal Aboriginal people and those living along rivers and lakes and in abundant environments were virtually sedentary. The Gunditjmara people of south western Victoria lived in villages of stone houses, and they farmed eels in nearby rivers, and cut large waterworks across interfluves in order to join river systems. (Flood, 1985,pp204-209) In Southern York Peninsula in South Australia, there is evidence of people who lived in " mud houses". (Tindale,1936) And in the coastal north of Australia, many Aboriginal people lived in villages of bark shelters whose walls were richly decorated with paintings.

The dwellers of the semi-desert and desert areas of Australia owned much larger territories which they needed to provide them with a variety of plant and animal foods. These people moved to food supplies, the sources and availability of which they predicted by closely observing the weather (particularly rainstorms) and by their intimate knowledge of plants and animals in every part of their environment.

Aboriginal people have the longest continuous surviving culture in the world, and recent discoveries prove beyond doubt that Aboriginal people lived in Australia 60,000 years ago. More recent suggestions of 120,000 to 150,000 are refuted by experts , but the origin of Aboriginal people and their time(s) of arrival in Australia will continue to be investigated.

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