This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use

Dreamings, Through Indigenous Art

Video clip synopsis – Indigenous art is like topographic mapping of land and culture. Michael Nelson Tjakamarra works at painting concentric circles which represent sacred sites.
Year of production - 1988
Duration - 2min 1sec
Tags - Aboriginal art, art, change and continuity, indigenous cultures, The Dreaming, see all tags

play Warning - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when watching this program as it may contain images of deceased persons.

Dreamings, Through Indigenous Art

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 dreamings_pr.mp4 (14.9MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 dreamings_bb.mp4 (7.0MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

buy iconYou can buy this clip on a compilation DVD.

buy iconYou can buy the program this clip comes from.

About the Video Clip


Dreamings, Through Indigenous Art is an excerpt from the film Dreamings – The Art of Aboriginal Australia (30 mins), produced in 1988.

The art of Aboriginal Australia is celebrated in Dreamings as we journey into the sacred heartland of Australia to see traditional artists at work. The artists talk of their work, its association with the land and its spiritual connection with their people, the animals and plants. The film explores the meanings behind the works, from acrylic dot paintings of the Central Desert to cross-hatched bark paintings and burial poles of northern Australia, as it allows the viewer access to the oldest continuous art tradition in the world.

Dreamings – The Art of Aboriginal Australia is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Curriculum Focus


In this English unit students will learn:

  • how to ‘read’ indigenous Australian art
  • the influence of language on the way we think about the Australian landscape
  • the role culture plays in influences the development of codes and conventions of communication
  • consider the relative value of this art and Western storytelling methods (e.g. short stories, poems and novels)
  • to debate and/or write about indigenous issues

Viewing and creating texts about Dreamings through Indigenous art, students will have the opportunity to explicitly develop and demonstrate their knowledge and abilities in terms of:

Affective objectives

  • engaging: participating effectively in activities that involve connecting with people, feelings, places, ideas, issues and events
  • relating: respecting and valuing cultural similarities and differences
  • appreciating: valuing the world(s) in which they live in order to understand better the world of others
  • playing: experimenting with the flexible nature of language, exploring its possibilities, and creating desired effects

Knowledge and control of texts in their contexts

  • making meaning in texts, taking account of how language and meaning are shaped by cultural purposes, genres and register variables
  • selecting, synthesising, analysing, infering from, and evaluating subject matter and substantiating with evidence as required
  • establishing and making use of the ways that writers, speakers/signers and shapers’ roles and their relationships with their readers, listeners and viewers are influenced by power, distance and affect
  • using modes and mediums, combining where necessary, to interpret and produce texts.

Knowledge and control of textual features

*experimenting with visual and auditory features, using them in combination as appropriate in written, spoken/signed and multimodal texts to make meaning
*making use of a range of spoken/signed and non-verbal features

Knowledge and application of the constructedness of texts

  • making use of their knowledge that discourses shape and are shaped by language choices
  • exploring ways that cultural assumptions, values, beliefs and attitudes underpin texts
  • choosing ways to represent concepts, and the relationships and identities of individuals, groups, times and places
  • considering ways that readers, viewers or listeners are invited to take up positions in relation to texts or parts of texts, and making decisions about which reading position to adopt
  • making choices about how to invite readers or viewers of, or listeners to, their own texts to take up positions in relation to the text of parts of the text.

This is an extract only. Teachers and students should consult Queensland Curriculum: Learning, Teaching and Assessment for updated curriculum information

Background Information


There are several different major Aboriginal art styles, including X-Ray and cross-hatching, and the one seen in this film, the dot style from Central Australia.

Aboriginal art was traditionally created on bodies, in the dirt, on trees or artefacts, and on rocks. In the 1970s school teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged the Papunya Tula people of Central Australia to use acrylic paint on canvas, boards and cloth, which triggered an explosion of traditional and new Indigenous art and an increasing respect for and recognition of it among non-Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal art works reflect *culture and environment and are often created as a co-operative work.

Dreaming stories tell about how and when the earth, as Aboriginal people know it, was made. Dreaming stories are passed from one generation to the next through songs, dances and art.

*culture – (distinctive) practices and beliefs of a society or group of people

Classroom Activities

  1. The video clip
    1. Who is given most voiceover time in this clip? Why is that significant?
    2. The clip begins with a camera mounted in a plane flying over an outback Australian landscape and juxtaposes that with shots of a camera ‘flying’ over an indigenous painting. Why is this done? What meanings does it encourage viewers to make?
    3. In the voiceover, the viewer is told that ‘it’s all our country’. To whom does the ‘our’ refer and not refer? Explain. How is the representation of the Australian landscape in this clip similar to or different from that found in the Endeavour Journal video clip?
    4. The painter states that only certain people are allowed to paint this dreaming. Who and why?
    5. What is this artist’s aim or purpose in creating the painting?
    6. What are the possible meanings of the concentric circles, u-shapes and colours, as explained in the voiceover?
    7. Do the ‘codes and conventions’ used in the painting mean the same to everyone?
    8. Why is it so important to the artist that his culture is passed on in this way?
    9. How are indigenous culture and people represented in this clip? Is this unusual or surprising in any way? Why?
  2. Invite an Indigenous artist, or an Aboriginal gallery owner to class to show and discuss indigenous art.
    1. Indigenous culture has developed over thousands of years in a particular environment. Discuss the difficulties and problems, as well as the opportunities that are created for traditional culture in a modern world.
    2. White Australians tend to refer to Aboriginal culture as the ‘Dreaming’. Collect a number of definitions of this term. What are the consequences of going along with or rejecting various versions?
    3. In groups, debate whether or not Aboriginal art as a way of telling stories about Australia deserves a place along side Western ways of telling stories brought to Australia by British settlers, e.g. novels, poems and songs. For example, should we value the work of Michael Nelson Tjakamarra as highly as Henry Lawson, Henry Handel Richardson, Judith Wright or Peter Carey?
      Alternatively, write a feature article for a mainstream Australian newspaper.

Further Resources


Go to Natalie Bateman
Go to Aboriginal Education