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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, belonging, culture, oral history, painting, traditions, 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

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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.

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


Pre-viewing exercises:

  1. Discuss as a class: what lessons were passed on to you by a parent, grandparent, or any other family member? Work out who in the class was taught the ‘oldest’ information e.g. stories from a world war; old family recipes etc. Encourage students to bring in any interesting items for a show-and-tell.
  2. Look up a variety of definitions of the word ‘culture’. Write a class definition of what ‘culture’ is.

Viewing Questions:

  1. The artist in the video clip, Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, describes the need to pass on Dreaming stories to his son and his grandson, so they will “pass on, on and on, forever.”
    a) What does he say about how these stories were passed on to him?
    b) Do you think that oral history like this is more or less reliable than history or information that is officially recorded e.g. in books, journals, government sponsored newsreels or films?
  2. At the opening of the video clip, images of the actual desert are juxtaposed with symbolic representations in an Aboriginal artwork.
    a) Why have these images been juxtaposed?
    b) In what ways can a greater understanding of the concept of Belonging be developed through the use of symbolic representation rather than a more realistic style of painting?

Representation task:

Devise a set of 5–10 symbols to represent the significant places, people and practices in your life. Use drawing, painting, collage or computer graphics to create an A3 sized artwork using your own symbols (include these as a key) to represent the cultural practices of your family or community.

Extended Response (40 minutes):

Write an essay that compares and contrasts the ways in which the central character in this video clip (Michael Nelson Tjakamarra), and the central character of your set text, feel a sense of belonging to their culture.

Further Resources


Rosemary Kowanko, Aboriginal Art and the Dreaming, Curriculum Resources, South Australia, 1994

Adele Pring, Aboriginal Artists in South Australia, Curriculum Resources, South Australia, 1998.