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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, 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

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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.

Curriculum Focus


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
4.1 responds to and composes texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis and pleasure
4.7 thinks critically and interpretively about information, ideas and arguments to respond to and compose texts
4.9 demonstrates understanding that texts express views of their broadening world and their relationships within it
4.11 uses, reflects on and assesses individual and collaborative skills for learning

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more 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. Before viewing the video clip discuss the following questions about paintings.
      Why do people do them? What is their purpose? What are painters trying to communicate? What does the viewer need to know to understand a painting?
    2. View the video clip then dicuss and write answers to the following questions.
      What does the video clip show?
      What are the messages of the video clip?
      What is the artist’s aim or purpose in creating the painting?
      What is its meaning to him and to others?
      How does it reflect nature?
      Why is it so important to this artist that his culture is passed on in this way?
    1. Sketch and write a brief explanation of what concentric circles represent.
    2. Sketch and write a brief explanation of what the U shape symbol represents.
    3. Write brief notes explaining how Indigenous art uses colour and what these colours mean.
  1. Aboriginal paintings are not all the same style. Research to find at least three different styles – including dot style, and X-Ray style.
    1. Prepare a five minute lesson on the differences and the similarities in Aboriginal paintings. Be sure to explain the techniques and symbols and to include some visual examples.
    2. Present your lesson to the class.

Literacy Activity: Focus = Viewing / Interpreting

  1. How and why are stories important in this group? (1 mark)
  2. How many other people would paint exactly like this artist? (1 mark)
  3. What are some features of the desert landscape represented in the painting? (1 mark)
  4. What is the purpose of the wide shot of the desert landscape which begins and then reappears later in the clip? (2 marks)

Further Resources


Go to Natalie Bateman
Go to Aboriginal Education