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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, culture, Indigenous Australia, 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


Students recognise the centrality of ‘country’ in shaping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities.

Students examine the ways in which changing attitudes towards the environment influence politics, government and non-government organizations.

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. Students recognise that Australian indigenous art is the oldest continous art tradition in the world by visiting a local indigenous art gallery or inviting a member of the indigenous community and/or a art gallery owner to class to discuss indigenous art.

2. Using evidence from the paintings in the video clip, discuss the concept that indigenous art is like a topographic mapping of land and culture.

3. Using the internet, the video clip and other sources investigate how and why a central focus of indigenous art is their environment. Given the long tradition of this indigenous art form, how might the recent intense interest by non-indigenous people in indigenous art have an impact on peoples’ attitude towards the environment and towards governments’ policies about the land?

4. In pairs research examples of traditional Australian Indigenous art that derive from a specific locality or geographic region. Prepare an informative written and illustrated report of about 500–700 words discussing the various features of the art, and the ways in which it expresses elements of the Dreaming.

Further Resources


Go to Australian Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission website HREOC

Rosemary Kowanko, Aboriginal Art and the Dreaming, Curriculum Resources, South Australia, 1994
Adele Pring, Aboriginal Artists in South Australia, Curriculum Resources, South Australia, 1998.