Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have existed on the continent of Australia for tens of thousands of years. Their art and traditions are among the oldest and richest in human history.” National Gallery of Australia

I recommend teachers consult their Aboriginal Community Education Officer prior to undertaking an Aboriginal art topic. 

Contents: Hook/stimulus, Bark Art, Rock Art, X-ray Art, Dot Painting, Art and Sustainability, Symbols in Aboriginal art, Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Aboriginal Artists,Yuendumu School Doors, Margaret Preston- influenced by Aboriginal Art, more information, cross-curriculum links

*The colour red should not be used by students when using Aboriginal art techniques.


Bark Art

Conservation of bark art



Example of Aboriginal bark art from the Art Gallery of South Australia. Kulpidga, Australia, Anindilyakwa People. Fishing scene 1948. 

More examples of Aboriginal bark art at The National Museum of Australia: http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/old_masters/bark_paintings

What students did:  collected bark and used dots, lines and cross-hatching, with a focus on fine detail. Images show examples of student work.


Rock Art

Student sample

What students did: Students learnt about how rock art communicates information about Aboriginal people and culture. Students create their own art that communicates information about themselves. Students traced around their hand, and inside their hand included images about themselves. The example shown has a setting sun and waves to communicate a love of the beach.

More information about Rock Art: https://japingkaaboriginalart.com/articles/kimberley-rock-art-overview/


X-ray Art

“As its name implies, the X-ray style depicts animals or human figures in which the internal organs and bone structures are clearly visible.” Source: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/xray/hd_xray.htm

Source of art: http://www.aboriginal-art.de/EN/kunstformen_rindenmalerei.htm https://www.kunwinjku-aboriginal-art.com/aboriginal-x-ray.html , Artists: Dick Murrumurru, Leslie Nawirridj (left to right).

See websites for more information regarding x-ray Aboriginal art:

What students did: traced an outline of an Australian animal on black card, used chalk to draw the internal organs and bone structures.

student sample

Dot Painting

What students did: paint background and let it dry or paint on black card, trace around an Australian animal cut out, use sticks or cotton buds to make dots.


Art and Sustainability

What students did: collected recycled materials and used these to create sculptures inspired by the Erub Arts Collaborative: Ghost Nets from the Ocean. Students could not use any modern join techniques such as sticky-tape, instead tied materials.

Tarnanthi Ghost Nets Resource

Symbols in Art

Source: https://www.aboriginal-art-australia.com/aboriginal-art-library/the-story-of-aboriginal-art/

What students did: coloured a whole piece of paper in crayons, painted over the crayons with black paint, then drew with a stick or cotton bud to create symbols, and left the paint to dry. Another option is for students to tell a story with symbols using pencils or paint.


Contemporary Aboriginal Art

Munga Ilkari (Night Sky) 2017 Vicki Cullinan

Ngayuku ngura 2017 Barbara Mbitjana Moore

Kungkarangkalpa: Seven Sisters 2016 Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yunkunyjatjara (APY) Lands Women’s Collaborative

“Contemporary Aboriginal art can adapt Western art forms and new technologies and media, and still communicate cultural knowledge and express Aboriginality.” http://www.schoolsreconciliationchallenge.org.au/culturally-appropriate-teaching/

“The art of contemporary Indigenous Australians takes many forms. Despite significant change and diversity, the art retains an underlying unity of inspiration—the land and the peoples’ relationships with it. It is simultaneously connected to the past and engaged with the present, engaging with the world through actions which are lively, positive, political, social and creative.” https://nga.gov.au/collections/atsi/

What students could do: 

  • identify similarities and differences between traditional and contemporary Aboriginal Art.
  • Research a contemporary Aboriginal artist or artwork.


Aboriginal Artists

Albert Namatjira- landscape water colour paintings

About Artist:

What students could do: create their own watercolour landscape painting.


Yvonne Koolmatrie, weaving and contemporary art– Click here for information

What students could do: create their own artwork out of natural materials.


Bronwyn Bancroft 

About artist: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-02/bronwyn-bancroft-artist-and-activist/7468688


Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri 


Yuendumu School Doors

“At Yuendumu in the 1980s five artists were responsible for 27 Dreaming designs on the school doors. The designs represent more than 200 sites in the Warlpiri and Anmatyerre territory. The artists intended for the Doors to remind the Yuendumu schoolchildren of sites and obligations extending across their country. The Doors remained at Yuendumu for 12 years, resisting the desert wind and sun, and surviving robust treatment from Warlpiri schoolchildren.” Source: http://www.samuseum.sa.gov.au/explore/museum-galleries/australian-aboriginal-cultures

Students could respond to the following questions…

  • Why did artists paint on school doors?
  • What information/messages did they include in their artwork?
  • If you were going to paint a school door, what message would you leave for future school children?


Margaret Preston- Influenced by Aboriginal Art

“Preston believed that Aboriginal art provided the key to establishing a national art that reflected the soul of the vast and ancient continent of Australia. During the 1940s Aboriginal motifs and symbols, together with dried, burnt colours derived from bark paintings, became increasingly prominent in her prints.” Source: https://nga.gov.au/preston/essay.cfm

  • Did Margaret Preston respect Aboriginal Australians as artists?
  • What is the importance of understanding the meaning contained within Aboriginal art?
  • How can artists learn from and be influenced by Aboriginal art without plagiarising?

Information to consider:

Aboriginal landscape” 1941

What students could do:

  • Write a letter to Margaret Preston

More Information and Resources:

Cross Curriculum Links

Literacy– Information Reports about Aboriginal Art

STEM– Toy Design unit which includes making connections to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and cultures (Australian Curriculum Cross Curriculum Priority) through researching toys from traditional Aboriginal culture.

Or…Design, plant and maintain an Aboriginal bush tucker garden. Click here for gardening resources. Provenance Indigenous Plants at Salisbury Park (South Australia) sell such plants. For example, Silver Banksia, Coastal Saltbush, Coast Boobialla, Elegant Wattle, Native Flax, Native pelargonium, Ruby Saltbush, Seaberry Saltbush, Berry Saltbush, Karkalla, Muntries.


Richard Bell ‘The Sign Says It’ 

History: Compare Traditional and Contemporary Aboriginal art; use the picture book “The Rabbits” by John Marsden and Shaun Tan to introduce the colonisation/invasion of Australia; explore history through art eg. land rights, Richard Bell ‘The Sign Says It’ Click here for resource




Maths: Dr Chris Matthews


Click here for more visual arts resources 

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