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Aboriginal Art - The Dreaming


Aboriginal Art - The Dreaming

The Rainbow Serpent

The ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘Dreaming’ are terms used to refer to Aboriginal cosmology and spirituality.

Which word is the most appropriate to use? They are both confusing definitions because no single word in the English language can express the complexity of Aboriginal culture. ‘Dreamtime’, which was first coined by the 19th century anthropologist Francis Gillen, is less accurate as it implies a fixed period of time. There is no word for time in the Aboriginal languages. ‘Dreaming’ is a slightly better term as it exists in the present and relates more to the perennial tradition of Aboriginal culture. Although it still lacks definition, ‘Dreaming’ is the preferable term to use.

'The Dreaming' is the mystical process of creation that is key to Aboriginal culture. It is the eternal life-force that unifies the past and present, merging both the physical and spiritual realms of existence.

However, the 'Dreaming' is not a unified belief system. As there are over 400 different Aboriginal groups across Australia with various languages and dialects, there are many different 'Dreamings' with their own distinct mythologies. What they have in common is their creation stories that establish a moral order, a respect for nature and a reverence for the ancestral spirits such as the Rainbow Serpent and the Mimi Spirits. It links the terrestrial and the celestial, the people and the land, religious and social laws, the spiritual forces which protect and sustain life and the stories that link all of these.

'The Dreaming' is continuously sustained through a visual tradition of art, stories, songs, ceremonies, memories and imaginings that have been passed down the generations by word of mouth for thousands of years.

“The reason that we tell these stories is to know where we’re coming from. Gives us an identity of the people. And if we know where we’re coming from, we know where we’re going. As long as we keep telling these stories we know that our culture is alive and running strong through our veins.”

Warren Foster. Wallaga Lake, New South Wales, 1998.

The Painting Process for our Page Illustration

Many of the topics in our Aboriginal Art lessons are illustrated with a painting that was inspired by the theme of that page. To help you understand the technique used for each painting, we have deconstructed its development in the form of a slide show. Once you see a step by step analysis of how each image is constructed, it may provide you with a model that you can adapt for your own ideas.

(Click on the play buttons or swipe back and forward to explore each stage of our painting.)


  • The symbols and images used to create our art lessons are taken from the two pages above. These illustrations are free to download and and print for your own use. The symbols and images are by no means exclusive and you should feel free to add your own.