Stories of Country: A Brief Introduction to Aboriginal Art

Stories of Country: A Brief Introduction to Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal art is one of the oldest forms of art in the world. From rock paintings and carvings, body and bark paintings to modern art paintings and wearable art such as jewellery and garment construction, Aboriginal art is able to preserve the stories of Country through various mediums. To appreciate Aboriginal art is one thing, but to have a deeper understanding is another. So in this blog, we give you a brief introduction to the rich culture woven into Aboriginal art.

Gabarnmung, Arnhem Land, Northern Australia

Aboriginal Art

Storytelling is an integral part of Aboriginal culture. Our stories document seasons, spirits, and animals that reside in the lands. Aboriginal art is used to tell these stories through drawings on rocks, body painting, and sand painting and is able to preserve the tens of thousands of year old stories that until now is seen through contemporary Aboriginal art.

Iconography is vital in Aboriginal art. Iconography, or the use of symbols, is the First Nations people’s way to communicate stories to each other as there was no written language before. Icons, or symbols, told stories that have experiential or spiritual context. In other words, Aboriginal art was and is still being used to transfer knowledge. One must be careful, however, in using these symbols. Some can only be used by men and some even exclusively used within the community. 

Interpreting Aboriginal Art

Do not be fooled by the seemingly simple appearance of these symbols; the stories behind them are complex. One factor that contributes to this is the multiplicity of their meanings. While each culture or geography share similar symbols, there are some icons that have different meanings across these communities. Another factor is age. In Aboriginal art, children have been taught good behaviour, but the interpretation can change as the child ages.

Lastly, the audience, whether it be the original piece or contemporary, contribute to the meaning. Some interpretations can only be understood by the communities given the level of knowledge of these symbols, while the art can also be given a different meaning by the contemporary audience.

Because interpretations vary, one article is not enough to cover all icons used in Aboriginal art, so the next part will discuss the more common symbols used in the art.

Meanings of the Icons

As mentioned, Aboriginal art told stories of First Nations’ experiences, teachings, and rituals. Here are some symbols used to transfer these knowledge:

Animals and Plants

Staple Australian animals and plants are evident in Aboriginal art. Stories of hunting often include icons for animals. Often they are depicted through the animal’s tracks. For harvesting, they also have icons for plants. Here are some examples:

Gweeni by Daphne De Jersey 


Aside from animals and places, weapons for hunting are also illustrated through Aboriginal art.


Circles usually denote a gathering of people. They can be used to depict a gathering spot, a fire, a camping, a waterhole, or a sacred site. Ceremonies are usually held at locations with a plentiful supply of water. As a result, artists frequently use the symbol for a ritual and the symbol for a waterhole interchangeably.

The journey path people take between a number of destinations is symbolised by parallel lines connecting circles. Water running between two sites is represented by wavy lines.


The curving U shape is a popular sign in Aboriginal art that represents a person. When a person sits cross-legged on the sand, it leaves this shape on the sand. The symbol of a woman is usually accompanied by a coolamon and digging stick on either side. For the depiction of man, it is accompanied by a spear and shield though variations could incorporate other weapons such as a boomerang.


While there are no common Aboriginal symbols for life, love, or strength, numerous artists have devised their own set of symbols to tell their stories based on their vast cultural knowledge.

Central Art Aboriginal Art Store shares to us a glossary of common Indigenous symbols. You may check their website to see this glossary.

Creating DulcieDot to Tell Stories of Country

As you can see, we incorporate Aboriginal Art in our garments. This comes from a special place. DulcieDot was born out of my yearning to educate my children about our family and our culture.  

Dulcie and Dot's story prompted me to collaborate with Aboriginal Artists and communities around Australia to learn more about our people's stories. We have such a rich culture, with so many wonderful unknown stories. So each DulcieDot style is more than just a colourful sustainable garment: it is woven with a culture story that we want to pass on to the next generation.