ABORIGINAL SIGNS & SYMBOLS

There are hundreds of symbols used by Australia's indigenous people, and amongst the many tribes different versions and uses have evolved. These symbols have been used for thousands of years and today are commonly used in Aboriginal art, but in the past were drawn in the sand, painted on the body and in caves, as well decorating tools.

The Aboriginal tribes of Australia are the longest surviving continuous culture in the world, and the oldest population of humans living outside of Africa. Their ancestors left Africa and spread into India and South East Asia 70,000 - 60,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of human occupation in Australia is a rock shelter in the Northern Territories dated 55,000 years old, and the oldest skeleton dated as 65,000 years old.

PERSON
WOMAN
MAN
MEETING PLACE
WATERHOLE / 
RUNNING WATER
WATERHOLE / CAMPSITE

Waterholes are often considered to be sacred place by the Aboriginal tribes. No doubt due to their practical importance in ensuring survival, they are subject of many myths and stories. They are thought to have special powers to cure the sick, be the sacred habitat of giant water snakes (a common motif in their art) and home to water sprites (burrawungal). The sprites, usually female, are thought to trap and drown unwary males - similar to mermaid stories told in western cultures.

EMU
HUMAN
KANGAROO
ANIMAL
POSSUM
TRACKS / WATERHOLE

The Aboriginal people predominantly lived as hunter gatherers, finding food from the land and the sea. Hunting for food and tracking their prey was an essential part of their survival for many millennia. The Aboriginal people are best described as semi - nomadic, they usually moved between small numbers of permanent settlement sites within a tribes' estate. This movement was determined by the seasonality of plants and the behaviour of the animals they hunted.

SHIELD
WOOMERA
(SPEAR THROWER)
BOOMERANG
HUNTING
BOOMERANG
SPEARS
COOLAMON
(CARRYING VESSEL)

For most of Aboriginal history there were minimal trading relationships outside of the mainland, so tools were fashioned from local materials - wood, stone, fibre and animal parts. The boomerang is certainly the most iconic tool created in Australia. It is a generic term for a range of wooden throwing clubs used both for hunting and fighting. The most famous of these tools is the returning boomerang, designed to return to the thrower, but in fact most boomerangs are not designed to return but to damage their target. Many boomerangs are engraved according to traditions, and it is thought that particular engravings effect the flight by reducing the surface area and drag allowing it to fly further and faster. The boomerang is also use as an instrument in ritual and ceremonial performance, their flat sides clapped to keep time and rhythm.

SUN & STARS
HONEY ANT
RAINBOW / CLOUDS / SANDHILLS
EGGS, ANTS OR FRUIT
WATER
RAIN

The Indigenous Australians' relationship with the environment has always been active, and they have carefully managed the land in order to maintain a balance between population and resources. Dependence on natural resources for food, transport, clothing and shelter required detailed knowledge of the properties, distribution and characteristics of plants, and the behaviour of animal species. The very viability of their societies depended on a long term relationship with the land - and the fact they are the world's longest surviving continuous culture is proof of their skill and success.

History | Time travel 200,000 years into Aboriginal history

ABORIGINAL ART UK

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© Nadia Phillips 2019