Aboriginal art symbols, used in sand drawings, body painting, on bark, rock and canvas, are an essential and traditional part of
aboriginal culture. Through their continued use, Australian aboriginal
people are connected to the land and to the aboriginal dream-time of
Dream-time stories explain many aspects of Nature, of the seasons and of history. Through following rehearsed songlines, the people can find their way across vast tracts of land, landmarks being sung in sometimes several languages as different traditional countries are traversed.
It seems to me that the aboriginal art symbols most commonly used are a sort of shorthand for stories involving, say, a person, landmarks such as a waterhole or river, weather conditions and activities of animals and birds.
So symbolism in Australian aboriginal art can quickly tell a story such as this imaginary one -
a cloudy day a group of men tracked three kangaroos to a waterhole near
that pointy hill across from the river. They speared their prey and
carried them back to camp where a group of women cooked them over three
fires for all to enjoy.”
That superficial story, though, might cover a more sophisticated knowledge only available to certain initiated sub-groups or individuals.
symbols developed through sand drawings (imagine a finger tracing the
marks above in red, dry sand) and the observations of marks left by the
tracks of humans and various animals on soft earth.
Many years ago I lived and worked in aboriginal communities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
One of these was Jigalong in the remote Simpson Desert, east of Mount Newman, the other Wave Hill Settlement, which later became known as Dagaragu and Kalkaringi, the latter being open to the public as well as Hookers Creek (now Lajamanu).
Not long after my arrival at
Jigalong, the elders explained, in no uncertain terms, that there were
areas that I, as a woman, was definitely not allowed. So if there were
secret, sacred symbols, I certainly didn't see them!
However, easily recognised symbols, such as those above, were used to tell stories in sand, on bark and in paintings on paper or canvas.