Stories on Love, Life and Inspiration

Power of Aboriginal Art for Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal Art Benefits Indigenous People and Their Communities

Image of Albert Namatjira’s Famous Painting (the 1960s) from (

Aborigninal culture can be reviewed through the power of art.

Life for the Indigenous artist has dramatically changed since the 1950s. The gap is both in economical, personal and societal factors in remote and urban Aboriginal communities. Many Aboriginal people throughout Australia could, and indeed still do, not view themselves as equal to non-Indigenous people. For instance, healthcare, education and low-income housing were, not as freely available to many Indigenous Australians as needed.

I can only partially understand how Aboriginal artists have to take action in their own lives against this daily prejudice. I have a dear friend here in Moree who is a local elder of the Kamilaroi people. She has told me so many tales of historic and ongoing discrimination and prejudice against her beloved “Murri” people.

An added hardship, or obligation, for an Aboriginal artist is the deep-seated yearning to safeguard the local community’s Dreaming narrative in their art. The artist’s in-built creativity since the 1950s necessitated continual changes simply to keep up with the advancement going on around him and the larger Australian commercial market.

I have worked with Aboriginal communities and have witnessed for myself how important extended family and their local community are too remote and regional people. This, of course, is even more so for the Aboriginal artist. How so, you may well ask?

The Aboriginal artist bears the obligation of ensuring each painting authentically portrays through spiritual images the Dreaming of the local community’s ancestral people. This entails continued association with the elders in the artist’s community ensuring the accuracy of the narrative is guaranteed. The Aboriginal artist is not merely a painter like me. But, an important guardian of the Dreaming for the local people through Art.

I, as an artist, choose to isolate myself when creating a seascape oil painting, enabling me to immerse totally in the creative process. I simply adore the feeling of getting lost in the moment and letting time just float by. With no sense of commitment to anyone. This is different to the Aboriginal artist. The Indigenous artist has many roles to perform. As one of the most important people in an Indigenous community, the artist has many functions. I as a non-Indigenous artist have one main goal, which is to paint and provide the commercial market with art that is aesthetically pleasing.

The trust of the artist’s local community is based on the aspect that the artist serves as custodian of cultural tradition and local ancestor history storyteller through art. That is, each painting must authentically chronicle the Dreaming of his/her people.

In addition, to these more personal and community-based responsibilities, the Aboriginal artist faces a more modern ‘ball and chain’. All Aboriginal artists, as indeed do we all, have a family and extended family to clothe, house and feed. And, we all know this costs money. So, the artist’s paintings must be available on the open market at realistic prices and still earn enough to sustain their family.

I can understand what a struggle this must be as I battle to sell my paintings on my website. There are so many talented Australian artists on the commercial market. Many too have their websites all vying for the mighty dollar. So, it cannot be easy for the Indigenous artist to earn his/her income from art.

As we are fully aware the rise of the internet as a major player in buying and selling paintings has changed the way artists sell their wares dramatically over recent years. Aboriginal artists in remote areas had to learn these new ways of promoting and selling their precious paintings to keep up and indeed compete against non-Indigenous artists in the contemporary Australian market.

Visual artworks often involved in Corroberree events — Ceremonial Amalgations of song, dance, music and visual symbols or stimuli to provide a dramati representation of, ot to pass on information about the Dreaming.

The storytelling of the Dreaming by the Aboriginal artist is often combined with other community arts such as dance, drama and music. I was a self-indulgent isolated — (by choice) — artist miss this drama and sense of belonging. I can picture it in my mind and heart. How belonging to a local community in such an intimate and conventional way would indeed add meaning to my life and give extra expression to my paintings.

I can picture in my mind the ceremonial rituals where music and dance are performed in the local Moree park with wide-eyed Aboriginal children gathered and the elders looking on with pride. The ceremony perhaps portrays the hunting of kangaroo, with the haunting sound of ‘didgeridoo’ skillfully played in the background. The youngster playing the role of the hunter would have practised this dance for many years. Knowing the full narrative and importance of his dance. I would stand in awe at such a performance.

All things everywhere are in a constant state of change. Aboriginal life and their art is no exception to this state of affairs. Modern European art and Abstract paintings became very fashionable in Australia in the 1950s. So, to remain competitive in the Australian commercial market Aboriginal artists faced an added challenge. What was that challenge you may well ask?

The need to combine the non-Indigenous market’s desire for aesthetic value with the cultural-historic value intrinsic in genuine Indigenous art. This trust when successfully achieved in Aboriginal art answered the pressures placed on these artists.

Aboriginal art had functioned as a means of establishing positive relationships with Europeans. There is no denying that their sacred stories, sites and ancestors depicted on canvas, had become a highly sought after commodity. arteducators.

All Aboriginal art must bear their important local community’s cultural stories. As European style paintings became popular, in the 1950s Aboriginal artists needed to adapt their artwork to a more aesthetic style.

Remember, up until the 1950s Australian Indigenous art was either in the form of body paint, on bark, on rocks (which date back many thousands of years) or drawn in sand. The first dramatic change occurred in the 1930s when Aboriginal artists began using watercolours and ochre in their dot paintings of the Dreaming.

A major change in style for the Aboriginal artist took place in a remote region near Alice Springs, Papunya, in the 1970s. Around a group of Aboriginal men telling stories in their traditional style — that is — drawing symbols in the red sand.

Imagine if you can, the school children gathering in sheer amazement as perhaps ancient tribal legends unfolded before their eyes in ever familiar symbols in the red sand at their feet. The school teachers also looked on in awe as these symbolic drawings brought to life the ancient narratives, times and places of long ago.

Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art from:

Now, compare an Aboriginal artist to a non-Indigenous artist such as me for a moment. I am an artist who creates seascapes and landscapes for Australian art collectors. I have my website where I promote and sell these original oil paintings. I have no one to answer to but myself. I have no timelines, no cultural boundaries, and no community responsibilities. I am free to paint whatever style I choose and not answer to anybody. This freedom I must admit I take completely for granted. Well, I did until I did the research required for this article. Never to old to learn, yes??? What is this freedom you may ask?

For instance, I favour seascape scenes as my subject for my original artwork. I have a son, Mark, who lives in Port Macquarie, NSW. I visit him twice a year. Part of these family visits, of course, is my cherished strolls along a treasured beach — camera in hand of course.

Now when I return home I upload these images, perfect them on PhotoShop — and there you have it — reference photos for my next seascapes. My storytelling in these seascapes paintings is to tell Australian art collectors how simply breathtakingly beautiful I believe Australia to be.

Now when compared to the restraints placed on Aboriginal artists in that their art must tell of their cultural heritage and Dreaming that was passed down to them. This is an honour and a privilege that an Aboriginal artist feels, that I cannot understand and a little envy.

Image and Quote from:

Contemporary Aboriginal is thought to have originated in the 1970s. Before then there was not much appeal in Australia’s wider society for Indigenous art. Or even the appreciation as an Indigenous nation as the people who were here before white settlement. Fortunately, since the 1970s it has increasingly become stylish to own contemporary Aboriginal art.

Geoffrey Bardon a school teacher in a remote region near Alice Springs stepped tentatively forward. Intrigued by the storytelling unfolding before his eyes, yet seeing in his mind something more. Symbols are simply drawn in the red sand. Perhaps, a way that these symbols and the stories they told benefiting more people than the local Aboriginal community.

This school teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, had a simple yet profound idea. What was that idea you may ask? Geoffrey encouraged these Aboriginal men to change from drawing symbols in the red sand to painting these symbols on canvas and board. Up to then, these materials were only used by non-Indigenous artists to tell non-Indigenous stories. By painting their stories on canvas and board these artworks had a more permanent form and could be sold on the commercial market.

Littel did Geoffrey realize that his simple suggestion would drastically change the way Aboriginal art was conceived by Austalia and the world. Little did Geoffrey forecast that this would:

begin the famous Australian art movement.

This simple suggestion by a school teacher in a remote Aboriginal school near Alice Springs has spread to be the “most exciting contemporary art for the twentieth century.” ( The traditional rights of these paintings remain within their local communities simply because each painting tells the narrative of the Dreaming and cultural stories passed down to the artist.

An artist cannot paint a story that does not belong to them through family.

For the Indigenous artist, his art is not just colour on a canvas or board but is at times like an extended family member.

For an Aboriginal artist his/her painting form a sincere unity between them, their community, their past, present and future. I must admit that I don’t understand this concept. Yet, I also admire this sense of communal belonging and sense of heritage passed on to them. I feel this would be something!!! To be able to paint my family’s heritage and gauge their future, WOW! I must admit that is completely beyond my comprehension and my skills as a non-Indigenous artist. I do not have the advantage of 40,000 to 60,000 years of history to call on.

I, as a non-Indigenous artist, being involved in my local community. Yet, not nearly as much as an Aboriginal artist. They function not only as a painter of colourful images on canvas or board. But, also like the community teacher whose role it is to pass on custom and the communal identity to the young people. The duty is passed on in the artist’s paintings which are a gift to future generations.

Indigenous visual arts provides a means of cultural expression and are a vehicle for the maintenance of transmission culture.

The local communities of Aboriginal artists participate in various ways, therefore, benefit from these paintings. How do local Indigenous communities benefit you may ask? It has been proven that the Indigenous members of our society place a high value on family, extended family and their local community. Because contemporary Aboriginal art is based on telling the narrative around their ancestral heritage they turn to their elders for the necessary stories to be told. This of course encourages a sense of belonging which is carried through to each painting.

Individual members of communities that have active Aboriginal artists show improved confidence and other health benefits. This flows from acknowledgment from the acceptance in the wider community of the valuable artworks and thus the communities they were born from. The fact that Aboriginal artists often involved community members in many aspects of their art increased each person’s sense of belonging.

At a communal level, contemporary Aboriginal art is exemplified profoundly in quite a few Indigenous communities. One example of this community building through Aboriginal art is the establishment of Art Centres and other art-related organizations.

Here in Moree, my hometown, we have a local Aboriginal art gallery and cafe. This gallery/cafe exhibits Aboriginal paintings from local Indigenous artists and conducts art classes and competitions. Our local community bus is designed with the painting from a winner of such a competition.

Activites in the visual arts provide significant social benefits to Indigenous people and enhances cohesion.

Indigenous artists' creativity is more based on community and cultural heritage that an artist in the European tradition. The individual Aboriginal painting is valued less for its aesthetic nature and more for its role in the artist’s daily life, cultural heritage and Dreaming.

In remote regions of Australia especially the role of Aboriginal contemporary artists are definitely of a community nature. Generally involving any member of the artist’s local community.

Art Centres are places in the Aboriginal artist’s local community where:

Artist can congretate, check each other’s progress and seek opinions.



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Diane Markey

Diane Markey

Professional Artist. I write stories about Inspiration, Love and Life Lessons. Written from my heart and from life experiences. Qualified Personal Counsellor.