Aboriginal Art Symbols - Iconography

Aboriginal People do not have their own written language, and so they make use of many common symbols (often called iconography) in their artwork.  Although these vary from region to region, they are generally understood and form an important part of Australian Indigenous art.  A few of the more common ones, and some variations are shown here.  A painting may have several levels of story depending on whether the story is being told to children, initiates, or among elders or law people.  The meaning of the symbols can change depending on the context of the story concerned.



                Woman, women with body paint                     Women around a campfire                        Woman and children:  the woman
                 shown by the dots                                            with digging sticks                                    has digging stick & coolamon



             Man with Boomerangs & Spears                         Men around a Campfire                           Human Footprint

         Footprints indicating Birds

       Eagle footprints by Clifford Possum              Emu, Bush Turkey, and Kittyhawk prints                Budgerigar footprints
       Eagle Prints by Clifford Possum                  Emu, Bush Turkey & Kittyhawk                           Budgerigar Footprints

       Footprints indicating animals

                Dingo                  Goanna                                   Kangaroo Tracks                             Snake tracks            


           Rockholes are important sources of water for the Aboriginal people.  They may not be visible from the surface
             but are like storage tanks, & people dig down into the rockholes to find water even when everything seems dry.


                  Flowing water, rain                               smoke, fire, blood, or  water                                river



              women sitting around waterhole                 waterhole symbol                          women sitting around waterhole
                                                                                                                                        with coolamons & digging sticks


               Waterholes are critical to survival in the desert and for that reason  they feature frequently in Aboriginal art, 
              both as places (as in a map) and also represented as sacred places because of their importance.


               Read more about Aboriginal Art