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.

 

Man with boomerangs & spears

Man with boomerangs & spears

Men around a campfire

Men around a campfire

Human footprint

Human footprint

Eagle prints by Clifford Possum

Eagle prints by Clifford Possum

Emu, bush turkey & kittyhawk

Emu, bush turkey & kittyhawk

Budgerigar footprints

Budgerigar footprints

Dingo & goanna

Dingo & goanna

Kangaroo tracks

Kangaroo tracks

Snake tracks

Snake tracks

Rockholes

Rockholes

Rockholes

Rockholes

Rockholes

Rockholes

Flowing water or rain

Flowing water or rain

Smoke, fire, blood or water

Smoke, fire, blood or water

River

River

Women sitting around waterhole

Women sitting around waterhole

Waterhole symbol

Waterhole symbol

Women sitting around waterhole with coolamons & digging sticks

Women sitting around waterhole with coolamons & digging sticks

Waterholes

Waterhole

Waterholes

Waterholes

Waterholes

Waterholes

Woman, women with body paint shown by the dots

Woman, women with body paint shown by the dots

Women around a campfire with digging sticks

Women around a campfire with digging sticks

Woman and children: the woman has digging stick & coolamon

Woman and children: the woman has digging stick & coolamon

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.

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