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Animals in Aboriginal Art

A teaching resource

The aim of this article is to give teachers background and resources to teach about Animals in Aboriginal art. It includes templates for an in-class activity and a PowerPoint slideshow.

Traditional Aboriginal people were hunters and gatherers. They had an intricate knowledge of animal behavior. Animals depicted in Aboriginal art are those that are a part of a songline or Dreamtime story. Aboriginal animal art was often an illustration of this story told to initiates during a ceremony.

Songlines or Dreamtime stories are more than tales they are oral histories of religious importance. These stories have a deeper meaning known to initiated men and learned through song and ceremony.

Echidna by

Dick Murramurra

Different clans have different songlines and therefor depict different animals in their art. When you see an animal in aboriginal art it is worth remembering it isn’t just an animal it is a part of a much larger spiritual story.

It is truly not surprising animals are in so many aboriginal songlines and dreamings. Aboriginal people have co-existence with their environment for over 50,000 years. They have developed a deep knowledge of the animals and their habits.

History of Animals in Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal Rock Art is some of the oldest existing art on earth. The very earliest Aboriginal rock art depicts animals. Some of this rock art even show animals that have since become extinct.

A famous example of this is the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger. A Tasmanian tiger appears in rock art in the Pilbara in Northern Australia. It went extinct in this area eleven thousand years ago at the end of the last ice age.

Right: Animals in Arnhemland Rock Art

Budgerigar Dreaming by

Kaapa Mbitjana Tjampitjinpa


Central Australian or Dot Dot Aboriginal Animal songlines

Teachers need to be aware that traditionally animals in Central Australian songlines and art were not visually apparent. The animal in Central Australian or dot dot art was often only depicted by the tracks it left or in the context of the story. In choosing an art activity for students I think it is much better to draw on a different style of aboriginal art.

X-Ray Aboriginal art Animals

In Western Arnhem Land art animals show the inside and outside parts of the body. This traditional way of depicting animals is also called X- ray art.

By looking at examples of this type of Aboriginal Art certain patterns appear that define this distinct aboriginal art style. By following the same rules used by aboriginal artists students can produce aboriginal art in a more traditional style.

Background is monochromatic or a single colour

Base layer of the animal is white above the monochrome background

Details use four different colours. Red Yellow and black white

Details infilled using cross-hatching and parallel lines

Aboriginal Animal Art Templates

I have attached some Aboriginal Art Animal templates based on art by aboriginal artists which you are welcome to use.

Students should be encouraged to fill in areas with cross-hatching or parallel lines rather than solid blocks of color.




Freshwater crocodile


Perentie Lizard

The templates are free to use and original designs but draw heavily on artworks by Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek and Dick Murra Murra.

Encourage students to use Rarrk cross-hatching rather than blocks of color. It is more in keeping with the tradition of this art style.
Some areas can be blank, Not evet area needs to have infill. Sometimes less is also more.
It also builds an appreciation for the level of skill needed by aboriginal artists. Remember they had to paint these works using ochre and human hairbrushes.

Aboriginal Art Animals summary


Aboriginal have painted aboriginal art animals for at least 30,000 years. The animals depicted are not just animals but a part of important stories of song lines. Different aboriginal groups had different art styles. Finally Animals were often an important part of aboriginal creation stories, which is why they are in Aboriginal art.

All images in this article are for educational purposes only.

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