What do Animals Represent in Aboriginal Art?

What do Animals Represent in Aboriginal Art?

Aboriginal art is deeply intertwined with the spiritual and cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians, serving as a powerful medium for storytelling, cultural expression, and connection to the land.

Within this rich artistic tradition, animals hold profound significance, embodying various layers of symbolism that reflect the complex relationship between humans, nature, and the spiritual realm.

In Aboriginal art, animals represent more than just physical beings; they serve as conduits between the earthly and spiritual realms, embodying ancestral wisdom and connection to the land. Through intricate patterns and vibrant colors, each animal depicted in Aboriginal art carries layers of symbolism, conveying stories of creation, survival, and harmony with nature.

In this inquiry, we delve deeper into the meanings behind different animals depicted in Aboriginal art, uncovering the layers of cultural wisdom and spiritual insight embedded within each motif.

How Animals Are Used in Aboriginal Art

Animals feature prominently in Aboriginal art, serving as central motifs that convey narratives, spiritual beliefs, and cultural practices.

Through intricate patterns, vibrant colors, and stylized representations, Indigenous artists depict aboriginal animals in a myriad of contexts, ranging from creation stories and Dreamtime mythology to everyday life and ceremonial practices.

Each aboriginal animal carries its unique symbolism, reflecting the diverse ecosystems of Australia and the profound spiritual connection that Indigenous peoples maintain with the natural world.

Moreover, animals symbolize the interconnectedness of all living beings, reflecting the holistic worldview of Indigenous Australians. They are seen as integral parts of ecosystems, contributing to the balance and harmony of the natural world.

By depicting animals in their art, Aboriginal artists pay homage to this interconnected web of life, celebrating the diversity and resilience of the land and its inhabitants.

The Meaning of Animals in Aboriginal Art


In Aboriginal art, the snake holds multifaceted symbolism, representing themes of fertility, regeneration, and the cycle of life. Often depicted with sinuous lines and geometric patterns, the snake embodies the life-giving forces of water and the transformative power of nature.

It is revered as a spiritual being capable of traversing between the earthly realm and the Dreamtime, serving as a guardian of sacred sites and a symbol of ancestral wisdom.


The kangaroo, an aboriginal animal, native to Australia, occupies a prominent place in Aboriginal art, symbolizing strength, agility, and resilience.

Depicted in dynamic poses and stylized forms, the kangaroo reflects the traditional hunting practices of Indigenous communities and the deep reverence for the land and its inhabitants.

Indigenous Kangaroo art and Dreaming stories recount the ancestral journeys of these majestic creatures, embodying the spirit of survival and adaptability that characterizes Australian wildlife.


The emu is an aboriginal animal celebrated in Aboriginal art for its graceful demeanor and symbolic significance. With its elongated neck and distinctive feathers, the emu embodies qualities of endurance, determination, and spiritual insight.

Depicted in ceremonial dances and ritualistic ceremonies, the emu serves as a metaphor for navigating life's challenges with grace and resilience, drawing strength from the interconnectedness of all living beings.


Turtles hold a special place in Aboriginal art, symbolizing wisdom, longevity, and protection. With their sturdy shells and tranquil demeanor, turtles are revered as guardians of the aquatic realm, embodying the life-sustaining forces of water and the primordial essence of creation. Turtle aboriginal arts feature prominently in Dreamtime narratives, where they play a pivotal role in shaping the landscape and maintaining the balance of the natural world.

Rainbow Serpent

The Rainbow Serpent is a powerful deity in Aboriginal mythology, responsible for creating the Australian landscape's rivers, mountains, and waterholes. The Rainbow Serpent occupies a central role in Aboriginal mythology, embodying the creative forces of the Dreamtime and the spiritual essence of the land.

With its vibrant colors and serpentine form, the Rainbow Serpent symbolizes the cyclical nature of existence, weaving together the threads of past, present, and future. Revered as a creator deity and a source of fertility, the Rainbow Serpent embodies the interconnectedness of all living beings and the sacred bond between humanity and the natural world


Birds hold diverse meanings in Aboriginal art, representing freedom, spirituality, and communication. With their ability to soar through the skies and traverse between worlds, birds serve as messengers of the Dreamtime, bridging the gap between the earthly realm and the spiritual dimension.

From the majestic eagle to the humble magpie, each bird carries its own unique symbolism, reflecting the cultural diversity and ecological richness of the Australian landscape.


Crocodiles are depicted in Aboriginal art as powerful and formidable creatures, symbolizing strength, stealth, and survival instincts. They are often associated with waterways and wetlands, where they play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance.

With their powerful jaws and stealthy demeanor, crocodiles embody the primal forces of nature and the importance of respecting the balance between predator and prey. In Dreamtime stories, crocodiles are revered as ancestral beings, possessing ancient wisdom and the ability to shape-shift between human and animal forms.


The barramundi is a revered species in Aboriginal culture, representing abundance, prosperity, and interconnectedness. With its sleek form and silvery scales, the barramundi embodies the life-giving forces of water and the cycle of renewal that sustains ecosystems.

Depicted in fishing scenes and ceremonial rituals, the barramundi serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation and the sacred bond between humanity and the natural world.


Goannas are depicted in Aboriginal art as cunning hunters, symbolizing adaptability, resourcefulness, and survival skills. With their keen sense of smell and agile movements, goannas navigate the harsh landscapes of the Australian outback, embodying the spirit of resilience and self-reliance. Revered as totemic animals and ancestral guardians, goannas hold a special place in Indigenous mythology, serving as symbols of protection and spiritual guidance

What Artists Create Animal Aboriginal Artworks?

Numerous artists specialize in creating animal-themed Aboriginal artworks, each bringing their own unique style and cultural perspective to their creations. Among them:

  • Ronnie Tjampitjinpa paints the Snake Dreaming, capturing the serpentine form and spiritual essence of this revered creature.
  • Clifford Possum, Danny Possum, and Billy Stockman depict the Kangaroo Dreaming, embodying the strength and resilience of the kangaroo footprint aboriginal in their vibrant artworks.
  • Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Gloria Petyarre, and Kudditji evoke the spirit of the emu through their dynamic compositions and bold use of color.
  • Dorothy Napangardi specializes in turtle motifs, infusing her artwork with symbols of wisdom, protection, and ancestral knowledge.
  • Emily Kane Kngwarreye portrays the Rainbow Serpent with reverence and awe, capturing the vibrant colors and cosmic significance of this powerful deity.
  • Debra McDonald captures the essence of goannas in her artwork, infusing her creations with the spirit of cunning, adaptability, and survival.

Why are Animals Important to Aboriginals?

Animals are integral to Aboriginal culture, serving as symbols of identity, spirituality, and connection to the land. They embody the wisdom of the Dreamtime and the teachings of ancestral spirits, reminding Indigenous peoples of their interconnectedness with the natural world.

By depicting animals in their art, Aboriginal artists honor the rich tapestry of life that sustains their culture, fostering a deeper appreciation for the land and its inhabitants.

In animal aboriginal art, animals are revered as spiritual beings, carrying the wisdom of the Dreamtime—the mythical era when the world was created. They serve as messengers of ancestral spirits, guiding and protecting Indigenous communities across the vast Australian landscape.

Through their behavior, characteristics, and interactions with humans, animals convey profound teachings and moral lessons, shaping the cultural identity of Aboriginal peoples.


In essence, animals are vital to Aboriginal culture, embodying the living spirit of the land and its people. By preserving and depicting animals in their art, Aboriginal artists ensure that these sacred connections endure, fostering a deeper appreciation for the natural world and the timeless wisdom it holds.

Animals hold profound significance in Aboriginal art, serving as messengers, guardians, and symbols of cultural identity. Through their artistry, Indigenous artists honor the natural world and the spiritual forces that shape their existence.

To learn more about Aboriginal art and the symbolism of animals, visit Mandel Aboriginal Art Gallery or contact  (03) 9497 5111 for inquiries.
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