Understanding Culture and Diversity: Australian Aboriginal Art

Article excerpt

Australian Aboriginal culture is rich, complex and fascinating. There is no single Aboriginal culture, for aboriginal people today are descended from many different groups, each with their own customs, traditions and language. The art of Aboriginal Australians shows a great understanding of the earth and its creatures.

In some Australian classrooms, teachers team with Aboriginal artists to share stories, artworks and an understanding of Aboriginal culture with their students. While such close contact is not always possible, introducing students to Australian Aboriginal art is still a valuable project, giving students an appreciation of cultures other than their own. This opens windows to other parts of the world that may be completely new to them, and is a unique tool for teaching acceptance of diversity and appreciation of cultural differences, values that are so important in today's world.


This activity has been designed as a multi-age project. The learning outcomes have been written to suit both younger and older students. Aspects of the project could be tailored to suit a single age class, or extended to incorporate learning across a range of curriculum areas. The purpose of the project is to provide inspiration to take students on a journey into the world of Australian Aboriginal culture, and to excite and inspire students about the artworks of Aboriginal people.

Begin by organizing students into small groups, comprising older and younger primary students. This can be achieved either as part of a whole school project, or through recruiting a number of older "helper" students to assist in elementary art classes.

PROJECT 1 Use large sheets of thick cardboard as a base for exploring color and blending. When looking at Aboriginal art, notice that earth tones are primarily used--an array of browns, reds and black. The Aboriginal people made paints using the clay and earth around them. Place the cardboard on the floor over a large plastic mat or on a table where everyone in the group can reach it. Use brushes, sponges or rollers to cover the board in color, aiming for either a light background (which can then be stencilled or patterned over with black) or a dark background (which can be painted over with white).

Encourage younger students to enjoy the process of mixing, experimenting and comparing results, with the focus on eventually achieving a solid base of color. For older students, focus on predicting color results and testing these predictions. Allow the board to dry. (It will curl slightly at the edges, so either weigh it down as it dries or roll it back against the curl later.)


Once the board is painted, it can be used for a range of artistic options, depending on the age, interests and skills of your students. Here are some ideas:

* Practice copying patterns similar to those used in traditional Aboriginal artwork. View these online or in an art book, and practice the patterns on a sheet of paper before committing them to the board.

* Use a small sponge or a piece of sponge tied to the blunt end of a pencil to apply the dot patterns often seen in Aboriginal art. Younger students, as well as some students with special needs, often enjoy and find satisfaction in the repetitive action of "dot painting."

* Tell a journey story using Aboriginal icons. This can be supplemented by writing a story as a group (with older students acting as scribes) and displaying it along with the finished artwork.

* Cover the board with footprints or handprints made by applying nontoxic water-based paint to feet or hands and pressing them onto the board. Younger students will enjoy simply walking across the board and leaving their own "trail" of footprints. Ensure you have some soapy water and towels at the ready!

PROJECT 2 Apply a base color of earth tones to cardboard tubing (the kind found inside kitchen wrap or paper towels) and then use dot painting or other suitable techniques to decorate individual "didgeridoos. …