What is Aboriginal Dot Painting?

Quck answer

Aboriginal dot painting is a traditional form of indigenous Australian art. It involves using small dots of paint to create intricate patterns and symbols on canvas or other surfaces. The dots are often applied using sticks, brushes, or even the artists’ fingers. Dot painting is deeply rooted in Aboriginal culture and is used to convey stories, connections to the land, and spiritual beliefs. Each dot has its own meaning and significance, representing elements like animals, plants, or ancestral spirits. The technique has been passed down through generations and continues to be an important part of Aboriginal identity and artistic expression.


Have you ever been told a story? What was the story about? Many stories we hear are memories from our families. Some are fairy tales or legends. Sometimes, we create stories on the spot. Other times, we read stories from books to each other.

People from different cultures have their own special stories that are passed down through generations. Aboriginal Australians have a rich history of storytelling, which they call “Dreaming.” Many Dreaming stories date back thousands of years. These stories also hold great significance in tribal religions.

Europeans arrived in Australia in 1788, while Aboriginal people had already been living there for 60,000 years. There were 270 different tribes, each with its own language. Only tribal members were allowed to participate in Dreaming, ensuring that the stories remained exclusive to the tribe. If symbols were drawn during Dreaming, they had to be erased. Most people would draw these symbols in the dirt, making it easy to wipe them away after the Dreaming session.

When Europeans settled in Australia, they wanted the Aboriginal people to assimilate into their culture. In 1959, a town called Papunya was established for this purpose. Aboriginal tribes were encouraged to move there, with the hope that they would adopt European ways of life.

However, Aboriginal people wanted to preserve their own cultures, which became increasingly challenging in towns like Papunya. They suddenly found themselves surrounded by Europeans and living in close proximity to other tribes. As a result, aspects of their cultures started to disappear. Today, only 18 out of the original 270 languages remain strong.

Nevertheless, Aboriginal people held onto their Dreaming stories. In 1971, a group of men in Papunya shared their stories with each other during an art class. They would draw their Dreaming symbols in the dirt and erase them after each story. Their teacher noticed this and encouraged them to incorporate the symbols into their artwork.

This is how Aboriginal dot painting originated. Using acrylic paint, these men created paintings with profound religious meanings. However, they wanted to protect their heritage. To achieve this, they concealed their Dreaming symbols within the dots of each painting, ensuring that only members of their tribe could truly understand the message. Soon, the practice of Aboriginal dot painting became widespread.

Outsiders may not fully comprehend Aboriginal dot paintings, but many still appreciate them as art. This art form became one of the most popular in the late 20th century. Today, Aboriginal artists continue to conceal their Dreaming symbols in their paintings.

Try It Out

Find a friend or family member to assist you with these activities!

  • Learn more about the Aboriginal people in Australia. Utilize your newfound knowledge to compose an explanation about the identity of the Aboriginal people. Incorporate the most significant and intriguing information you discovered. Afterward, share your written work with a friend or family member.
  • Are you curious to see examples of Aboriginal dot paintings and the talented artists behind them? Take a look at these images! Do the dot paintings match your expectations? Can you discern if any of them convey a story?
  • Request a friend or family member to recount a story that has been passed down through generations, such as an old family tale or a fairy tale. Then, endeavor to depict the story through your own drawing or painting.

Sources of Wonder

  • https://www.aboriginal-art-australia.com/aboriginal-art-library/aboriginal-dot-art-behind-the-dots/ (accessed 24 Jan., 2019)
  • https://www.aboriginal-art-australia.com/aboriginal-art-library/the-story-of-aboriginal-art/ (accessed 24 Jan., 2019)
  • http://www.shareourpride.org.au/sections/our-culture/ (accessed 24 Jan., 2019)

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