Australia is perhaps the last continent where you would expect to find an art history that dates back well over 30,000 years, the oldest continuous practice of a traditional style, whether it be the dot paintings, cave sculptures, bark paintings or weavings.
Beginnings of Australian Aboriginal art
For 50,000 years, the Aboriginal inhabitants of the red continent had 3,000,000 square miles all to themselves. Carbon dating of some ancient artwork in caves dates the beginnings of traceable art history to about 30,000 years ago, but taking into account wind and weathering, it is quite certain it goes back further in time, as some of the earliest remnants were impossible to date.
Cave scrapings, monuments and paintings are found in all parts of Australia, some of it bearing resemblances to images from opposite ends of the continent, indicating that there had been a social intercourse between the various nomadic tribes that contributed to the spreading of culture, the Dreamtime myth and the establishment of over 250 different languages over the period of the great nomadic migrations.
During these millennia, some tribes settled in distinct regions of the continent and established their own cultural and spiritual customs, but it always came back to the earth, the Mother. Below are translations of the beliefs that all Australian Aboriginal people carry in their hearts:
"We don't own the land, the land owns us."
"The Land is my mother, my mother is the land."
"Land is the starting point to where it all began. It is like picking up a piece of dirt and saying this is where I started and this is where I will go."
"The land is our food, our culture, our spirit and identity."
"We don't have boundaries like fences, as farmers do. We have spiritual connections."
The famous dot art
Like all of their other art forms, from ground paintings to oral traditions, dot art is inspired by the Dreamtime. Each color of a dot represents a different element, and they were made from various organic substances. The paint pallet was comprised of blood, eggs, earth, charcoal, feathers, stones and various forms of ochre. Since the cultures never had a written language, their art was their way of passing down knowledge.
While the non-Aborigine may look at dot paintings as a wondrous arrangement of colors and designs, to the contemporaries of the painter, it holds many significances and secrets, leaving clues to where the trails led and where game was plentiful as well as mapping their tribal migratory patterns.
Australia's vast continent is nature's canvas, and through erosion, many caves were formed. The Aborigines consider them sacred.
An interesting aspect of the artwork found in these caves, some of which dates back 28,000 years, is the similarities with handprints found in Patagonia, South America in the way that peoples left their "signatures."
Beyond that are abundant paintings of wildlife and traditional totems along with many carved rock formations which, to this day, have archeologists and anthropologists wondering about their meanings. The original creators and their knowledge are now in Dreamtime, and are giving spiritual guidance to today's wanderers.