A spotters guide to Aboriginal symbols

These are some symbols you will commonly come across in Australian Aboriginal art. An important point to note is that the perspective is generally that of looking down on the land from above, as is common for maps. Because that’s what Aboriginal artworks actually are.

Now try testing your new skills on this painting. Can you identify the camp, the river, and the trail? As you browse through some of the Christian Aboriginal art on Curious Christian see if you can decode their meaning. It’s much more rewarding when you can actually read them.


How the church messed up with Aboriginal Australians

Hope Beyond the Window by Jacqui Stewart

This image by Jacqui Stewart is entitled “Hope Beyond the Window”. As an Australian Christian I find it very confronting. Here is an interpretation of the image that Jacqui passed on through her blog:

‘The above piece of work depicts the scene of half-caste Aboriginal children sitting in front of the church they were taken too after being ‘stolen’ from their parents. In first looking at this representation, it may be misinterpreted as a seemingly peaceful scene. Images of green trees, leaves blowing in the wind and the children sitting in an almost structured fashion. The church in the distance looks well established; something probably constructed by White settlers. It is hard to tell, but it may be built using bricks. The sky is blue with minimal clouds evident, giving us the impression that it was a nice clear day when this artwork was created.

Due to the topic of this essay, and perhaps even the title of the artwork itself, it is evident that this is not a depiction of a happy occurrence. The children dressed in white sitting calmly on the ground are children that have been stolen from their parents without choice. The children are sitting there calmly because they have been told. The church is where the children are being taught the Western way of life and how a White settlers’ way of living is considered ‘better’ than those of Aborigines.

In delving deeper into analysing this piece of art, some features became more clear that would otherwise perhaps go unnoticed. There were multiple hidden symbols that represent particular ideas that the artist may have been trying to convey when creating this piece of work.

One feature is that the children were always dressed in white. All children wore the exact same dress-like clothing. One may consider this to be the uniform of the particular camp or church that they were taken too. The artist may have been trying to convey the idea that the Aboriginal half-casts were now being taught the White settlers’ way of living, their culture, and their beliefs. In other words, the Aboriginal children were being taught how to become white, hence the symbolism of the all white clothing against the dark skin.

Another idea that the artist may have been trying to get the viewer to see was one of hope. The layout of this painting alone gives this feeling to the viewer about the children sitting in the foreground. To show someone or something belonging to something else, for example, these children belonging to the church, the technique of proximity would be used. The further things are apart from each other, the lesser of a relationship exists between the objects. In looking at this image, the children are seated quite far away from the church, suggesting that although they were taken to this church to be a part of something, they don’t actually belong to the church or the White settlers’. The wide-open spaces surrounding the children and the church indicate space. Then there is also the space between the children and the church itself. This space indicates room to move; in particular, room to move away, or escape from the church. This suggests that there is hope for the children, and that they may not need to spend their future being forced to do something against their will. They had a choice in the matter, and a chance to set them free.’

Aboriginal Christian Art from Western Australia

094This picture comes from Western Australia, courtesy of a friend of mine. He writes: “Hi Matt, Was thinking of you. We were in W.A 2 weeks ago and went to New Norcia.  Was profoundly impressed in that in the 19thc they genuinely respected the Aboriginals and genuinely tried to incarnate the Gospel to them. The art work in their museum is staggeringly good (back to 15th C art) Anyhow, the attached (sorry about the quality, hard one to take a photograph of without a flash) is about 2 metres by 1. Painted last century, I’ll let you figure out who Mary Joseph and Jesus are!”

Aboriginal Christian Painting of the Trinity and the People of God

“Wapirra Trinity” by Clarise Nampijinpa Poulson.

An Aboriginal Art website explains the image this way:

“Her work of art contains, from top to bottom, the following Wapirra (Trinity) Jukurrpa. As usual in the iconography used at Yuendumu, humans are represented by U-forms. Inside the brown, nearly closed arc at the top of the painting are people who live outside of the community of Christ, people who are not yet filled by the Holy Spirit. In the left center of the painting are three more U-forms; these people have begun to turn toward the Christian faith. The nearly closed circle at the bottom of the painting shows the same people as at the top, now filled by the spirit of God and living in Wapirra into all eternity. The Holy Trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is represented in the form of three brown semi-circles in the middle right part of the painting.” 

Christian Art: Aboriginal


If you appreciate Aboriginal Christian art you may want to check out my latest finds.

This image, of the embrace of the cross, is by Gloria Leigh.

I came across it in an ad for the NATSIEC Indigenous Theology and Spirituality Conference coming up in Baulkham Hills in March 21st – 25th 2011.

Christian Art: Aboriginal Genesis

Aboriginal-genesis Some weeks back I stumbled upon an Aboriginal Art collection at a Catholic conference centre in MacKillop Drive, Crestwood, in western Sydney.

It was a beautiful series of images depicting the six days of creation and the sabbath by Paul Conway, an Aboriginal artist living in Queensland.

Now that I’ve finally downloaded the images from my camera phone, you can take the tour yourself.

The manifest destiny of Australia, all glory be to us!

Ross Cameron, former Liberal MP for Parramatta, who left politics in 2004 after his infidelities prompted some questions about his “family values” platform, was waxing lyrically about Australia today on the eve of Australia Day. Some of my personal favourites:

“In my view, Australia has been on the right side of history in every war.”

Cough, cough, Vietnam, cough, Iraq weapons of mass destruction, cough. Sorry, something just went down the wrong way.

“Australia has been honoured with more World Natural Heritage sites than any nation” and “and the Great Barrier Reef easily wins the battle of the coral seas” … but wait for the whiplash … “Even if, in some mass panic or delusion, we elected an old-style Labor leftie or Green as prime minister, it is hard to see the Australian juggernaut being diverted.”

I’m feeling giddy just reading this. Since we’re extolling everything we excel at, maybe Ross should mention our extinction rate? It’s world class too!

“The great blemish of our story is frontier killing of the first Australians and the subsequent failure to produce Aboriginal communities that work in a modern world. But it’s not all failure. When the US was tearing itself apart in the civil rights movement, Australians voted 91 per cent to extend legal equality to Aborigines.”

Of course, it took the ousting of Ross’ government for Australia to say sorry. Not that we need to crack out the black armbands. After all, the blemish is in the dim dark past now isn’t it?

As much as I love the land where I live, let’s be honest, sometimes even the best “juggernauts” can roll over people.