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Animals in Aboriginal Art – The Kangaroo

2020 Jun 19th

At some point, all societies have used animals to represent various concepts in the form of symbols and metaphors in their art. Kangaroos are iconic of Australia, starring on the country’s coat of arms, as well as featuring prominently in Aboriginal art across the country, from the furthest south reaches to the northernmost regions of the continent.

The Indigenous people were primarily hunters and foragers rather than farmers, and so they relied on some of the native animals as a food source, one such creature being the kangaroo. In saying this however, Indigenous groups have a deep respect for the animals around them. They have spent tens of thousands of years maintaining a close relationship with the environment and they harbour a thorough understanding of the cycle of life.

Aboriginal culture has absorbed many species of native animals from the ground, sky, and sea by giving them important meanings in Dreamtime Creation stories. These stories, legends, and associated art help to connect the land with its inhabitants, both human and animal. In this blog, Mbantua will explore the symbolism and importance behind the kangaroo in Central Australian Indigenous art.

The kangaroo’s utility

The kangaroo is one of Australia’s largest land animals, and because of this, the Aboriginal people consider it a valuable source of food and raw building materials. They use it not just for its meat, but also its furry skin, bones, and gristle to make utensils, ornaments, and weapons.

Kangaroo representation in Aboriginal art

In Indigenous art, a kangaroo can be represented by a depiction of its entire body, or simply by the tracks it leaves in the desert sand. A single set of kangaroo tracks resembles two mirrored lines with upwards flicks at the end, similar to a lower case ‘L’ and its reverse image on the left side. A straight line between them represents movement, depicting the kangaroo’s tail bouncing along the sand as it bounds through the desert.

How the art style suggests the painter’s relationship with the kangaroo

A full kangaroo may be painted in the ‘x-ray’ style that shows the internal organs and bone structure of the animal. This is reflective of the food-centric attitude belonging to painters who hunt the animal as a food source, which is more common in northern tribes. Tracks can depict the Ancestor kangaroo spirit’s journey during the Creation, as well as a strong hunter and tracker relationship with the world overall, which is more common among groups in Central Australia.

To learn more about Aboriginal art symbols or purchase contemporary Indigenous Australian art, feel free to browse through the Mbantua website and online gallery. Contact us online or call +61 8 8952 5571 for more information.