Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories

Aboriginal Australians have the oldest living culture on Earth.  Aboriginal Indigenous Art and Culture is rich and diverse the history of aboriginal art comes alive in artwork of various forms.

The Dreamtime encompasses unique stories and beliefs held by Australian Aboriginal groups, reflecting the development of Aboriginal ideas about the world and expressed through art. Jukurrpa, a term used by Central Desert languages, represents the religion, laws, and reality for these groups. Aboriginal tradition holds that Ancestor Beings created the world, their spirits persisting in the land, animals, and people. The Dreaming, or Jukurrpa, transcends time, existing simultaneously in past, present, and future. Aboriginal paintings often depict themes of Country, ceremony, and connections to land and tradition, reflecting individuals’ ties to their own Dreaming stories.


The Tingari  cycle in Australian Aboriginal mythology represents a vast network of Aboriginal Dreaming (tjukurpa) songlines that traverse the Western Desert region of Australia.  Locations and events associated with the Tingari cycle are frequently the subject of Aboriginal Art. “Classical” Tingari cycle paintings typically contain a network of roundels (concentric circles, (sites) interlinked by lines (travel).

The Tingari, ancient creation figures, moved through Pintupi country, shaping land forms and performing ceremonies. These land forms remain integral to indigenous life today, serving as parables to explain natural phenomena and survival in the harsh environment. Tingari-associated locations and events inspire Aboriginal Art, depicting their travels and adventures through song cycles. Tingari designs, geometric shapes and abstract markings, adorn shields, bodies for ceremonies, and ground paintings. Today, Tingari sites remain vital for ceremonies, including birthing and rites of passage. The Tingari not only shaped land forms but also the indigenous culture itself.

Water Dreaming (Ngapa Jukurrpa)

For Aboriginal people living a traditional life in the desert areas of Australia, water, and knowledge of where it could be found, was essential to survival. Therefore, throughout Aboriginal Australia all water sources – rock holes, fresh water springs, soakages, rivers, underground water and billabongs – form a vital part of traditional knowledge and ritual life. Rock holes and other water sources were, and where possible still are, constantly maintained so that the water supply remains fresh and accessible.

Ceremonies keep alive the memory of both the creation and the location of these sites. Aboriginal people meet for ceremonies beside water holes and their birthplaces are generally near  one. Special ceremonies are performed seasonally to ensure that rains come to regenerate the plants and to provide food for both animals and people.

Just one of the large Water Dreaming stories – Ngapa Jukurrpa – belongs to the Warlpiri people whose lands are located in the Tanami Desert, east of the Western Australia-Northern Territory border.

The Warlpiri Water Dreaming story, Ngapa Jukurrpa, tells how two Jangala men, rainmakers, sang the rain, unleashing a giant storm that collided with another storm from Warpurtali. The two storms traveled across the country from Karlipinpa near Kintore. A Kirrkarlanji (brown falcon), carried the storm further west, until it dropped it at Pirlinyarnu forming an enormous lake. Whenever it rains, hundreds of Ngapangarlpa (bush ducks) still flock to Pirlinyarnu. A soakage exists in this place today. At Puyurru, the falcon dug up a rainbow serpent. The serpent carried water with it to create another large lake.

Sabrina Nangala Robertson

Julie Nangala Robertson

Denise Johnson Napanagka

Maragret Lewis Napanagka

Seven Sisters Dreaming

In Aboriginal cultures across Australia and other cultures worldwide, the Pleiades constellation is associated with the story of the Seven Sisters. Athena Nangala Granites paints her ancestral version of the story.

She depicts the story of the seven ancestral Napaljarri sisters found in the night sky today in the cluster of seven stars in the constellation Taurus, more commonly known as the Pleiades. The Pleiades are seven women of the Napaljarri skin group and are often depicted in paintings of this Jukurrpa carrying the Jampijinpa man ‘wardilyka’ (the bush turkey [Ardeotis australias]) who is in love with the Napaljarri-warnu and who represents the Orion’s Belt cluster of stars. Jukurra-jukurra, the morning star, is a Jakamarra man who is also in love with the seven Napaljarri sisters and is often shown chasing them across the night sky, in a final attempt to escape from the Jakamarra. The sisters ultimately escaped into the sky, where they became stars.

Athena Nangala Granites

Awelye Body Paint

Awelye Aboriginal body paint designs are perhaps the oldest living art form in the world, these are designs with ancient origins.

Awelye  is the term used to describe a women’s ceremony to Anmatyerre and Alyawarr people. It can also be used to describe the ceremonial body painting which is a ritual of song and dance itself, or the ceremony as a whole. Awelye ceremonies begin with the women painting each other’s bodies in designs relating to a particular woman’s Dreaming and in accordance with their skin name. The Awelye designs represent a range of Dreamings including animals and plants, healing and law.

Charmaine Pwerle

Emily Pwerle

Minnie Pwerle

Bush Yam/Plum

The Bush Plum Dreaming is a sacred story in Aboriginal culture, particularly among the Warlpiri and Anmatyerre people of Central Australia. It tells of ancestral beings and their journey across the land, creating the landscape and leaving behind significant sites as they traveled.

According to the Dreaming story, ancestral women were gathering bush plums (also known as wild plums or desert raisins) when they were pursued by a group of ancestral men. The women ran and scattered the plums along the way, creating the bushes and trees that produce these fruits today.

As the ancestral beings continued their journey, they performed ceremonies and left their marks on the land, shaping it into what it is today. The story of the Bush Plum Dreaming is passed down through generations, connecting people to their ancestors and the land they inhabit. It is also reflected in Aboriginal art, with intricate designs representing the bush plum and the Dreaming story.

The bush plum fruits in the summer after rain and is an important food source, even though not all of the plum is edible. The plums can be collected when ripe and immediately eaten, or they can be dried and eaten later.

When young, the fruit is green in appearance but as it matures, it becomes a purple-black colour and is similar in looks to an olive. The plant can grow up to 3 metres high and has blue-green leaves and produces a creamy white flower, making it an attractive looking plant.

Belinda Golder Kngwarraye



Bush Medicine Leaf

The Bush Medicine Leaf story is a significant part of Aboriginal culture, particularly among the Arrernte people of Central Australia. It recounts the origins of the medicinal properties found in certain leaves of native plants.

According to the Dreaming story, ancestral beings traversed the land, leaving behind knowledge of plants and their healing properties. As they traveled, they observed the effects of various leaves on ailments and injuries, discovering their medicinal uses.

One key element of the Bush Medicine Leaf story is the teaching passed down through generations, guiding people on how to identify and utilize these plants for healing purposes. The story highlights the deep connection between Aboriginal people, the land, and the natural resources it provides.

Today, the Bush Medicine Leaf story continues to be cherished and shared within Aboriginal communities, preserving traditional knowledge and practices related to healing and well-being.

Rosemary Petyarre

Gloria Petyarre

Budgerigar Dreaming

The Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) is a small, seed-eating parrot native to Australia. Nomadic by nature, they inhabit open habitats like scrublands, woodlands, and grasslands, forming small to large flocks depending on food and water availability. They primarily feed on spinifex and grass seeds, with occasional wheat consumption during ripening. Budgerigars exhibit a natural green and yellow colouration with black markings, but captive breeding has introduced various colours and crests. In the Warlpiri language, they are known as Ngatitjirri and feature prominently in ancestral Dreaming stories. Around Yuendumu, custodians of the Ngatijirri Jukurrpa are Napaljarri/Nungarrrayi women and Japaljarri/Jungarrayi men. These birds serve as vital indicators of water sources, and their breeding cycles coincide with rainfall, leading to population surges. Ancestral Ngatijirri travelled from Patirlirri to Yangarnmpi, then to Marngangi, performing ceremonies at each stop; they are depicted in paintings with concentric circles and bird footprints while cross-like shapes depict the footprints of the birds on the ground and give an indication of the large flocks of ngatijirri. After good rains, ngatijirri can successfully breed several times, resulting in an explosion of the population in a short time. 

Men hunt for Ngatijirri nests, robbing them of eggs and juvenile birds, both considered delicacies. The men also hunt for adult ngatijirri, which they kill by swinging branches, killing sticks, or using ‘karli’ (boomerangs) to hit the birds in flight.

Rainbow Serpent

The Rainbow Serpent Dreamtime story is one of the most revered narratives in Australian Aboriginal culture. It is deeply ingrained in the spiritual beliefs and traditions of Indigenous communities across the continent. At its core, the story revolves around the creation of the world as we know it, with the Rainbow Serpent playing a central role as both creator and guardian of the land.

According to the Dreamtime lore, the Rainbow Serpent is a powerful deity that slumbers beneath the earth’s surface, its movements shaping the landscape and giving birth to rivers, mountains, and valleys. As it travels across the land, it leaves behind a trail of life-giving water, blessing the earth with fertility and abundance. The serpent’s vibrant, multicoloured form represents the diversity and interconnectedness of all living things, symbolizing the harmony and balance of the natural world. Through its teachings, the Rainbow Serpent imparts valuable lessons about respect for the land, the importance of community, and the cycle of life and death, serving as a guiding force for generations of Indigenous Australians.

Witchdoctor and Windmill Dreaming

Linda Syddick Napaltjarri finds great inspiration in painting ‘The Witchdoctor and the Windmill story’, which chronicles her family’s initial encounter with European settlement. In 1945, they embarked on a journey from their Pintupi homelands near Lake MacKay in the Gibson Desert, Western Australia, bound for Haasts Bluff Mission. At the time, Linda, just eight years old, accompanied them on the arduous 350-kilometre trek, navigating rugged sandhill terrain.

In her artwork, Linda Syddick Napaltjarri depicts the Witchdoctor and the Windmill tale, inspired by her family’s encounter with European settlement in 1945. Journeying from their Pintupi homelands near Lake MacKay to Haasts Bluff Mission, Linda’s family encountered a windmill. Mistaking it for the evil spirit Mamu, the elderly Nangkari attempted to ward it off with spears and magic stones, causing panic among the group. Linda’s stepfather, Shorty Langkata Tjungurrayi, intervened, explaining the windmill’s purpose and calming the Nangkari. Linda captures this story across various canvases, showcasing the windmill’s blades, the Nangkari, Shorty Langkata, the desert landscape they traversed, and traditional symbols representing their campsite.

Linda Syddick Napaltjarri


Witchdoctor and Windmill
Australian Art Gallery

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