Five of the Best Aboriginal Art Tours and Galleries

From ancient rock galleries to present-day artists that have captivated the world, Aboriginal art never ceases to amaze.

Discover the rock art of the Pilbara

Want rock art? Head for the Pilbara. An estimated one million rock art images can be found on the Burrup Peninsula and Dampier Archipelago, depicting everything from ancient ceremonies to extinct animals that have died out over the 40,000-plus years that the Yaburara (Northern Ngarluma) people have been recording their lives and lore here.

Clinton Walker, a descendant of the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi people, gave up working in the lucrative mining industry to start Ngurrangga Tours, and share his culture with visitors. Join Clinton on a Rock Art Tour of Murujuga National Park to explore the world’s highest concentration of rock art for yourself.

 

Explore the art of the South-West

A boomerang and artefact shop in the Swan Valley had a change of direction in the late 1990s. “Some people who worked here had family members who were artists,” says co-owner Dale Tilbrook. “Before we knew it, we were an artefact shop… and an art gallery.” Today, Maalinup Aborginal Gallery is a must-visit for anyone interested in Aboriginal art. Specialising in Nyungar artists of the South-West, the gallery offers works by the likes of Naomi Grant, Sheila Humphries and Phillip Narkle.

“The most recognised style in this region would be the Carrolup style,” says Dale, referring to the landscape style first practised by children of the stolen generation in a mission in the 1940s, and now famous all over the world.

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See the Carrolup style being created

Another place to appreciate the Carrolup style is on a Poornarti tour with tour guide and artist Joey Williams. During a tour of the Stirling Range, Kinjarling (Albany) or Kwoorabup (Denmark), Joey will paint a landscape in Carrolup style, a technique he learnt from his auntie, the famous Bella Kelly. “I used to watch her paint when I was six years old,” he says.

Almost five decades later, Joey sells his art through his Denmark gallery and online. Most of it is in a more traditional style, though not the dot painting tradition that some people expect. “Southerners aren’t dot painters,” he says. “We paint marks, like energy fields, around landmarks. It’s traditional Nyungar art.”

Poornarti Tours
Photo: Poornarti Tours

Meet the ochre experts of Kununurra

Ochre pigments only come in four main colours, but the artists of the Miriwoong people of Kununurra haven’t let that hold them back. “The artists are very good at mixing colours and are excellent colourists,” says Cathy Cummins, manager of Kununurra’s Waringarri Aboriginal Arts. “They also paint in very individual ways and offer unique, often quirky interpretations of their Ngarrangarni [Dreaming] stories.”

Established in the late 1970s, Waringarri is one of Australia’s oldest arts centres, and supports economic independence for about 100 painters, wood carvers, textile artists and more. “It’s authentic and friendly, and a beautiful set-up,” Cathy says.

Artist Alan Griffiths, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts
Photo: Waringarri Aboriginal Arts

Discover the Derby Dreamtime

You might be familiar with the Wandjina. A Dreamtime spirit painted on rock walls in the Kimberley, the Wandjina caught the world’s imagination when it starred in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The man behind that creation was Donny Woolagoodja, probably the most famous of the many acclaimed artists to have come out of the Mowanjum community (near Derby, in the Kimberley). The community’s three tribes – the Worrorra, Ngarinyin and Wunumbal – share the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre, which offers a gallery, a replica cave, and the chance to get to know the people behind the work. “The artists here love talking to visitors,” says manager Ella Doonan.

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