Famous Aboriginal artist Paddy Stewart with Paz in Yuendumu

Paz Domeyko always loved paintings of Aboriginal artists, but never understood their deep meaning. Fortunately, she visited the community of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory, where one of her daughters has been the Director of the Art Centre.  Paz met there wonderful traditional artists, and learned the meaning of the images which follow a tradition of many thousands of years.  On a visit to Chile in 2006, she lectured on Aboriginal art which aroused great interest.  She was invited to repeat it in the U.S. at the University of Virginia, and also in Dűsseldorf, Germany.

Aboriginal Art in Australia
Paz Domeyko

Aboriginal art is the oldest art in the world.  Lacking an alphabet, for thousands of years Aborigines used art to illustrate their stories, legends and their spiritual beliefs.  In the far north of Australia much of their art was painted in natural pigments onto rocks and caves.  In the desert, where there was little vegetation, the paintings that were used during their ceremonies were created on the ground, in differently coloured sands, seeds, vegetable pieces, etc.   The practice of painting on boards or canvas is a very recent one, started only about 50 years ago. 

Each of the hundreds of aboriginal nations on the Australian continent had its own language, spiritual beliefs and customs, although some of their “dreaming” legends were common to all the tribes.

The paintings shown are from the aboriginal community of Yuendumu, 300 kms northwest of Alice Springs.  Like most modern-day communities, this is not a traditional one, as its inhabitants, mostly from the Warlpiri tribe, were forced by the government to settle there in the mid-20th century. 

The three aboriginal paintings shown are by outstanding Warlpiri artists, Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Paddy Japaljarri Sims and Shorty Jangala Robertson.  Of these, the two Paddies are original contributors to a set of doors painted many years ago at Yuendumu school. The artists, revered leaders of the tribe, used the painted doors to teach young people about their legends and spiritual beliefs.  The doors are now kept in an art museum in Adelaide. 

The three artists are now very old men.  Their exact age is unknown, but they are in their late 80’s and 90’s.  All three are among the most famous of the Yuendumu artists, and their paintings are sold for high prices. 

Painting by
Paddy Japaljarri Stewart

This painting depicts a Red Kangaroo Dreaming.  An old ancestral kangaroo makes camp, but continues to move from place to place, hunting during the day and returning to camp at night.  The circles represent rocks at Yarnedily, the arcs are the kangaroo camp.  The figures like E are kangaroo front footprints, the V shaped ones are the back footprints, and the long lines behind are tail tracks.  The kangaroos travel around the country looking for fresh grass and herbs.

Painting by
Paddy Japaljarri Sims

This painting depicts a Fare and Water Dreaming.  The red area shows the burning of spinifex country so that skinks, lizards and small mammals are flushed out of their burrows to be caught for food.  Groups of men are shown in a ceremony.  The circles represent water soakages and rock holes, the curved lines represent flames spreading out of the area.

Painting by
Shorty Jangala Robertson

This painting represents a Water Dreaming.  The site is Puyurru, north-west of Yuendumu, and shows the flooded waters and soakages in this area.  A whistling kite pulled up a large rainbow snake from the ground, which wrapped itself around the kite’s neck.  The snake carried the rain, and the bird flew with it to Puyurru and on to Kupulungu.

Sydney/Circular Quay performance '08

Alice Springs

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