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Australia's earliest art ... still alive.

Australia's earliest art . . . still alive

Australia's first inhabitants developed far more than the boomerang. The traditional art of the Aborigines expresses their relationship to nature and imparts the tales of creation. Visiting Australia, you can discover their arts and crafts in an excellent museum in Sydney and a growing number of galleries throughout the country.


Aboriginal art can cost thousands of dollars, but not all is expensive. Wooden bowls and carved animals with burned designs start at less than $15, eucalyptus seed necklaces at about $8, bark paintings around $80. Pandanus baskets run $20 to $80, small boomerangs $30 to $50.

One good place in Sydney to learn more about the Aborigines' distinctive arts and crafts--as well as their history and culture--is the free Australia Museum (339-8111), at 6-8 College Street. Located across from Hyde Park in central Sydney, exhibits include a walk-in re-creation of an Aborigine meeting place and a display where you can try using stone tools. Open daily except Mondays, it also has a shop.

If you want to buy, nonprofit Aboriginal Artists Galleries, at 477 Kent Street (261-2929) and Sydney Opera House (247-4344), specialize in traditional bark paintings, carvings, and weapons--but also carry modern works. Both were originally established by the government as outlets for work by Aboriginal artists.

For a free brochure listing galleries in Australia's major cities, request Shopping Guide to Australian Crafts from the tourist commission (see page 114).


The arts and crafts you'll see generally are representative of three regions.

In the southeastern corner of the country, graphic elements are geometric and simple with occasional human or animal figures. Look for wooden spears, and clubs and shields bearing carved and often colored designs.

Small boomerangs with a pronounced V--the type that return--are seldom decorated. But nonreturning ones are often covered with incised patterns, sometimes colored.

Pandanus and other reeds are colored with natural dyes and woven into baskets and floor mats. Necklaces, armbands, and headbands of feathers, fiber, and other natural materials hark back to traditions of elaborate body decoration.

In the central desert, ancient rock-painting sites are hard to visit, but you'll find their imagery in acrylic on conventional canvas or hardboard. Symbols include spirals, circles, lines, dots. Put together, they tell charming stories.

Typical of this region is a hook-shaped boomerang, with the V close to one end. Carved and colored, these were used to tear the shield from an enemy's hand.

The northern tropical coast and its nearby islands are famous for bark paintings depicting either representational or abstract designs, and for simple wood sculpture such as Melville Island's pukamani, or mortuary posts.

Carved totem-like ironwood figures (some with feathers added for hair) take such shapes as dingo, whale, fish, wallaby, echidna. You'll also find didgeridoos, wind instruments with a haunting drone, fashioned from eucalyptus.
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Title Annotation:Pacific Travel Discoveries
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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