Aboriginal Australian Art: World’s Oldest Art, Still Alive

In The Art of Travel Fall 2016, Sydney, Art & Place by Carmen2 Comments

Although I did not realize it until now, art has been a subtle yet constant aspect of my entire Australian experience thus far. It was at the end of my very first week of classes here in Sydney, that I stumbled upon an art gallery on my walk back from Science House (NYU’s academic building here in Sydney). This art gallery was nestled on the corner of a relaxed street in the middle of the bustling Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). This particular street had been blocked off to cars, allowing plenty of room for the fountain, street performers, and strolling pedestrians to set a slower pace than the rest of the busy city. With the sound of a guitar in the background, in the moment it took me back to my first weekend during my previous semester abroad in Florence, where the streets were silent and calm, except for the soothing sound of a street musician. In Florence the art was embedded in the old city itself, while here in Sydney it was tucked away in a small art gallery.

Ever curious, I strolled into the Wentworth Art Gallery, ready to admire the artistic creations that others had worked so hard to have mounted on the walls. There were of course beautiful renditions of the Australian countryside, including paintings of beaches and the outback of this huge continent. What intrigued me most of all, however, was the section in the far back dedicated entirely to Aboriginal Australian art. Having just arrived in Sydney at the moment, my knowledge of the Aboriginal culture was limited and so I feel that I did not truly appreciate what I was encountering before my eyes in that moment.

Aboriginal Australian art piece

“Untitled” by Yannima Tommy Watson, Aboriginal Australian Art piece from Wentworth Gallery, Sydney CBT

The paintings I saw were of beautiful patterns and designs, using mainly earthy tones in contrast with bright colors. It was not difficult to see and appreciate the surface beauty of the aboriginal paintings, but it is not until now that I can really marvel at the cultural meaning behind these pieces of art. Through my studies and experience here in Sydney, I have learned that the Aboriginal Australian culture (and thus its art) is the oldest surviving culture in the history of humanity. This is to say that the art that I witnessed in this art gallery just a few months ago is from the same culture that existed on this earth up to over 60,000 years ago! I can hardly wrap my head around such a phenomenal thought!

"Untitled" Aboriginal Australian Art piece Wentworth Gallery, Sydney CBT

“Untitled” Aboriginal Australian Art piece
Wentworth Gallery, Sydney CBT

Since my initial interaction with Aboriginal Art in that tiny art gallery, I have been more atuned to noticing aboriginal art scattered throughout the city and in the outback. There’s a “bush walk” (hike through nature) right out of Sydney, in fact, where you can hike to caves with ancient Aboriginal art still on the walls. I can readily admit that if I had not traveled to Sydney, I probably would never have been able to appreciate the oldest surviving art on this planet.

P.s. I even took an Aboriginal Art booklet from the Gallery to decorate my walls

Aboriginal Art Gallery Booklet



  1. Loved your piece on Aboriginal art! I feel like it often gets overlooked in Australia… Definitely take the bush walk if you haven’t already. Also if you’re ever in FNQ and near Cooktown, you should definitely do the cave art tour with Willie (its Guurbi tours). It’s so amazing and just such a moving experience. There’s a lot of cave art, particularly around reproduction and birth, and it’s quite cool.

  2. Hi Carmen!

    I enjoyed reading this post you wrote about aboriginal Australian art. It looks like you made a great discovery through the course of writing this! While you were looking back at how art was an integral part of the city in Florence, you started realizing that aboriginal Australian art was a bigger part of the city than you had anticipated and after seeing it in the context of a gallery, you started to notice it more on the streets. Continue to be keen about the way you observe art around the city during the rest of your semester. I can assure you that art exists in every place in a different way, and it is amazing to be able to recognize and appreciate it.

    Sending love from BsAs,

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