The Dreaming and Art as Anti-colonial Resistance

Warlpiri, ‘Ngapa Jukurrpa’ (Water Dreaming)  by Shorty Jangala Robertson

What links us to each other? Is it the bonds of blood, blood thicker than water? Or are the bonds of friendship more robust than the water of the womb? Some believe its social bonds renewed generation after generation, or social contracts with the state and with our neighbours. Others still believe in the chains of the religion or the eyes of an all-knowing god fusing society together. For the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, the Dreamings are historical documentation, collective memory, spiritual connection and a way of understanding the world (Working with Indigenous Australians, 2020). The Dreaming itself is something that exists in the present past and future, simultaneously it is divorced from notions of time and lends itself to be understood more metaphysically. It can only be described by my western brain as something that by our standards would be divorced from reality and instead of spiritual but in my limited understanding seems to exist as reality. The Dreamings are most importantly tied to geography, they are specific to land formations, water sources and other sites of note (Aboriginal Art Australia, 2020). The Dreamings are living breathing history that can be embodied in verbal form, dance, music, symbols and art. These tales are tied to the land, a land created by the cultural heroes and ancestral spirits who came before, their spiritual footprint marking the land in ways unperceivable to the coloniser. However, to the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, they are multitudinous and infinitely complex in their layers of meaning and interpretation (Hossack, 2020). These ancestral spirits who travelled across the land creating Australia itself are still tied to the land, they did not disappear but, depending on the source, remain there. It is more than just a narrative or a testimonial, but instead, it is a way of understanding oneself and the world carried generation through generation sharing the spirit and culture of many peoples. 

Alma Nungarrayi Granites, Yanjirlpirri or Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa (Star or Seven Sisters Dreaming)

The cultural artefacts and expressions created and perpetuated by the Peoples of Australia are unique, their traditional forms of expression: paintings on rock or canvas are coded, with u shaped marks on canvas meaning the presence of people, with lines beside said u’s signifying gender and a plethora of symbols describing water sources (Hossack, 2020). Their expressions of the Dreaming can be seen as a way of materializing their relationship with the land, and sometimes with permission from their groups sharing the Dreamings. Dreamings themselves are more than a blanket faith or spirituality but are very specific from region to region, group to group and family to family. Some dreamings are told only within a certain ancestral line (Working with Indigenous Australians, 2020). They are full of information telling of dangerous flora and fauna, locations of uranium which could make people sick (explained as rainbow snake vomit) and dangerous mammalian predators who once hunted down small children but have been extinct for hundreds maybe thousands of years (Koolmatrie, 2018). These stories, these peoples prove that Australia wasn’t Terra Nulis when the Europeans arrived to ‘civilize’ Australia but instead was mapped and understood in a way that is so far removed from enlightenment thinking that it is inconceivable to the colonizers.

Watiya Warnu Jukurrpa (‘Seed Dreaming’) by Angela Nangala Parlinjirri Kelly

So in comes the colonizer, asserting that all indigenous worldviews and beliefs are mythical, that a way of life followed for 50,000 years by European standards is uncivilized just as they did to the entire Global South. That their invasion, their rape, their killing their destruction of the plethora of groups living in indigenous Australia is an act of mercy, a Christian act. The colonizer after having massacred the population of Australia reiterates that all their efforts have been to help, to educate the peoples of Australia and then proceed to systematically destroy their culture, language, and traditions. To continue the traditions of the Dreamings are an act of resistance in itself, it is to reject western impositions of right and wrong, it is to preserve a history that in fact is not one of savagery or of uncivilized societies. Those very notions and definitions are completely void of meaning, used only to create an Other to which the western world can differentiate themselves. Sartre asserts that for the white European to be the man to be civilized there must be a creation of the ‘native’ of the uncivilized without this notion white superiority, eurocentrism and exploitation of others (Fanon, 1961, p.xliii, ). By the European colonizer rejecting the many Indigenous Australian peoples’ dreamings, they are asserting their right to not only dictate history but that their version of events is the only rational, and true narrative. They decide what is true knowledge is and they use their determination that the dreamings are not actual knowledge to impose their authority onto indigenous people (Said, 1978, p.32-34). The Dreamings are not only created stories but also a way of life that is geared towards leaving the land whole, to not exploit nature because the land was made perfect and great by their ancestral spirits. This is a sharp contrast to the English’s practices of destroying land and reshaping it to fit their image of exploitation and extraction of natural resources. 

Ngurlu Jukurrpa (‘Grass Seed; Bush Grain Dreaming’) by Rosie Tasman Napurrurla

Just keeping the Dreamings alive there is anti-colonial resistance, to bring it to the public is simply another audience to their courage and ingenuity. Colonizers and white Australians would have you believe that Australia Day or Invasion Day is a day where a group of well-meaning white people came down from their marble palaces of knowledge, rationality and christianity to spread faith, civility and progress to the world. They planted a flag onto the ground and called that land colony robbing the people and the land itself of their agency and then through crimes to prolific and wicked to name their voice. Indigenous Australian people have their own stories, knowledges and experiences, to deny them their culture and ignore their contributions to the arts is to perpetuate the crimes of the colonizers.

To create art out of their Dreamings is to assert their perspective and publicly reclaim their heritage. No matter the style, the form or The Dreaming the creation of cultural works of resistance is a the contestation of cultural domination, more powerful than any flag in the sand.


Aboriginal Art Australia. (2020). The Story of Aboriginal Art. Retrieved on: 6/10/2020. Retrieved From:

Aboriginal Art Australia. (2020). Understanding the Dreamtime. Retrieved on: 5/10/2020. Retrieved from:

Fanon, F. (1961) The Wretched of the Earth. François Maspero

Hossack, Rebbecca. (May 29th 2020). The Wonders of Aboriginal Australian Art | Rebecca Hossack | TEDxOxford. TEDx Talks. Retrieved on 4/10/2020. Retrieved from:

Jangala Robertson, S. (2011). Warlpiri, ‘Ngapa Jukurrpa’ (Water Dreaming) – Pirlinyanu. 76 x 76 cm. Warlukurlangu Artists, Yuendumu. Retrieved on: 14/10/2020. Retrieved from:

Koolmatrie, J. (Jan. 26th 2018). The myth of Aboriginal stories being a myth  | Jacinta Koolmatrie | TEDxAdelaide. TEDx Talks. Retrieved on 6/10/2020. Retrieved from:

Nangala Parlinjirri Kelly, A. (2011). Warlpiri, Lajamanu, Watiya Warnu Jukurrpa (‘Seed Dreaming’), Acrylic on linen, 85x50cm. Warnayaka Arts Centre, Lajamanu. Northern Territory, Australia. Retrieved on 11/10/2020. Retrieved from:

Nungarrayi Granites, A. (2011). Yanjirlpirri or Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa (Star or Seven Sisters Dreaming).  Acrylic on canvas, 91×76 cm. Warlukurlangu – Artists of Yuendumu Retrieved on 14/10/2020. Retrieved from:

Said, E. W. (1978). Introduction and Part of Chapter 1. Orientalism.

Tasman Napurrurla, R. (2002). Warlpiri, Ngurlu Jukurrpa (‘Grass Seed; Bush Grain Dreaming’). Line etching on Hahnemuhle paper. Warnayaka Art Centre, Lajamanu, and Aboriginal Art Prints Network. Sydney, Australia. Retrieved on: 10/10/2020. Retrieved from:

Working with Indigenous Australians. (June 2020). The Dreaming. Working with Indiginous Australians. Retrieved on: 9/10/2020. Retrieved from:

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