Uluru Aboriginal Dot Painting

Written on Monday, January 11, 2021 by

Aboriginal Dot Paintings….Only 50 years old!  Are you kidding me?  

Surely the art of Aboriginal Dot painting is millions of years old!?

Nope, it started in 1971. Amazing isn’t it?

On a recent trip to Uluru with my family, my girls & I participated in a Dot Painting class held at the Yulara Town Centre. 

Our class was booked for the afternoon and although it was over 30 degrees outside, sitting under the cool shade of the overhanging trees, listening to our guide, it didn’t feel that hot. 

Sitting crossed legged on the ground we watched and listened to Betty, an Anangu indigenous artist from the local Maruku Arts community and her translator, introducing us to the land and showing examples of how Dot Paintings are used. Betty explained how the symbols came about, how they were passed from one tribe to the next and from one generation to another 

For many years, stories were communicated verbally with secret symbols drawn in the dirt. Then in 1971, Geoffrey Bardon, an art teacher for the Papunya Aboriginal children noticed this and asked his students to put these symbols on paper and later onto canvas. This is how the Dot paintings started. 

Betty drew symbols in the sand in front of her and explained what each symbol meant and taught us the Pitjantjara words tooDots, lines, circles, spirals and dashes all mean different things. A curved line next to a vertical line is a woman, 2 vertical lines is a man, circles within circles is a watering hole. It was very visual and once you knew what each symbol meant you could work out the story they were trying to tell. It’s a pictorial story. 

As Betty was explaining she was also demonstrating how to paint the dots using different tools, like the hard end of a paint brush, toothpicks, sticks etc.   

After Betty’s demonstration, we were able to create our own dot painting. By using the symbols wed learnt about, we were able to tell our story in dots. Each of us were given a small canvas to create our ‘story’ and using the tools and acrylic paints we set about trying the techniques she had showed us. It was fun using the symbols to create a story, although the dot painting technique took a little time to get right.  

After we completed our pictures we came back to the circle where each of us took turns in standing up, holding the talking stick and telling our story, describing each of the symbols we used and why we used them. It was fun to see what everyone got out of the class and how creative people could be just by using dots to create a picture and tell a story. Betty also completed her painting and it was a lovely blend of traditional & contemporary art. 

Although our pictures were not perfect, we did have fun. We learnt a lot about the Aboriginal culture, their language & symbols, we met Betty & her translator and we left feeling a little more connected to our country and the land. We have some lovely memories and a painting we created to remember our time in Uluru. 


If you’re keen to paint your story in the traditional Aboriginal way, then contact Emma Whiting Travel and we can organise your next trip to Uluru. 

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