Where to Find Aboriginal Art in Australia’s Northern Territory

Australia’s Northern Territory is home to some of the oldest artistic traditions in the world. As such, it’s one of the best places to buy authentic Australian Aboriginal art, which includes dot paintings, bark etchings, wooden objects, and pottery. But it’s important to make sure Aboriginal artists receive their fair share of profits when you purchase indigenous art in the country. These galleries, shops, and Aboriginal arts and craft centers are great places to start.

32 Smith St, Darwin City NT 0800, Australia
At Read Back you get two for one: a secondhand book shop and an Aboriginal art gallery. The ground floor is packed with shelves holding pre-loved books, CDs and videos, while the gallery upstairs displays works by Aboriginal artists from Darwin and all over the Northern Territory. The knowledgeable owner is passionate about both the paintings and the artists, and the prices are good. There’s also a workspace for the artists upstairs, so you might get to see a work in progress during your visit.

10 Arnhem Hwy, Humpty Doo NT 0836, Australia
An indigenous-owned art gallery located at the busy junction of the Arnhem and Stuart Highways a half hour outside Darwin, The Didgeridoo Hut prides itself on selling genuine Aboriginal artwork from remote Top End communities, with whom the owners Dennis and Janis have personal relationships. In fact artists often come to the shop to demonstrate their painting and didgeridoo making skills and to share their stories with visitors. The works on display are high-quality and overwhelming; thankfully, the friendly staff are very knowledgeable about the artists and their symbolism—spiral circles represent waterholes and tool imagery usually stands for a man or woman. The prices are fair, but some have a little bargaining room built in.
3 Vickers Street
A bright space in Darwin’s Parap neighborhood, Nomad Art Gallery emphasizes limited-edition prints and collections produced by contemporary Australian Artists as well as Aboriginal art centers around Northern Australia. The focal point is cross-cultural collaborations between artists and master painters and etchers. In addition to the prints shown in exhibitions and sold online and through the shop, visitors can purchase textiles, books, and small sculptures.
Lot 171, Hermannsburg NT 0872, Australia
In the early 1900s, Lutheran missionaries arrived in the Western Arrernte community of Ntaria (Hermannsburg) about an hour west of Alice Springs. They offered food, shelter and education to the native people long oppressed by the white settlers who came in the wake of the Overland Telegraph Line, completed in 1872. The area was also hit by severe drought. While many cultural and religious shifts took place, perhaps the largest impact of the Hermannsburg missionaries on the indigenous people was the introduction of arts and crafts, namely watercolor and ceramics. Pottery arrived in the early 1970s and was first taught by Victor Jaensch, from Barossa Valley, who helped source local clay and set up a small kiln. The famous desert painter Albert Namatjira blossomed around the same time and had a lasting effect on the budding potters’ style and depiction of country. The first Hermannsburg potters were men, but now it’s largely a woman’s craft that was taught by accomplished ceramicist Naomi Sharp for 17 years. Today the terracotta pots are still made using the traditional hand-coiled technique before being shaped, burnished, decorated, and finally fired to produce distinctive Aboriginal art pieces that have a strong connection to the land and this singular slice of Australian history.
Lot 383, Gunbalanya NT 0822, Australia
Established in 1989, Injalak Arts is a locally owned organization that supports the artistic production of the traditional Kunwinjku people. Works range from paintings on paper and bark to didgeridoos—thought to have originated in this region—to baskets and grass pandanus floor mats. Much of the symbolism is inspired by ancient dreamtime stories and images from the nearby rock art galleries that were left like instructions from the Kunwinjku ancestors. Three tour companies currently have permission to visit the center and surrounding rock art sites.
19 Conacher St, Darwin City NT 0820, Australia
Set in a tropical garden in the suburb of Fannie Bay, this superb museum and gallery is the best place to learn all about the art, history and culture of the Top End (the nickname for this northernmost section of the Northern Territory). The excellent collection of indigenous art includes both traditional and contemporary works. One gallery is devoted to the tragic events of Cyclone Tracy, the natural disaster of 1974; another covers the boats of the Pacific Islands. The museum’s most popular exhibit may well be Sweetheart: the stuffed carcass of a five-meter (16-foot) male saltwater crocodile that once terrorized the billabongs (waterways) outside Darwin.

Dot painting is a style of indigenous art often associated with the Aboriginal people of Central Australia. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre hosts daily dot painting workshops which go beyond the arts and crafts and delve into the cultural import of this tradition; workshops are hosted by Aboriginal artists who begin each program with stories of life spent in the Northern Territory and how that life influences their art. These programs are an incredible opportunity to glimpse at living tradition, and help bring the desert to life.

Workshops at Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Centre run from Monday through Friday.

Flash Parker traveled to Australia’s Northern Territory courtesy of Tourism Northern Territory and Goway Travel. His highlights are part of AFAR’s partnership with The United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA), whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy destinations across the entire globe.
Petermann NT 0872, Australia
Led by Peter Abbott and his wife Christine, this one-hour cultural tour is held on the couples’ ancestral lands near Kings Canyon. Travelers move between demonstration sites where they learn about the eating, hunting and artistic traditions of the Luritja and Southern Aranda clans. The hour might include the burning of medicinal plants, engraving wooden clap sticks and the preparation of bush tucker, including the witchetty grub, an insect found in the roots of acacia trees that tastes a lot like popcorn when cooked over an open fire.
74 Esplanade, Darwin City NT 0800, Australia
Lyons Cottage, built in 1925 on the corner of Knuckey Street and the Esplanade, is famous for being the first residence in Darwin built of stone. It originally housed executives from the British Australian Telegraph Company; today it’s a café and gallery run by Aboriginal Bush Traders, a nonprofit community initiative. Visitors can shop for artworks, jewelry, clothing and woven fabrics made by Aboriginal artists and artisans. The garden is a pleasant spot for coffee, tea or lunch under a frangipani tree. The café serves dishes made with indigenous produce, such as bush tomatoes and Kakadu plums. And the building’s history is preserved in a hologram exhibit that tells stories of the Overland Telegraph line, which first linked Australia to the rest of the world in 1872.

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