Way Outback: Animal Kingdom

It is easy to feel alone in the endless plains of the outback but that feeling constitutes a lack of perspective. At all times there are animals above you, below you, around you but most of all invisible to you. Our lazy human position at the top of the food chain has allowed our peripheral awareness to slip. Only when I stood still in the desert could I notice the abundant animal life around me.

Societies that maintain active hunting traditions retain and refine their ability to see food sources around them. The Anangu people fit solidly in that category. I spent an afternoon hunting kangaroo and ngintuka (a type of lizard) with a few men from Ernabella. I was blown away by their ability to see animals in the bush. We would be driving down a station road at 40 miles an hour when they would signal to stop. Pointing the rifle to the horizon they would shoot at roos hundreds of yards in the distance without the aid of a scope. They seemed to have a sixth sense when hunting.

As well as being a food source these animals are key characters in Anangu cosmology. Their myths use animals to address sustenance and survival often anthropomorphizing them with human characteristics. (Click here to see a video about Kuniya, the sand python of Uluru.) I have included images of desert animals with the art made to portray them. From the top down you can see bush turkey, kangaroo, witchetty grubs, magpie, and perentie.

I'm glad to say the bush turkey plate above is now part of my collection. The bird is framed so nicely by the lopsided concentric circles. The artist Carlene divides the decorative border into five parts switching shades of green and the number of lines in the motif to keep your eye activated. The Ernabella artists where masterful in their mixing of animal forms into pattern and decoration.

In the next post I will discuss the Anangu depiction of land in their art. I'll be showing paintings made of thousands of individual dots that form aerial views of Anangu land.

Way Outback chronicles my time in the remote outback town of Ernabella, South Australia. I am spending a month here collaborating with aboriginal artists. For more information on the project you can visit the Kickstarter page that helped fund this project by clicking here.

Click below to read the other posts from the series
Way Outback: The Road to Ernabella
Way Outback: Night Writing
Way Outback: Chasing the Light
Way Outback: A Story for the Eyes
Way Outback: Animal Kingdom
Way Outback: Paint, Money, and Land
Way Outback: The Red Walls of Uluru


  1. I love that pot with the magpie, how is that yellow achieved? the giant lizard is amazing and the grubs, ugh, I guess they are protein too.

    1. Hello Linda,
      That yellow is Saffron Yellow from Chrysanthos. We use their underglazes in China and Australia. Are you familiar with that company. http://www.chrysanthos.com/

      The grubs are a little much for our western tastes. I never tried them or saw them when I was there. I can understand their appeal because they are high in fat which is important for people with limited food sources. They are great to draw. I like their little round bodies. They almost look like bubbles.