© Ada Bird Petyarre
| ||Keep in mind that the word "Aboriginal" includes hundreds of clan groups spread over an area the size of the continental United States. Belief structures and styles of expression both interlock and differ within the general classification of "aboriginal". Symbolic interpretation also varies according to the place a particular icon has been assigned in the regional belief structure and varies again with the relationship the artist has to that same structure. A symbol can mean different things to different clan groups. It can also mean different things to different artists, or be used in varying ways by the game artist even within a single painting.|
There is a division today between contemporary traditional work and urban Aboriginal work. Contemporary traditional work depicts themes connected to the "Dreamtime" and are frequently called "Dreamings". This has nothing to do with sleep or the western concept for the word "dream". The best description I have found of the Dreamtime is from the exhibit catalogue that accompanied the first traveling exhibit of aboriginal artifacts in the early 1980s, edited and curated by John Carrick. He wrote:
"The Dreamtime is the period in which creative acts were performed by thefirst ancestors of men -- spirits, heros, and heroines who established thepattern of nature and life, and created man's environment. The Dreamtime isa process as well as a period: it had its beginning when the world wasyoung and unformed, but it has never ceased. The ancestor who established law and patterns of behavior is as alive today as when he performed his original creative acts. The sacred past, the Dreamtime, is for Aborigines also the sacred present, the Eternal Dreamtime."