Goanna Dreaming


The Goanna is a large lizard which lives in dry climates in Australia. It acquired its name because of its resemblance to the iguana. The Aboriginal word for goanna is Wardapi in the Warlpiri language and Perente in the Pintupi language.

The Aboriginal Goanna Painting refers to both works on bark that represent the goanna and artworks by Central Deserts Aboriginal Artists that represent the Goanna Dreaming.

In the Aboriginal Art Regions of Central Australia, the Goanna is a totemic spirit and Australian Aboriginal artists paint their Goanna Dreaming to honour their ancestral spirit.

One Goanna Dreaming (Wardapi Tjukurrpa) story comes from an area to the east of Yuendumu, a place important for the ochre deposits which are used in ceremonial events. The custodians of this Goanna Dreaming are the Nungurrayi and Napaltjarri Aboriginal Women and the Jungarrayi and Japaltjarri men and only these groups can paint a Goanna Dreaming painting. Yuendumu Aboriginal artist Janet Spencer Nungurrayi one of the custodians of the Goanna Dreaming and her work is classical Yuendumu art, rich in symbolic iconography as she tells the story of the Wardapi ancestors returning to the sacred ochre site to collect ceremonial stones.

The Goanna Dreaming story from the Kintore region tells the story of the two Nakamarra ancestral figures that dug holes all over the landscape searching for the sand goanna. This is the explanation for the topography near Lake MacDonald. This Aboriginal Dreamtime Story demonstrates the significance of the Goanna as an Aboriginal Food source for the Pintupi people.

Some Aboriginal Artists represent the goanna or lizard in symbolic form taken from an aerial view showing the tracks left by the goanna and represented as a long snake like line with food prints either side as shown in Aboriginal Symbols and their Meanings.

Goanna and lizards represent a substantial part of Central Australian Aboriginal People's food source. The goannas are tracked down and dug from burrows using a digging stick. In art the goanna is usually represented by a roundel to indicate the burrow. In many of the Bush Tucker paintings in our Bush Tucker Gallery, goannas are represented along with other aboriginal food sources. Rachel Nambula June Sultan Napanga and Bevan Jampitjinpa depict the many Aboriginal Food types that are hunted and gathered by Aboriginal People.

The most significant artist to paint Goanna Dreaming paintings was Clifford Possum Tjaplatjarri. Clifford Possum - An Audio Interview with Aboriginal Artist Malcolm Jagamarra can be heard in our art and culture section.

Aboriginal word glossary