Australian Aborigines are migratory people whose lives depend on hunting, fishing and collecting their food. Their material culture is very simple. Nearly all the Aborigines' art is religious in nature. Each group believes in its mystical connection to an animal and plant species. The name of the connection is "totem". Only men may take part in the totem ceremonies: women and boys are not able to even see the ornaments used in such a ceremony. The Aborigines paint on bark, rock and used carving to make ornamentation for weapons that are all handmade. They color objects with natural tints, such as the red from ocher. They make shields with extensive decorations. These patterns represent the totem for a particular group. They use to make other religious artifacts as well. These also have patterns on one or both sides that denote the totem or myths a particular group believes. Painted bark sheets cover makeshift shelters. These paintings are quite impressive and show the external appearance and the internal organs of various animals. The Aborigines often trade their objects of art with other tribes. Tribes in different locations use different techniques.
The soft sandstone in the Sydney and Port Hedland districts contain large figures of human and animal forms. Sometimes they use only outlines to depict figures. Another method pounds the whole figure into the stone showing the contrast between the figure and the stone. Some styles are abstract, while others are much more natural. Tribes in Tasmania use circles, lines, and other geometric elements exclusively; other tribes only use them occasionally. Stencils of hands, arms, feet, weapons and tools sometimes take on a religious aspect.
Scholars believe that art was sometimes strictly for amusement. Southern and central Australia tribes represent humans as stick figures doing hunting, dancing, fighting and other activities. In the north and northwestern parts of Australia, the most complex and beautiful rock paintings occur. At times these paintings are nearly ten feet long. Subjects include figures both human and mythical, animals, hunting and fishing scenes, weapons and other elements that are not easy to identify. The Wondjina paintings belonging to the Lightning Brothers and others show anthropomorphic figures they have to repaint in bright colors each year after the monsoons.