"Ochre pigments were the primary source of paint for
Aboriginal art in primitive times and are still used
somewhat today by modern artists."
These earthy colours of yellow, red and brown are obtained from crumbly to hard rocks, which are coloured by the mineral, iron oxide. These warm colours of the land are applied to rock art, bark paintings, body paintings and the like, with hands, fingers, mouths and crushed or chewed stick ends.
The ochre was mixed with blood or fat from animals, such as kangaroos, to create a workable paste and often the artwork was covered with resin from trees as a fixative to form a long lasting creation. The Aboriginals were very innovative in primitive times, an early example of the ingenuity of the human brain.
Stencils are a common form of artwork utilizing ochre paint. The Aboriginals used to spray a fine layer of paint from their mouths over a “stencil” such as their hands, arms, feet, boomerangs, tools and even animals, to create unique designs and make their mark on rock faces. They can recognize their own hand stencils years later. Imprints range from babies to children and adults.
Body painting is another art form mainly using these pigments to mimic the colours of the earth, as well as charcoal and clay to create black, grey and white. Ceremonies and celebrations involved body painting, whereby they would hand paint each other and sing and dance or perform their rituals. Evidence from early archaeological sites show body painting was also used in death as a mortuary rite, painting the deceased persons bones and placing them to rest in a cave or similar sheltered place.
Ochre pigments are still used today by some Aboriginal artists, particularly in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. The raw earth used as paint carries on tradition dating back tens of thousands of years and ochre pits throughout the country show how the rock has been chipped away throughout the ages. A classic example is in the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in the red centre.