Watercolours from the Hermannsburg School of painting, a group of First Nations artists noted for their depictions of their country were collected in the 1970s, in the early years of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The department displayed these distinctive works in its offices, alongside bark paintings and other traditional objects.
The other significant group of watercolours in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Art collection comes from south-west Western Australia. Most of these works were collected in the 1990s by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission offices in WA. They show the influence of child artists from the Carrolup Native Settlement, whose work sparked a landscape painting style in WA that is reminiscent of the Hermannsburg School.
In the midst of these delicate paintings is a vivid watercolour by Harold Thomas, the first Aboriginal person to graduate from an art school. He also designed the Aboriginal flag.