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Kimberley Aboriginal country

Encounters. Indigenous contact and culture: a classroom resource

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Western Australia

The Kimberley has a cultural history stretching back tens of thousands of years, rich in objects, ceremonies, songs, stories and dance. Explore this living culture.

  • Map of Australia showing location of West Kimberley.
    Kimberley, Western Australia.
  • Kimberley coastline
    Setting the scene
  • Ornament and pubic cover made from carved and polished pearlshell. The shell has been polished and incised with two figures, both wearing pearlshell.
    Riji (pearl-shell ornament)
  • Ornament made from carved and polished pearlshell. Incised with the design of the Rainbow Serpent with red ochre filling the incisions.
    ‘Rainbow Snake’ riji
  • A headdress with a central oval shape and elongated ovals on either side, decorated with red and yellow yarn, with wing shaped appendages (butterfly shape) on either side.

    Nurlu (head ornament)


Match the words to their meaning

What do you know about the Kimberley?

More activities

'Rainbow Snake' riji

Activity: Consider this quote by artist and Bardi and Djawi Elder Aubrey Tigan: 

[Aalingoon the Rainbow Snake] came down here … and lives beneath the sea. He comes every full moon, when it’s a big tide. As he floats on his back … the scales fall off his back and turn into goowarn (pearl shell) as they drift down to the seabed below.

Rainbow snakes or serpents feature in the creation stories of many regions in Australia. Find out more about creation stories and the Dreaming. You can start with this video on the First Australians website. 

Museums and collectors

Activity: Read this quote from Wangkajunga man Putuparri Tom Lawford and discuss what you think he means:

All that stuff in museums … bring everything back ... They belong to people and they got big stories about that one little thing ... Bring the stuff to them because it was taken from them. It should be back to them. [Then] we go out bush, we sing them back to life.

Activity: Emile Clement was an active collector in north-west Western Australia in the 1890s. Have a class discussion about the impact of this collecting.

Old: Emile Clement was an active collector in north-west Western Australia in the 1890s. Have a class discussion and list some of the positives and some of the negatives of this collecting. Once your class has made a list, write a paragraph that explains if you think Emile Clement’s collecting was a good or a bad thing.

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