Reggie Sultan, born 1955. Kaitish tribe, Barrow Creek, Northern Territory.

Reggie Sultan





Reggie Sultan paints with acrylic on canvas, incorporating traditional themes and motifs typical of Central Australian Aboriginal art. In the following paintings, the use of arcs, circles, oval-shapes, wavy lines, and animal tracks is demonstrated.




The traditional art style of central Australia is largely symbolic, with circles representing important places or events, and dots representing a surface texture, be it feather down body decoration used in corroboree (Aboriginal dance), or the texture of the desert sands. Arc shapes represent people sitting, often shown with a line or oval beside them. The line may represent a woman’s digging stick or a man’s spear. The elongated oval shape may represent a woman’s coolamon (wooden bark carrying dish) or a man’s shield. Lines may represent the pathways taken by Ancestral Beings in the creation Period, or the pathways taken by people. Human and animal tracks also represent movement across the land.


Reggie Sultan explains his painting
"The story in this painting... This emu is walking towards this waterhole. This kangaroo is heading this way. All these [concentric] circles are water holes, and these [in blue] are the people – a man with his spear and shield. These hunters are spearing the emus when they come to the waterholes to drink. The emus are walking up and down ... the arrow shapes at the left represent the three main toes of an emu, as if it was walking towards me. One of them has stopped to have a drink of water. You can see the mark on the ground where it sat down. The extra white line in front of the waterhole is the imprint of its leg when the emu sits.

One emu was walking across the land to Barrow creek. The dots represent the earthy colours, red, orange, brown and yellow. And this kangaroo here, the white shapes like a double tick are its footprints, and it has a sore foot. See the bit of red colour inside the footprint. He’s bleeding after walking on the stony ground for a long time. Sometimes they bleed from the rocky ground or they get a corn like us, sore foot, you know."

Aboriginal Art
Aborginal Art Motifs The motifs in Central Australian Aboriginal art are found in ancient rock engravings of the region. Concentric circles (representing waterholes) and animal tracks feature amongst a range of designs.

Reggie Sultan points to a design
featuring engraved dots.

aboriginal art
aboriginal art
Waterhole in Central Australia
Central Australia is an arid region with irregular rainfall. Permanent waterholes are essential to survival, hence they feature in Aboriginal religion, legend and art. Local Kaititja women, Selma Thompson and Lena Nambula, show Ann Welch this important soakage (waterhole) in Barrow Creek. Even after the most extreme drought, if this waterhole was dry, water can be obtained below the sand by digging down with a small wooden dish, using it like a spade, until the water level is reached. Important soakages such as these are depicted as concentric circles in Central Australian art, as seen here on Reggie’s paintings.
Many of Reggie’s paintings are based around the theme of a waterhole or soakage, depicted as concentric circles. Sometimes these have a creek running into them, or they are shown along a creek, depicted as wavy parallel lines. In the section of painting shown here, a woman (the “u” shape) with her digging stick and coolamon beside her, sits near the waterhole (concentric circles). The theme of a woman and her implements is repeated across the painting – away from the creek, the women are sitting around groups of witchetty grubs (white shapes). Honey ants, another bush tucker found along the creek, are also depicted.
Aboriginal Art
aboriginal foods
Digging for Witchetty Grubs
Lena Nambula (left) and Carol Thompson digging for witchetty grubs amongst the roots of the witchetty bush (Acacia kempeana), a type of wattle tree, in Kaititja country. Nowadays, modern steel crowbars replace traditional wooden digging sticks.

In Central Australian Aboriginal art, the elements of this scene are reduced to abstract forms. Hence, the women are depicted as “u” shapes and their digging sticks as lines. The tree becomes a circle or just the depiction of the grubs, an important food source.

Collecting Honey Ants
Clockwise from left: Vanessa Price, Alex Shannon, Selma Thompson and Lena Nambula (doing the digging) from Tara Community, Kaititja country.

"The ants’ nest consists of numerous chambers, each containing a few honey ants. These have to be carefully removed without breaking the honey sac. A simple carrying dish is made by stripping off some bark from a nearby tree and placing soil at the bottom, providing a soft cushion for the ants. Some are eaten immediately, the rest are taken back home to share with others."

"We collected about 80 ants from this nest. To eat the honey, you very delicately pick up the ant, holding its head and body between your fingers (so that it doesn’t bite your lips). Placing the honey sac between your lips, you suck the honey, which bursts from the sac, and then throw the ant down on the ground. Done gently, the ant survives. Eating honey ants is the most delicious experience – the rush of honey is like an explosion of taste with the softest, sweetest honey you have ever tasted. " (David M Welch)

Aboriginal campsite showing people (the u-shapes) behind their windbreaks (the large arcs). The dot in the centre is a camp-fire.

Reggie Sultan. 30 cm x 62 cm.


Aboriginal artist Reggie Sultan ->

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