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Aboriginal Tourism - Indigenous Australia - Iconography and Symbols
The dotted motifs of much of today’s Aboriginal modern design work has become the trademark of the contemporary Aboriginal Art movement. Its iconic status developed from a culture stretching back into the history of an ancient land, evolving and weaving into desert dreamtime stories.

Goanna tracks - Aboriginal Art & Symbolism © AusEmade PL

In the depiction of the Goanna, many artist stamp their own unique way of portraying the animal, whether it is just showing the tracks left by the animal or as the flattened outline or three dimensional form. The ‘Ngintaka’ goanna often also appearing in animal carvings.

In Aboriginal art, there is a difference between the Goanna and the Perentie, as depicted in the ‘How the Perentie and Goanna got their Colours’.

Goanna - Aboriginal Symbols, Icons and Imagery

SymbolsBush Tucker Bush Banana GoannaHoney AntsWitchetty GrubsWildlife

Perentie and goanna, sometimes described interchangeably when translated into English, have their own unique Aboriginal word depending on the tribal language.

The goanna is often depicted in paintings along with other symbolic imagery, whether it is in the story of ‘bush tucker’, hunting, dreamtime or totemic illustration.

With some artwork and their stories, confusion seem to arise in the English description and translation of the story behind the piece. Some art pieces may be described in English but include the aboriginal name/words, for example ‘Echunpa—Goanna’. Echunpa is the aboriginal word for a large lizard, that refers to the species Varanus giganteus, otherwise known as the Perentie.

When you consider the number of Aboriginal languages, that can describe the single English word ‘goanna’, then it is not surprising that confusion can arise. The answer lies in understanding the story as a whole, how the piece has been depicted, does it look like a perentie or a goanna, or in the actual title of a piece ‘Ngintaka Dreaming’, Ngintaka being the giant perentie lizard spirit.

The image of goanna and perentie can be seen in numerous works including Arthur Robertson (Tjatitjarra), Daniel Goodwin, Clarabelle Swift, June Sultan Narpandi-Arpungada, Rex Sultan-Jabangardi, Trephina Sultan Thanguwa, Janet Spencer Nungurrayi (Wardapi Jukurrpa - Goanna Dreaming).
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Sauria
Family: Varanidae
Genus: Varanus
Species: V. gouldii
Common name: Goanna
Warlpiri name: Wardapi
Pintupi name: Perente
Common name: Perentie
Pitjantjatjara name: Ngintaka
Other examples of Aboriginal words to describe the 'goanna' and related information is detailed as follows. Information from mainly Central Australia text, contact the Alice Springs Library for more information.
Pintupi / Luritja Dictionary
by K C & L E Hansen, 3rd edition, 1992, IAD Publication, ISBN 0 949659 63 0
Indigenous word English interpretation

pilarrpa goanna; the goanna which inhabits the sandhill country

kurrkati goanna type, sand goanna, inhabits sandhill country.

tinks goanna type; sand goanna; inhabits sand country;

goanna burrow

tjuulpa goanna hole

pana kaninytjarra
goanna type

Kaytetype Picture Dictionary

by Complied by Myfany Turpin and Alison Ross with Kaytetye Communities, 2004
IAD Publication, ISBN 1 86465 058 3
Indigenous word English interpretation

atywenpe perentie lizard

alewatyerre goanna

Introductory Dictionary of Western Arrernte

Main contributors include Pastor Eli Rubuntja and Gregory Armstrong (senior), complied by Gavan Breen with cultural information by Joh Pfitzner, IAD Publication, ISBN 0 949659 983
Indigenous word English interpretation


intyerre - black goanna
remeye - sand goanna
kapirre - type of goanna
rine - type of small goanna

US Mob Fact Sheet 3.1 -  Indigenous Languages in Australia

Eastern and Central Arrernte
Reproduced from IAD Press ( from the following publications produced by IAD Press: Eastern and Central Arrernte to English Dictionary, A Learner's Wordlist of Eastern and Central Arrernte and A Town Like Mparntwe.
Indigenous word English interpretation

altywekarre black goanna
WARNING: The following references,  links and website may contains images of persons that are deceased.


> Aboriginal man holding a Ngintaka lizard, State Library, Government of South Australia, 26 July 2008, Retrieved from
> Pitjantjatjara artist, Billy Wara carving an ancestral totem, South Australian Museum, 28 July 2008,
Retrieved from
> Tjuluyuru Cultural and Civic Centre,
> Goanna/Monitor/Perentie, AusEmade
> Perentie (Varanus giganteus), AusEmade
> Goanna Dreaming, Central Art Aboriginal Art Store
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