Your guide to the best Aboriginal Art galleries around Cairns
From traditional galleries showcasing classic and contemporary works to ancient carvings housed in nature, Tropical North Queensland is a treasure trove for Indigenous art fans. At the very heart of it all is Cairns – home to countless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, sculptors and creators. Here’s your need-to-know guide to the best Aboriginal art galleries in Cairns and its surrounds.
When to visit
For the quintessential introduction to Australia’s Indigenous art scene, time your trip to coincide with the iconic Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF). One of the highlights of Australia’s Indigenous events calendar, it takes over the city every July.
Spanning three days, the program packs in visual and performing arts, craft and workshops, fashion, music and dance performances. Most importantly, it’s all done under the banner of providing an inclusive, ethical marketplace for artists and their fans. Don’t miss the official launch night, where you’ll be treated to a colourful sneak peek of what’s to come.
Entry fee: free
Tune into traditional stories at Janbal Gallery, Mossman
Listen to tales of the Dreamtime while you create Aboriginal-inspired artworks at Janbal Gallery. Located in the scenic town of Mossman in the Daintree Rainforest, this Aboriginal-owned gallery is filled to the brim with hand-made artefacts created by local artists.
Pick up a brush and paint a small canvas or boomerang under the guidance of artist owner Brian ‘Binna’ Swindley. Take inspiration from the traditional Kuku Yalanji stories as you master your craft. Or, just explore the gallery and find a unique piece to take home.
Entry fee: Free
1-hour workshops: $50 per adult, $25 per child, $140 per family
Uncover classic and contemporary works at the Cairns Art Gallery
Get schooled in the rich history of Aboriginal art with a trip to the award-winning Cairns Art Gallery. The city’s first ever public gallery, CAG is a long-standing supporter of artists who have strong cultural connections to Cairns.
Check out the local talent for yourself at the gallery’s biennial ART NOW FNQ exhibit, held from December to February. At other times, browse through an eclectic mix of Indigenous art, craft, contemporary and ancient pieces.
Feeling creative? Book yourself on to a printmaking or acrylic painting class (prices start at $23).
Entry fee: Free
Learn ancient crafting skills at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Ready to venture beyond the traditional four-walled galleries? Make Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park your next stop, and watch Aboriginal culture come to life through dance, art, interactive classes and performance.
Create traditional art pieces alongside an experienced Indigenous artist and learn ancient art-making practices. Take a class in boomerang-painting, master the art of weaving using natural, sustainable materials and even make your own jewellery.
Tjapukai Entry: Adult $55.80, Children $37.80
Cultural Creations Package: Adult $88, Children $58 (4-14yrs), Family $243
Examine art with an edge at Tanks Art Centre
Fans of modern art won’t want to miss Tanks Art Centre. Situated just north of the Cairns CBD in the middle of lush botanical gardens, this cutting-edge arts centre is housed in three historic naval oil tanks.
By day, feast your eyes on the free art exhibitions. Then, stay put as the evening entertainment kicks off. Featuring spoken word, comedy, film and theatre, the Tank arts program offers an inspired selection of productions by some of Australia’s leading theatre companies.
Entry fee: Free and ticketed events
Discover ancient rock art galleries near Laura
Strap on your boots, pack up the 4WD and get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience travelling with Jarramali Rock Art 4WD Tours. Departing from Laura, stumble off the beaten track into the vast Outback, where you’ll encounter Aboriginal Art in its original 20000-year-old ‘gallery’.
Explore the sandstone escarpments of Quinkan Country with renowned local Kuku Yulanji guide, Johnny Murison. Then fall asleep under the stars in a campground set atop the sandstone cliffs, overlooking a landscape of eucalyptus trees. For a birds-eye view of this ancient wonder, choose the helicopter tour.
Day tour (depart from Laura, with own 4WD) – $280 per person
4WD overnight camp tour (two full days and one night) – $790 per person
Helicopter tour (day trip – return from Cairns) – $1,794 per person
Add to your private collection at Ngarru Gallery, Port Douglas
Renowned among serious fine art collectors, Ngarru Gallery, in the heart of Port Douglas, houses one of Australia’s finest collections of sought-after Aboriginal Art.
Marvel at intricate dot paintings by acclaimed Aboriginal artists like Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi. Meander through rooms filled with sculptures, cultural artefacts and termite-hollowed didgeridoos. You can even add to your own collection and purchase a piece, with works ranging from just a few hundred dollars to many thousands.
Entry fee: Free
Travel back in time in Yarrabah
Take a 45 minutes drive south of Cairns to discover the small Aboriginal beach-side community of Yarrabah (it means ‘paradise by the sea’).
Uncover the town’s history in the Menmuny Museum, where you’ll gain a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture courtesy of your local guide. Venture outside to the rainforest boardwalk for a crash course on native plants and their usage in ancient rituals and remedies.
Finally, make a stop at the Yarrabah Arts Centre, where you might even meet the current artist in residence. Looking for something original to take home? Yarrabah specialises in hand built and wheel thrown pottery pieces.
Entry fee: Museum $8, Arts Centre, free
For more ways to experience Aboriginal culture in and around Cairns, check out these must-do Indigenous tours in Tropical North Queensland.