Insight: The Significance of Birds & Animals in Aboriginal Culture

Lladró Sydney wishes to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, the Cadigal People of the Eora Nation and we pay our respects to Elders both past, present and future.

Animals have played a central part in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and spiritual beliefs for over 50,000 years. Australia has a huge number of Aboriginal tribes all over the country with their own unique traditions, customs and even different dialect but one thing that is shared above all else is The Dreamtime. This collection of stories passed down through rich oral traditions recounts how the world was created and how all life was made in connection to each other and to the land. With this comes a deep reverence for animals not just important food sources and key to their survival but also as spiritual beings that deserve respect and dignity in life and death.


Almost every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribe have an animal or set of animals that they hold close as totems and which represent many of the aspects of their lives and the territory they call home.

A totem is an object or thing in nature that is adopted as a family or clan emblem. Different tribes are assigned different totems and, in some cases, individuals are given personal totems at birth. In the Torres Strait, people wear personal pendants, which are mostly carved out of wood, turtle shell or shells and often represent the person's totem. There are well-established rules about when they can wear the pendants, often only during ceremonies or rituals.

Lladró’s Dazzle Dolphins Sculpture retired in 2023, Wubaray (black dolphin) is the totemic symbol of the Worimi people of the Port Stephens region.

You can identify some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by their totems, which can be birds (sea eagles or pelicans), reptiles, sharks, crocodiles and fish. They are an important part of cultural identity and are especially significant in song, dance and music and on cultural implements. Some clans forbid their individuals from eating the animal that is their totem, while other tribes make exceptions for special occasions such as ceremonies.

Bunjil is a creator deity often depicted in eagle form is a sacred totem of the people of the Kulin nation of central Victoria.

The Diamond stingray (Yama) is the totem of the Wuthathi tribe (Shelbourne Bay, northern Queensland), the stingray is also the totem for some Torres Strait Islanders. Sharks are a totem of the Meriam people from Murray Islands or Mer in the eastern group of islands in the Torres Strait, and it is forbidden to hunt them. There is a story about a Meriam man and his son who had an accident at sea and lost their boat. During the night as they waited to be rescued sharks brushed past their legs. The Meriam people believe that sharks did not attack the man and his son, as the shark is their totem animal and would protect them.

Australia is home to two crocodile species, the fresh-water crocodile and salt-water crocodile. They mostly live in the northern parts of Australia, as they prefer a warmer climate to maintain their metabolism. In Dreamtime stories, the crocodile was believed to have once been a man who was turned into a crocodile after being set alight and fleeing into a nearby river to extinguish the flames and forever lived between water and the land. 

Lladró’s White and Copper Crocodile inspired by Australia’s own saltwater crocodiles as seen by the powerful, broad snout.

The bigger the croc, the better as large crocs have special significance to some Aboriginal people of Northern Australia, who believe they embody the spirits of their tribe’s ancestors. The Gaagudju of the Kakadu region, for instance, used crocodiles as sacred totems of the great crocodile deity Ginga who was believed to be a spiritual ancestor of their tribe.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe the crocodile to be a symbol of cunning, virility and primal strength, as crocs are known to lie hidden in wait until the right moment when its prey is seduced into a sense of safety and then strike with extraordinary strength and speed. When seen in dreams, crocodiles can signal that you could be unknowingly in danger or tempting fate and that you need to take a step back and trust your instincts.

Lladró’s White and Copper Crocodile is one of the newest additions to Lladró’s extensive range of animals and is a nod to Australia’s rich array of unusual and exotic animals and is a reminder to respect and acknowledge this animals beauty and it’s cultural importance.

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