Australia's big cities can satisfy most consumer appetites with everything from high-fashion boutiques to secondhand emporia, while many smaller places tend towards speciality retail, be it home-grown produce, antiques or arts and crafts. Markets are a great place to shop − most cities have at least one permanent bazaar.
You may be able to get a refund on the tax you pay on goods.
Buying Indigenous Art
An Aboriginal artwork or artefact makes an evocative reminder of your trip. By buying authentic items you are supporting Aboriginal cultures and helping to ensure that traditional and contemporary expertise and designs continue to be of economic and cultural benefit for Aboriginal individuals and their communities. Unfortunately, much of the so-called Aboriginal art sold as souvenirs is ripped off, consisting of appropriated designs illegally taken from Aboriginal people; or it's just plain fake, and usually made overseas by underpaid workers.
Where to Buy
The best places to buy artefacts are either directly from the communities that have art-and-craft centres or from galleries and outlets that are owned, operated or supported by Aboriginal communities – the general standard in such places is the artists receives around half of the proceeds from any sale of their work. There are also many reputable galleries that have long supported the Aboriginal arts industry, usually members of the Australian Commercial Galleries Association, that will offer certificates of authenticity with their goods.
You'll find Indigenous art for sale all across the country, but the Northern Territory is easily the best place to buy. Even if you're not visiting the Territory, many places allow you to buy online.
The following art centres provide useful information on their websites:
The Association of Northern, Kimberley & Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA; www.ankaaa.org.au), based in Darwin, is the peak advocacy and support agency for Aboriginal artists and art centres in Arnhem Land, Tiwi Islands, Darwin/Katherine and the Kimberley in north Western Australia. ANKAAA recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Desart Inc (www.desart.com.au) is the key support agency in Central Australia. Based in Alice Springs, it is the major advocacy agency for at least 45 central Australian art centres across three borders (NT, SA and WA).
Ananguku Arts & Culture Aboriginal Corporation (www.anangukuarts.com.au), over the border in South Australia, was established in 1997 by women artists at Ernabella to cover the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Ananguku Arts now provides services to more than 460 artists at seven Aboriginal-owned and governed art centres in far northwest SA.
The Tiwi Art Network (www.ankaaa.org.au/art-centre/tiwi-art-network-tiwi-islands) is an alliance between the three art centres on the islands: Munupi Arts & Crafts, Tiwi Design and Jilamara Arts & Crafts.
Art Centres in Northern Territory
- Injalak Arts & Crafts Centre Gunbalanya (Oenpilli) Fabulous collection and many artists in residence close to Kakadu.
- Ghunmarn Culture Centre Beswick (Wugularr) Outstanding West Arnhem Land collection.
- Warlukurlangu Art Centre One of the longest-established art centres in the Territory, out in the Tanami Desert at Yuendemu.
- Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre & Museum Treasure trove of artistic creations from East Arnhem Land.
- Ngukurr Arts Centre Another West Arnhem Land special along the Roper River.
- Merrepen Arts Quiet outpost of Indigenous artworks in Daly River.
- Waralungku Arts Centre Fascinating collection of figurative paintings and other art in remote Boroloola.
Art Galleries in the Northern Territory
There are a number of privately owned art galleries that have an excellent record in their dealings with the Indigenous artists whose work they display. Usually based in cities and larger towns, they can be good alternatives to the more remote art centres. Some community art centres also have city shopfronts that are well worth exploring.
Mason Gallery Dot paintings from the Western and Central Desert regions and works from Arnhem Land and Utopia.
Outstation Gallery Works from nine different Aboriginal art centres from Arnhem Land to the Western Desert.
Mbantua Fine Art Gallery Paintings from Utopia.
Nomad Art Gallery Contemporary Indigenous art across a range of forms.
Djilpin Arts Aboriginal owned, with art from the Ghunmarn Culture Centre in West Arnhem Land.
Mimi Aboriginal Art & Craft Aboriginal-owned and not-for-profit, Mimi houses works from the Katherine and Tanami Desert regions.
Top Didj Cultural Experience & Art Gallery A good place to see Aboriginal artists at work.
Papunya Tula Artists Alice Springs shopfront for paintings from the Western Desert.
Jila Arts Contemporary paintings from the Western Desert.
Mbantua Gallery Extensive exhibits of works from the renowned Utopia region, and watercolour landscapes from the Namatjira school; a fine collectors' gallery out the back.
Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra Watercolour and dot paintings from all over Central Australia.
Talapi Central Desert Indigenous art.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers Central Desert weaving from 18 remote communities.
The cheapest souvenirs, usually mass-produced and with little to distinguish them, are known collectively by the euphemism 'Australiana'. They are supposedly representative of Australia and its culture, but in reality are just lowest-common-denominator trinkets, often made in Asia rather than Australia (check the label).
Genuine Australian offerings include the seeds of native plants − try growing kangaroo paws back home (if your own country will allow them in). You could also consider a bottle of fine Australian wine, honey (leatherwood honey is one of many distinctive local varieties), macadamia nuts (native to Queensland), Bundaberg Rum with its unusual sweet flavour, or genuine Ugg boots (sheepskin boots that conquer any winter).
Opals The opal, Australia's national gemstone, is a popular souvenir, as is the jewellery made with it. It's a beautiful stone but buy wisely and shop around, as quality and prices vary widely from place to place. Coober Pedy in SA, and Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs in NSW are opal-mining towns where you can buy the stones or fossick for your own.
Pearls On the Torres Strait Islands look out for South Sea pearls, while in Broome in WA, cultured pearls are sold in many local shops.
Other gemstones Australia is a mineral-rich country and semiprecious gemstones such as topaz, garnets, sapphires, rubies, zircon and others can sometimes be found lying around in piles of dirt at various locations. There are sites around rural and outback Australia where you can pay a few dollars and fossick for your own stones. The gem fields around Emerald, Anakie and Rubyvale in Queensland's Capricorn Hinterland are a good place to shop for jewellery and gemstones.