Indigenous Australians share many religious beliefs and forms of religion that were introduced into Australia by other cultures, particularly Europe. Practices and beliefs were profoundly influenced in decades past by the impact of colonialism, and in modern times, by events taking place in the global community. Although some indigenous Australians share these beliefs, most people have derived their spirituality from a sense of belonging to the land or the sea, to other people and communities, and by being a part of one's culture.
The Aboriginal people of Australia and the Torres Strait Islanders have forms and expressions of spirituality, drawn upon stories handed down through generations. Aborigines derive their spiritual beliefs from the stories of the Dreaming, which vary throughout the region. In similar fashion, the Torres Strait Islanders fashion ideas of spirituality around the stories of the Tagai. Although the details of stories differ from region to region, they are all versions of the same story. For example, there are stories about how the birds of Australia obtained their different colors, but the explanation told in New South Wales is slightly different from the one told in Western Australia. They deal with a wide variety of topics and themes, such as animals, people, geographic regions, plants, and the creation of sacred places and evolution. There are also stories of the development of languages and customs, or the first usages of fire and various tools. More recent ones speak about the arrival of outsiders and their effects upon the land, stories about trading with fishermen and people in other areas of the state.
Many of the spiritual expressions of these people are rooted in the journey of the Spirit Ancestors across the land. This journey is recorded in Dreaming Tracks that join together the various sites tracing the path of an Ancestral Being as it moves through the landscape. A Dreaming Track shows how the Spirit Ancestor formed its creatures, created its flora and fauna, and laid down the Laws of the landscape. One of the most pervasive and well-known of the Spirit Ancestors is the Rainbow Serpent, whose Dreaming Track is shared by many of the Aboriginal communities in Australia.
The Rainbow Serpent is a consistent theme in Aboriginal paintings, and has been found in rock art and cave paintings as old as 6,000 years. The Rainbow Serpent, a large snake-like creature, is a powerful symbol of the creative and destructive power of nature. Its Dreaming Track is always associated with bodies of water such as rivers, creeks, lagoons, and billabongs. Although it is the protector of land and its people, it can also be a destructive force if it is not shown proper respect. Most of its paintings describe the creation of a landscape surrounding the birthplace of the artist. Because of this, some of its stories are usually restricted to only initiated persons, even though the image itself has been very public. Today, however, most artists add personal clan designs to the bodies of Rainbow Serpents. Indigenous Australians believe that it is the source of all life, and spirituality is a large part of Aboriginal life. Since spirituality is derived from a sense of belonging to the land or its people, paintings today focus on symbolizing links between the artist and the land to which they belong.