Community Learning about Rheumatic Heart Disease

This painting depicts the prevalence of Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease in Aboriginal communities compared to the general population. It also reflects Aboriginal artist Tex Skuthorpe's experience working and living in Aboriginal communities in Central Australia.

Learn more about what inspired Tex to do this painting here.  


The 2 hearts and the 4 valves around the outside are what gets damaged with Rheumatic Heart Disease. Repeated episodes of Rheumatic Fever causes damage to the valves so they can’t open or close properly – called Rheumatic Heart Disease. The heart then swells, becomes weaker and can’t pump the blood around correctly.

The lines of red dots with the white around represent how the disease gets into the body through a skin sore or sore throat. The yellow dots represent how streptococcus bacteria is carried around in the blood.

The U shapes in the middle of the circles around the painting represent people who’ve passed away and how it affects the whole community.

The figures around the bottom & top of the painting represent the children who are affected from 5 years of age up, and their journey into adulthood.

The hands represent the fact that we can prevent this disease by our actions - cleaning skin sores. The blue represents using water to clean the sores.

The brown and white U shapes with yellow in the middle represent the need for adults, both men and women, to look after our children, to make it safe for them by preventative action.

The red footprints represent that children are sacred to us.

The white wiggly lines in the centre of the painting and the diamond design represent my way of writing, that Nhunggabarra people had a way of carving trees that is our way of telling the story.

The colours also have meaning - white represents women, brown represents men and pink represents that our children are sacred.

The circles with black in the middle represents the lack of information about Rheumatic Heart Disease in our communities;

  • The fact that very simple actions can prevent the disease
  • The fact that the early use of antibiotics can treat the disease
  • The fact that it is not a death sentence if Rheumatic Fever is contracted - that antibiotics can prevent a recurrence and people can live a long and normal life
  • The fact that if community members don’t understand this disease, they don’t know how to look after their children or know what actions to take


A printable symbols chart is also available here to help you understand the painting more.

Painted by Aboriginal artist Tex Skuthorpe

(available when viewing online)