31 May
Photo by April Pethybridge on Unsplash

Using plants and animals in your artwork? You might need a permit

If you’re an artist that uses natural plant or animal materials in your work, did you know that depending on where you found it, you might need a licence or permit to do so? This is a particularly important issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists who often use native seeds, feathers, skins, bones, grasses and woods in their artwork.

Depending on where you found the plant or animal material, if the species is threatened, it will be protected under Commonwealth, or State or Territory legislation. This usually includes parts of plants and animals found either dead or alive.

If you found the species in a Commonwealth area (within a State or Territory), Commonwealth laws will apply. Examples of Commonwealth areas include: Carlton Gardens (Victoria); Booderee National Park (NSW); Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks (NT); the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ACT) and all Commonwealth Marine Reserves (off the coast of Australia).

If the species isn’t protected under Commonwealth law, it might still be a protected threatened species under State or Territory laws. Generally speaking, all native animal and plant species (and in some States e.g. Victoria, even non-native species) found in National Parks managed by States or Territories are protected by legislation and removal of them requires a permit. Otherwise you could be heavily fined.

There are some exemptions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders specifically or other exemptions that might apply more generally to artists (e.g. using plants obtained by someone authorised to grow, pick and sell a threatened plant species).

What do I need to do?

  1. Check where you found the specimen
  2. Check if it’s threatened under the relevant legislation
  3. Apply for a permit/licence if it’s protected or threatened
  4. If you’re unsure, contact Arts Law to get some advice about your situation.

Other useful resources

Arts Law recently updated its information sheets on the Commonwealth and State and Territory laws about this. They include useful links to help you to check whether or not the plant or animal material you want to use in your artwork is threatened, as well as information about applying for licences or permits, if you need one.

For more information see Arts Law’s information sheets:

Artwork Made Using Animal and Plant Material – Australia

Artwork Made Using Animal and Plant Material – New South Wales

Artwork Made Using Animal and Plant Material – Northern Territory

Artwork Made Using Animal and Plant Material – Queensland

Artwork Made Using Animal and Plant Material – South Australia

Artwork Made Using Animal and Plant Material – Victoria