Rock art finds strengthen links to past

Aboriginal rock art sites, some more than 4000 years old, have been discovered in Wollemi National Park, on Sydney’s doorstep, by a team of archaeologists, Aborigines and bushwalkers.

In all, 48 sites were found in September by a group led by Griffith University rock art expert Professor Paul Tacon, who was on an expedition to record a number of rare charcoal drawings.

Thirty eight of the sites contain rock art. The most significant are a shelter with a complete hafted stone axe and the largest engraved platform in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Professor Tacon said although borers had degraded part of the axe’s wooden handle shafts, it was the first time a hafted axe had been found anywhere in the area.

Two charcoal drawing sites contain between 30 and 50 images, most in good condition.

“There is a rare striped animal resembling an extinct thylacine, macropods, quolls and geometric motifs in the first shelter while the second has a lengthy serpent figure associated with 16 flying foxes, human figures in ceremonial poses, abstract symbols and possibly a depiction of a woman giving birth.”

Professor Tacon said the subject matter was different to Eagle’s Reach, Wollemi’s most outstanding site, which was brought to world attention by his team in 2003.

Another site contains 15 faint red hand or hand-and-forearm stencils which are similar to others thought to be among the oldest surviving rock art sites in the greater Sydney region.

“But the engraving site is particularly remarkable,” Professor Tacon said.

“There are human figures that resemble Biami and Daramulan, two of the most important Ancestral Beings for Darkinjung, Darug, Wiradjeri and other groups, a human figure grabbing a life-size kangaroo, another figure grabbing a wombat, a large eagle or eagle-human, a life-size dingo, koala-like figures and many other significant designs.”

Professor Tacon said the trip had revealed some of the most profound rock art to date in Wollemi National Park.

“What we have found is absolutely incredible, rivalling Sydney’s best sites, but who knows what else is out there. We’ve only just scratched the surface.

“Eagle’s Reach showed the rugged wilderness to be home to spectacular imagery of great importance to Aboriginal communities, but the new discoveries prove it is not an isolated anomaly.”

Besides documenting new finds, Professor Tacon’s project is designed to assist with the conservation of the area’s heritage and to reconnect Aboriginal communities with sites that are difficult to access. More than 200 sites have now been discovered by the team.

The Griffith University led team is seeking funding to do further work.