More than 100 Aboriginal rock art sites with thousands of paintings have been discovered in the Wellington Range area of Arnhem Land by a national team of scientists.

Led by Professor Paul Tacon and Dr Sally K May from Griffith University and ANU doctoral candidate Daryl Guse, the team worked closely with traditional owner Ronald Lamilami and the larger Aboriginal community over the past two months to document the sites.

Professor Tacon said the paintings ranged in age from about 15,000 to 50 years.

He said images never seen in Australian rock art before were found in some sites with many examples of a little known style of human figures.

“One site complex found contains a couple of thousand images spread across over a dozen discrete panels, making it one of the largest rock painting sites in Australia.”

Nearby is a site known as Djulirri, which has many layers of paintings in a wide range of styles and colours. It also contains 28 depictions of Macassan and European boats, from tall ships to World War II destroyers. There is a painting of a biplane, a car, a bicycle wheel, a rifle, a missionary and a sea captain.

Professor Tacon said there were many paintings of changes brought about by the arrival of Asians and Europeans in northern Australia.

“Djulirri has more images of contact between different cultures than any other site in the world.”

The team is also documenting other large sites with contact imagery and Guse is undertaking excavations in rock shelters as well as near where Macassan visitors camped on the beach.

Other recent discoveries include depictions of extinct Tasmanian tigers with one thylacine found in a style that is at least 15,000 years old. This is the first time such an ancient painting of a Thylacine has been found anywhere.

All the Wellington Range sites are threatened by feral pigs, bushfires, climate change and development. There is increasing tourism and mining pressure with some accessible sites already degraded.

The scientists are working closely with the Aboriginal community and various government agencies to protect the sites, develop a management plan and implement a sustainable tourism strategy.

As part of this Tacon and May are seeking partners to establish Australia’s first rock art research centre devoted to the documentation, conservation and management of this priceless heritage resource.

MEDIA CONTACT: Paul Tacon 0432 981 552, Arts & Education Communications Officer Deborah Marshall 0408 727 734