Australia’s rock art needs protection warns academic

Unless drastic action is taken to ensure rock art sites are preserved, Australia’s unique heritage could be lost forever, according to Griffith University Chair in Rock Art Research Professor Paul Taçon.

Professor Taçon, head of Griffith University’s new Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU), warns there is an urgent need to protect the endangered sites.

“South east Queensland’s most significant rock art site, Chalawong with its ancient engravings, is at risk of collapsing and being destroyed by bushfire and vandalism,” he said.

“It needs a conservation plan and action must be taken urgently.”

Professor Taçon said the famous Quinkin-Laura rock art of Cape York was threatened by mining development with prospecting leases issued since last year blanketing the area.

“Again there is no management plan. Even tourism is disorganised with impacts on outstanding sites.”

PERAHU archaeologists are documenting some of the nation’s most significant rock art sites from Southeast Queensland to the Torres Strait, in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory and Wollemi National Park near Sydney so that future generations can learn from them.

“This is because rock art tells us an incredible and unparalleled story of long-term human survival. It is as powerful and significant as any from France, South Africa or China,” Professor Taçon said.

“But because Australia has never had a national database or coordinated approach to rock art documentation, conservation and management, we still do not know exactly what we have and how fast it is disappearing.

“Time is running out and words alone won’t help. We need action and funding from business, government and the community. Unless we act now, much of our incredible rock art and visual heritage will be lost forever.”

To address these issues archaeologists and researchers at PERAHU plan to work with local Aboriginal communities to develop rock art conservation and management plans, as well as to document new sites across Queensland, the Wellington Range of Arnhem Land and elsewhere.

So highly valued is Australia’s rock art that images from the Djulirri rock art complex in Arnhem Land feature in Google’s global Art Project launched in Paris earlier this year.

Coordinated by Professor Taçon, the images feature alongside some of the world’s most famous artworks including Vincent van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ and Botticelli’s ‘Venus’.

PERAHU will be launched at the Webb Centre, South Bank campus on Thursday, May 24 at 6pm.