Rock solid support for ‘crown jewels’

Professor Paul Tacon, founder of Griffith University's Place Evolution and Rock Heritage Unit (PERAHU)

A Griffith University unit dedicated to the protection of Australia’s rock art heritage has received a $10,000 boost and the Gold Coast donor wants others to follow his example.

Leading Australian ophthalmologist Dr John Kearney was moved to make the donation after attending a lecture by Professor Paul Tacon, founder of Griffith University’s Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU).

PERAHU conducts world-leading work in the documentation, conservation and management of Australia’s precious rock art and Professor Tacon was speaking on behalf of its Protect Australia’s Spirit awareness initiative.

“When Paul described the rock art as Australia’s crown jewels, it just hit home to me how valuable these sites are to the story of our nation and how important it is they be preserved for all Australians to see,” Dr Kearney said.

“The best way to do that is with a bipartisan approach, absolutely apolitical, to weigh up the delicate issues that are at stake, including conservation, development, tourism and cultural respect, and find ways for our rock art to be seen, treasured and yet still protected.”

Professor Tacon said Australia’s rock art sites were under increasing threat due to human intervention via industry, urban spread and vandalism, as well as other causes of degradation and destruction.

“Rock art is found throughout Australia and new discoveries are made each year and that’s why we need a nationally co-ordinated strategy for its protection,” Professor Tacon said.

“Australia has more rock art sites than anywhere in the world and yet state regulations to protect it are very weak.

“I hasten to say that I’m not anti-development and I am not leading any protest campaign, but the encroachment of industry, particularly mining, and the inevitable infrastructure that accompanies it can have dire consequences for rock art.

“I am trying to encourage solutions that are considered, consultative and which minimise the risk to our cultural heritage.”

Dr Kearney is the founding principal of the Gold Coast Eye Clinic, acknowledged by Griffith’s School of Medicine as a teaching practice, and his donation is a natural extension of more than 30 years of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Pacific Island communities.

“It’s important that our rock art can be seen and treasured by Australians without being placed at risk. I see my donation as seed money towards that aim,” Dr Kearney said.

“Furthermore, I’m eager for others to support the work of Professor Tacon and PERAHU because our cultural heritage is so important. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever and so ways should be found to protect it and celebrate it while still ensuring it can be seen.”