Rain is a big factor in the Gorge in the Wet. These trees were bent at an incredible angle by the sheer force of water that rushes down-stream.
And sure enough, rain wasn’t far away that day. I had just landed to view some rock art…
When the rain came rushing down. Even the pandanus looked forlorn.
The temperature dropped by 10C in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, I did get a quick glimpse of the 3 metre high rock art on the cliff face before I was forced to return to the boat.
One of the most interesting walls of art were ones that depicted contact with outsiders.
Among the hand prints and animal drawings was a sailing ship. The groups in this region would have known about white men very early on, first perhaps from the Makassan fishermen from Sulawesi, Indonesia, and then perhaps from seeing passing Dutch and Portuguese ships.
By the time the English came, they were very familiar with ships, as seen from the wall below.
Here, the artist has painted a steam ship in great detail.
The artist has even tried to copy writing (and almost got it).
They didn’t know that the outsiders would end up changing their way of life forever. Now we only have these remnants to admire and wonder.
Unlike in Kakadu National Park, where the rock art is easily accessible with signs, paths, hand-rails etc, the rock art at Mount Borradaile has been left in its original setting (bar some light weeding for easy access).
It meant that getting to some of the art works was a mini adventure which involved perching on boulders…
Squeezing into crevices…
Or scrambling up cliffs into high overhangs.
But the effort was worth the while…
When you see generations of art on one wall.
Land animals were always very important to the Amarak. During the last Ice Age, the ocean would have been more than 100km away, hence they would have relied on these animals more for food.
Wallabies were common in these parts as they lived among the rocks, and made a good feed.
And goannas were often found up the trees and also made a good feed.
However, the walls also showed animals from long past. The thylacine (a.k.a. Tasmanian tiger) for example had lived in the area at one stage. You can quite clearly see its stripes.
And what about this bird? Is it an emu, or some other extinct giant bird species?
Unlike in Central Australia, where life and art revolved around water, the people of Arnhemland were more interested in capturing their fauna, which was integral to daily life. We viewed many paintings of animals, some recent and some potentially very old.
Fish was of course very important, since it was abundant when the water levels were high. The white ochre paint used and the intricate cross-hatching meant that the painting was probably done in the last four thousand years.
This dugong (a sea cow) has been overpainted with a pair of wallabies.
And this fish was so bright that it could have been painted yesterday.
All our adventures had been on Amarak land, lying east of the East Alligator River across from Kakadu National Park. The Amarak lived traditionally on their land until the 1950s, and the land had seen little use until Mount Borradaile was established in the 1980s.
Given that the Amarak lived on the land until relatively recently, there were many paintings and habitation places around the property that are well preserved. We were able to see quite a few in the four days we were there. Some were ‘mens business’ places – mens ceremonial places – as you can tell from these set of paintings – they’re all of busty women!
Others were of a more spiritual bent. This giant three metre long serpent was drawn on the roof of an overhang.
Being so close to the coast, the serpent had many shark/crocodile like features.
And was spectacular close-up.
There was more rock art to be seen. This one is a Gwion Gwion style depiction of animals.
And of course, there are the hand-prints. Traditionally they should be found in pairs – one when the person was a child and the other as an adult. However many in the last hundred or so years many did not get to return as an adult and so only single hand prints are found.
We drove another 70km down the rough road to the campground at the start of the Mitchell Falls walk, deep in the Mitchell River National Park. The walk, a 5km one across the plateau, was definitely one of the highlights of the fortnight. We were led through the park by these poles.
It was quite right that one of the first diversions off the track was the rock art under the sandstone overhangs by Little Mertens Falls. Once again, they consisted of both Wandjina and Gwion Gwion style paintings.
At the end of a long day, we finally made it to our campsite at King Edward River, or as the locals call it, Munurru. It’s a tranquil place with big skies and waterholes lined with pandanus and gums.
This was definitely the deep bush – you can’t escape the dust here.
The following morning, we ventured nearby to look at the rock art under the sandstone overhangs.
This area obviously had great significance for thousands of years since there were even the art of two separate peoples. The most recent clans painted the wandjina, or spirits.
But long before that, other people painted these very different paintings, which are now called Gwion Gwion. Much debate rages about who and when these were painted. Some think they’re of Asian, Melanesian, even African in origin.
The camp is my picture of the day.
Up the road from Broke in Milbrodale, we visited Baiame Cave. The cave is a rock overhang at the end of the valley, on a private farm.
Baiame is the creator in these parts.
Befitting a creator, his painting was a good four metres wide.
It was only the second time I’ve seen rock art in the Blue Mountains area. I remember seeing some hand stencils on the other side of the mountains near Newnes, but this was much grander.