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Australian Aboriginal Rock Art: History and Significance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 2390 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Australian Aboriginal rock art is amongst the world’s most impressive and important prehistoric art. According to Kimberley foundation (n.d) about 60,000 years ago, the first ancestors of Aboriginal Australians have appeared in Australia territory, and the Aboriginal art in Australia can be traced back at least 30,000 years. In fact, there are many examples of the art of the ancient Aboriginal on the rock are found throughout the continent, especially at Uluru and Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and the Bradshaw rock paintings in the Kimberley region of Western Australia (Oz outback, n.d). Moreover, the rock art also can find in Sydney in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, the old of these rocks are about 500 to 2000 years old (Delaney, 2015). Australia is the source of the prolific collections and oldest of rock art in the world. Dorey (2019) states that Australian Aboriginal rock art in Australia is in no way inferior to the art of world-renowned cave such as Lascaux and Altamira in Europe in term of the age and the plentiful. To its creators, the Australian Aboriginal peoples, the rock engravings and paintings are a vital part of their history and living culture (Edwards and Ucko 1973). For aboriginal people, art is an expression of cultural identity and connection to country. In fact, according to Artlandish (n.d), there is no written language for Australian Aboriginal People so they use symbols/icons through their artwork in order to convey their knowledge of the land, events, and beliefs of the Aboriginal people, important cultural stories through the generations. Additionally, the use of symbols also is an alternate way to writing down stories of cultural significance, teaching survival and use of the land. The interpretations of the iconography differ depending on the audience.

Figure 1: Aboriginal Symbols

 For example, according to The nomadic explorers, 2014, the image below is Algaihgo (Al-guy-go), the fire woman. She is one of the first people or Nayuhyunggi (Nab-yuh-young-ghee), who created the world. She planted the yellow banksias in woodlands and used their smoldering flowers to carry fire. Dingo traveled the countryside with her and helped her hunt possum (her favorite food). People are afraid of her because she kills and burns people. Her Djang (sacred site) on Arnhem plateau, where her spirit lives, is avoided. Algaihgo has four arms, and attached to her head are banksias.

Figure 2: Algaihgo (Al-guy-go), the fire woman.


 Tourists over the world are interested in rock art and there are a number of sites open to the public across Australia (Paul, 2014). In fact, there are many rock art tour in Australia is opened for the tourists who want to gain more experience and information about rock art, it is easy to find a rock art tour in Australia, you just need to search the keyword “Australia rock art tour” on the Google website. Hence, the number of tourism in the world come to get information about rock art also can help Australia tourist economic increase.

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Unlike other historical and culturally significant items, rock art cannot be housed and protected in climate-controlled museums or art galleries that celebrate human ambition and evolution (Rosenfeld, 1985). According to Korff (2009), cause from the pollution, development, bureaucrats, vandals, and animals, Aboriginal rock art in Australia can be disappeared in 2060. Korff also cites that in the early 1880s, Australia explorers measured Indigenous rock engravings to be around one inch (25.4 mm) deep, but until1950s this figure dropped to 16mm and it still to 5mm in 2008.

Figure 3: Recent damage by miners below rock paintings and engravings at a rock art site in Chillagoe, Queensland.

Figure 4: Depth of Aboriginal rock engravings.


Australian rock art is extremely significant for Indigenous peoples of Australia, with its preservation important for Indigenous well-being. It also a part of Australian national identity and World Heritage pride. there are various Australia citizen realize the importance of rock art, so they established the website to motivate other people to participate and donate to protect Australia’s rock art from disappearing threats. For instance, “Fara- friend of Australia rock art” is a famous organization which has many direct actions and campaigns to works to protect preserve and promote Australian rock art, such as FARA released a press release responding to the state government’s Burrup Rock Art Strategy on 18 February 2019 (Fara, n.d). In addition, professor Paul Taçon is typical people who devote to protect for the rock art by giving many useful facts about rock art through his website and his video. Professor Tacon (n.d) cites that rock art is an artifact from the past, it’s not only really important for the people of today but also will be really important for people living in the future. In addition, Tacon also describes that rock art plays a critical role in our understanding of human evolution. Because the image on the rock tells about individual and group experience through periods of climate change, a period of global warming, about their animal and human a few thousand years ago so Tacon compares these rock art as a history book of Australia.

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Nevertheless, the government in Australia is quite a lethargy when it comes to documenting and protecting rock art in their country. In fact, according to Tacon (2014), there are more than 1,700 engraved boulders were removed to make way for the North West Shelf gas plant on Western Australia’s Burrup Peninsula in the early 1980s were relocated to a ridge. Moreover, another example of the ignore of the government in Australia that about rock art is in 2011, according to Australia’s Tracker magazine, the alleged stalled efforts of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to hold the energy company Ausgrid accountable for the destruction of aboriginal rock art found in Sydney. In constructing some of its power lines, Ausgrid had cut an important rock carving maintained by authorities of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC).

To sum up, with a long tradition, the rock art is the real fact for that the arts play an important part in the way Australia’s citizen lives, the way they think about themselves and the way they creating and maintaining the culture in Australia society not only in the past but also in the present and even in the future (Hull, 2013). Furthermore, each individual in Australia tends to fight and protect for what their loves, they willing to work non-profit for their ideal. In this situation, there are various Australian spend their time and money to donate and motive other people to take part in the rock art protect’s campaign. Due to the time is flies and it does not stop to wait for anything, so the Australia government should to consider carefully about protecting rock art and has some strict action to preserve this heritage.



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