Rock Art in Australia

Long-necked turtle, Kakadu

Long-necked turtle, Kakadu

The oldest tradition of art in the world, Australian indigenous rock drawings offer an incredible glimpse into an ancient world.


We visited two sites called Ubirr and Nourlangie (aka Burrunguy) located in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia.


Distant view of rock formations, Kakadu

Distant view of rock formations, Kakadu

Here we saw hand drawings of animals and humans; visual accounts of their tools, hunting, birthing, ceremonies, and other activities of their time.


The sites are huge cliffs of rock that served as shelters for the indigenous Australians, the aboriginals.  Hunting was paramount to them, so a majority of the drawings are animals:  long-necked turtle, many kinds of fish, ringtail possum, wallaby, and many more.


Rock art fish, Kakadu

Rock art fish, Kakadu

By drawing the animals they hunted, it placed them in touch with the animal spirit.  Aboriginals then and now have a deep passion for stories of spirits, the spirit world, sorcery, and magic.


I find petroglyphs fascinating.  Every site, every country, has its own unique picture of the world.


Kangaroo, Kakadu

Kangaroo, Kakadu

As an American in Australia, I could never get enough of kangaroos.  I love watching kangaroos bound across the landscape.


Studying the wallaby (kangaroo) petroglyphs offered an extra thrill, because there is no other place in the world with kangaroo rock drawings.


Ochre pits, Australia. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The aboriginals produced the colors by mining a rock with iron oxide called ochre.  Then they ground it into a powder and mixed it with a fluid (saliva or blood).  They also painted their bodies, shields, bark, wood, and other items.


Nourlangie Rock. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Carbon dating the ochre has helped identify the various ages of the drawings.  Some sites date back 40,000 years, others less.


Most of the Ubirr art is approximately 2,000 years old.  More info here.  Kakadu info here.


Studying art, tracing the artist’s movements and interpretations, is different in a museum, because the art is on display.  The artist had a separate studio or room where they created.


In rock art, you are standing in the same spot where the artist created.  You feel the sun’s heat, hear the whistling wind, stand in the same rock shadow.


If you can block out the lively voices of the day, you can float back…find yourself with the aboriginal artist of 2,000 years ago.


Ubirr rock art site. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander (unless otherwise noted)

55 thoughts on “Rock Art in Australia

  1. Magical! I love how you experienced the connection between yourself and the artists – completely different to a gallery, and completely wonderful. A beautiful post to lift the spirits here on a damp Friday – thanks, Jet!

    • There’s nothing like rock art to remind us we’re all connected. I am so happy you enjoyed the post today, pc, and always appreciate your great comments. Thanks so much.

  2. Jet. this is so fascinating! and very interesting. i think being right there feels like you go back in time and that is amazing. thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • It was interesting how the different color shades all had a similar earthy tone. And yes, it took a lot of effort. My thanks, Jan, for your visit today. Enjoy your weekend~~

  3. Does this park have a website to browse for info on the ancient drawings? It would be interesting to read and see the drawings. I love the rich colors they used during that time for their art. Interesting how far back in ages people used all sorts of means for expressing and preserving their thoughts. And, they did it so well. I wonder if they taught drawing and sketching classes then as now. Thanks for sharing; I always enjoy reading your posts on nature.

  4. It’s really thrilling Jet!Art on rocks that dates so back in time and one can see the need of prehistoric man to communicate,to create and to express their feelings by depicting everyday life.Fabulous petroglyphics and indelible colouration from natural substances.There are several famous frescoes,from the Bronze age,in some Greek volcanic islands,where they used substances from specific seaweed that they never fade.Athena’s photos are gorgeous and they clearly display the rock carving and painting.The massive etched rocks are also impressive.Btw,I read an article the other day saying about the National Reconciliation Week which is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May -and 3 June.Significant reconciliation journey that deletes sad pages from history.Thank you so much for your inspiring post and your feedback on my “Aristotle” post,Best wishes for a lovely weekend,dear friend 🙂 ※

    • I appreciate your enthusiasm for the wonders of the ancient expression of rock art, Doda. Interesting that the Greeks would use seaweed. I like hearing about the National Reconciliation Week, Australians are trying to rectify. I was thrilled to be a recipient, dear Doda, of your Aristotle post. As always, a lovely exchange today, thank you so much. (@_@) 🙂

      • It’s really thrilling to behold visual and conceptual art that date back to 40.000 years …
        So many thanks for appreciating my Aristotle post.I didn’t want to focus on philosophical ideas,I indirectly connected a few concepts with ordinary life around the city and its monuments.A Peripatetic School just for pleasure.All the best to you Jet my friend 🙂 ※ ♡

  5. I enjoy reading and seeing photos of all the unique places you travel and explore, Jet. I love the thought of standing there right in front of the drawings, in the same place the artist stood to create it. Fascinating and pretty awesome!

    • Being in the same place the artist was in is my favorite part of rock art. I’m really glad you enjoyed that too, Donna. And as always, I appreciate your visits and comments.

  6. What a beautiful post, Jet! I almost felt I was there. I find rock drawings fascinating wherever in the world they are. These drawings seem to be so rich in describing the everyday life 2000 or more years ago, very interesting reading and beautiful pictures.

    • I’m so glad I could bring the Australian rock art to you, Tiny. I, too, just love finding the rock art anywhere in the world. It’s a fascinating form of art we both enjoy. Many thanks~~

  7. Very fascinating! We have rock art / carvings in my home town as well – if I remember correct they date back 2-6.000 year, i.e. they were made after the ice age. Interesting way to learn about how people must have lived back then. A lot of the carvings in my hometown features men hunting reindeer – a tradition the local indigenous have kept alive today (somewhat modified).

    • Oh how I LOVE hearing about the different rock drawings around the world. An earlier blogger and friend from Greece told me about seaweed used in their rocking drawings. How absolutely fascinating, Inger, to hear about the reindeer in your arctic circle home town. Thanks so very much.

  8. Isn’t it amazing that people always wanted to recreate what they saw. I think of the animal species that are now extinct but could be found in the rock drawings.

    • I, too, enjoy the concept of seeing remnants of the extinct species through the drawings. It’s a fascinating form of expression. Thanks for your wonderful comments and visits, Inese~~

  9. For some reason, this was a relaxing and rather dreamy posting. Wish I would have been there with you…but it’s ALMOST as good to see it through your eyes, Jet.

  10. “In rock art, you are standing in the same spot where the artist created. You feel the sun’s heat, hear the whistling wind, stand in the same rock shadow.” That’s a very good point Jet.

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