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)