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ABORIGINAL SITES - Western Australia

The Wandjina of the Kimberley
To the Aboriginal people who live in the Central, Northern and East Kimberley region, including Mitchell Plateau and King Edward River areas of Western Australia, the Wandjina has a deep and meaningful relationship with their heritage and their culture. The Wandjina has for many years appeared on bark coolamons which were used for food gathering and for cradles for newborn babes, ceremonial boomerangs and shields and a myriad of symbolic artefacts - the Wandjina is part of the lives of the tribes who have for many many years lived and hunted and survived in the country of the Wandjina rock art.

The Bradshaw Paintings of the Kimberley
The Bradshaw Paintings are incredibly sophisticated examples of rock art found predominantly in the Mitchell Plateau and Gibb River sections of Kimberley region of Western Australia. This art form, known to the local Aborigines as Gwion Gwion or Allarwhro, was first recorded by Joseph Bradshaw in 1891, when he was lost on an expedition through the Kimberley with his brother.
Some paintings are extremely old; 60,000 years or probably much more according to anthropologists, but their absolute age cannot be determined as the iron oxide pigments have lithified, mineralogically assimilated into the rock to become part of the rock itself, rather than a surface covering. If they are as old as they appear to be, chronologically they would predate the pyramids of Egypt and the Palaeolithic cave paintings of Europe, in fact they may well be the oldest art form of mankind in existence.

Walga Rock (East Murchison region)
Walga Rock is a monolith 5 km around the base and 1.5 km long, the second largest in Australia. It is home to the largest gallery of Aboriginal rock paintings in Western Australia, most notably (from a European perspective) a painting of a sailing ship. There has been a great deal of speculation about this painting, especially considering it is located 325 kilometres from the coast. While it was has been argued that it was drawn by survivors of the Dutch East India ships Batavia (ship) or Zuytdorp; or that it represents a contact painting by indigenous Australians who saw a ship on the coast and then moved inland, research shows it is far more likely to be the colonial steamship Xantho. It may well be the work of Sammy 'Malay', also known as Sammy Hassan, one of the many pearl divers who were transported to NW Australia in the early 1870s. Over 140 were transported on the Xantho from Batavia and the Straits Settlements and many of these divers were abandoned by the controversial pearler and pastoralist Charles Broadhurst, some at Shark Bay. The similarities between the Walga Rock image and an 1870s two masted steamer with a long segmented funnel between two masts, with false gun ports and with its mizzen sail up (to keep its head into the wind) are unmistakable. Walga Rock is located 48 km west of Cue, take a road to Austin Downs Station, drive through the gate marked "Walga Rock".

Burrup Peninsula, Dampier Archipelago (Pilbara coast)
Hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal rock engravings are distributed over an area of 88 sq. km on the Burrup Peninsula in the Dampier Archipelago in the Pilbara region of WA. They range from small engravings of Emu tracks to very large ones representing some kind of corroboree or ceremony, Aboriginal figures climbing a ship's mast. They depict a Tasmanian tiger, whales, kangaroos, emus and thousands of Aboriginal ceremonies. The artwork done here by Aboriginals will stun you. But sadly, the people are long gone, so that no-one will ever know what the engravings really represent. The Jaburara people who once lived here have been wiped out. Unknown numbers of engravings have already been damaged or obliterated as a result of industrial development on the peninsula, and more remain under threat.

Bigge Island, York Sound (Kimberley region)
Bigge Island, located off the headlands that lie between York Sound and Montague Sound (of which Bigge Island forms the western limit), is the largest of the islands that comprise the Bonaparte Archipelago. These islands are visited regularly by the cruise boats that ply the waters of the West Kimberley region.
With an area of 178 sq. km, Bigge is the second largest island along this coast after Augustus Island. It is separated from the mainland by Scott Strait. Bigge Island is famous for some amazing rock art that is spread over many sites. The majority have been painted on the walls of caves and are in excellent condition, having been protected from the ravages of the elements.

The rock art sites at Wary Bay are located in mini gorges in the rock cliffs at the south-western end of the beach. The image of a Kaiara face from the Wary Bay gallery (left) is probably one of the most spectacular and frequently published photos of aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley.
Around the eastern side of the island the rock art is equally easy to find, but much more difficult than the Bradshaw figures to photograph that were painted under an overhanging rock which is now very close to the underlying ground surface.

Langgi Inlet (Kimberley region)
Those fortunate enough to have cruised the waters of the Kimberley Coast of Western Australia are the few who have had the opportunity to visit Langgi Inlet, a place not only of rugged beauty, but of great spiritual significance to the Aborigines who once occupied this vast coastline. The first obvious attraction upon entry is the white sandy beach on the southern side of the inlet. However, on arriving ashore, the scene that unfolds from the beach is nothing short of amazing. One side of the inlet is a maze of three metre-high remarkably life-like, naturally sculptured sandstone pillars standing alongside a freshwater creek which runs onto the beach through a narrow gorge. Beyond them, a path leads up the gorge to some rock art and a burial cave. As you step ashore, you get the sense that this is a very special place.

Mulka's Cave (Hyden, WA)
Bates Cave, also known by its Aboriginal name of Mulka's Cave, contains Aboriginal rock engraving dating some 30,000 years old. The engravings give an insight into how different the landscape was back then, with depiction of a sailfish and revealing tales of catching fish. The cave is also the site of a rather morbid and fascinating Dreamtime story of Mulka the Terrible who lived in the cave. The site was declared as taboo for local Aboriginals due to the terrifying nature of events that occurred in the cave. Mulka's Cave is located near Hyden in the southern agricultural region.

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