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Aboriginal Rock Art in the Sydney Region

It is believed that over 6,000 drawings, most of which are carved into sandstone rock faces, once existed throughout what is now the Sydney metropolitan area, but many have been destroyed, bulldozed or blasted out of existence to make way for farms, bridges and later, suburbs. In most cases, those clearing the land or responsible for it did not know about the art's existence, nor did they have any inkling as to its value as either the last remaining evidence of a new vanished culture, its spiritual and religious importance to the survivors of that culture or as a part of Sydney's heritage.
As there has been no one to maintain them for over 2 centuries, many of the examples of rock art which have managed to escape the onslaught of the bulldozer and pick axe have suffered the onslaught of wind, sand and sea erosion, being walked on, driven on and vandalised. To protect what is left, the Government has wisely brought all Aboriginal sites in New South Wales under the protection the National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974. Under the act, it is illegal to disturb, damage, deface or destroy any relic, a relic being defined as any deposit, object or material evidence relating to indigenous & non European habitation of New South Wales (not being handicraft made for sale). By definition, this includes middens, habitation sites, rock carvings, rock paintings, scarred trees, stencils, stone arrangements, stone implements and tools.
Though they have been given legislative protection, there is little known about the best way to manage Aboriginal sites. To western eyes, the ideal would be to turn the maintenance of sites over to the Aboriginal people. This sounds good in theory, however, under Aboriginal law, only select people are permitted to maintain the art at these sites. Where those select people cannot be found, or if there are no survivors from a particular tribe, no one can touch the art created by and for that tribe. Even so, the art is considered sacred to the Aborigines, so there is reluctance among the Aboriginal communities to maintain the art if it is to turned into something to make money from by showing it to tourists.
Consequently, the authorities have adopted a policy of keeping the public in the dark about the location of much of Sydney's Aboriginal sites. The thinking behind it seems to be "what the people don't know about the people can't damage". As the damage caused in the past has occurred mainly as a result of ignorance, some would argue that education of the public is a better way to deal with the problem than maintaining their ignorance.

Rock art is the common denominator in most Aboriginal sites - where there was no rock, tree carving was practised. This art takes the form of paintings on rock surfaces and illustrations carved into rock surfaces. Most paintings occur in rock overhangs and caves, whereas engravings are most commonly found on the top of ridges of headlands, at water level around the bays and coves of the harbour or near a waterhole or campsite, they are generally horizontal rather than vertical. Every piece of art had a particular significance to the tribe, some told of their tribal ancestry, others identified the land as theirs. No art was created without a reason, therefore all art that remains today had tribal significance, though often that significance is no longer known following the destruction of the culture and breaking of the continuity of tribal religious and cultural activity.
The creation and maintenance of existing of rock art was the responsibility of select tribal members and no other person was permitted to become involved in rock artistry. Under tribal law, the rock art which survives today can only be re-grooved or repainted by authorised tribal members. As many of the original tribes and clans were wiped out and have no survivors, their art cannot be touched by other tribe and clan members, which is why much of the rock art around Sydney is not being maintained.
Engravings are often shallow grooves less than 5 mm deep formed through the pecking of a series of holes in the soft sandstone by a hard rock (often brought in from another area). These holes were then joined by scraping away the rock between them, possibly over time and repeatedly, at ceremonies. As few sites are maintained, weathering by wind and water erosion, cracking and flaking of the rock surface, people walking over them and pollution has caused irreparable damage. Much of the art has been weathered away completely, and only those sites that are protected from the elements and man, or are in areas where the rock is hard and resists erosion, have survived. As they are best seen in low light, early morning or late evenings are the best viewing times. Viewing at night by torch light, with a diverse rather than concentrated beam, is also recommended though this limits photography.
Rock engraving is most common near the coast, whereas inland, such as the Blue Mountains, painting is more prolific. The only colours used in painting were white, black and back, with yellow being used sparingly. White came from pipe clay; black from charcoal; red ochre came from nodules of laterite or ironstone; yellow was created from the dust of ants' nests, which might explain its rarity. A em painting of an eel in a cave near Bordeaux Dam, in which the eel is yellow with a black outline, is a rare example of the use of yellow in the Sydney region.
Motifs seen in rock art vary from animals (often recognisable only after you have disentangled the lines), hands, footprints (human footprints are known as mundoes, pronounced mun-doe-ees), small stick figures of humans and larger, more impressive figures of ancestors. Animals include fish, eels (the most common), kangaroos, emus, koalas, goannas, echidnas and dolphins.

Listed below are a few of the hundreds of sites in and around Sydney which have been recorded as containing evidence of occupation by the indigenous people of the Sydney region. In the main, those listed offer easy access to visitors, are often sign posted and/or contain explanations as to what they represent. The list includes sites which have been obliterated through the ravages of time, road and building construction etc. Though no evidence of their existence can be seen today, they are recorded here as they represent the types of sites which existed in their respective locations. For the same reason, some sites which are on private or government property have been listed, however there is no access to these sites. Attempts should not be made to view them other than from the roadside as they are on private property which, if entered without permission, is trespassing. Please respect the privacy of the owners of the properties.

IMPORTANT: These sites contain irreplaceable examples of the art of the indigenous peoples of the Sydney region. The engraving and rock paintings found at these sites are a reminder of a people who once lived in the Sydney region and as such are valuable part of their history and the history of Sydney that will be lost forever if it not treated with respect. Please do not deface or add to the art, as it is part of our heritage. All such sites protected by law, and to deface, modify or remove them in part or in whole is a criminal offence.

Inner West

Glades Bay Native Gardens, Gladesville

A campsite of the Cammeraigal Aborigines, it contains 11 carvings, the easiest to identify being two jumping kangaroos which are among the best preserved of the few remaining examples of Aboriginal rock art east of the Sydney central business district. Axe grinding grooves can be found on rocks beside a nearby creek. Evidence of Aboriginal occupation can also be found at Looking Glass Bay, Looking Glass Point, and Bill Mitchell Park.

Iron Cove, near King George V Park: Aboriginal carvings, which are rare in this area due to the scarcity of suitable rock, have been all but obliterated by more recent carvings placed there in colonial times. These carvings appear to have Masonic connections, though suggestions have been made that they may have been placed their in pre-colonial times by Spanish sailors. A shell midden is nearby.

Linley Point: A number of weathered carvings have been engraved onto flat rocks on the west side of the point. There are a number of shelters and middens nearby.

Longueville Park, Longueville

Engravings of a fish and an emu are to be found on the left hand side of the park near the waterfront at the end of Stuart Street. The engravings, which have been touched up and painted in recent times, are situated on a flat rock face above the water and have a timber barrier erected around them. The emu motif is thought to have been a totemic figure to the Dharug clan inhabiting this area. It occurs only in a small band along the foreshore on the northern side of the harbour and in the Lane Cove and Parramatta River Catchment areas, and then disappears until re-emerging in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park.

North Shore

Lane Cove National Park: Over 40 sites have been recorded within the park, however it is known that many of these were on the riverbank and were flooded by the building of the weir in 1938. Those that remain include shelters, cave art, engravings, middens and axe grinding grooves. A sunburst motif which survives is the only known example of its kind in the Sydney metropolitan area. Kangaroo or wallaby tracks, etched into a rock face above Browns waterhole, are the only such examples of animal tracks surviving in the Sydney region. A walking track through Fairyland cross a midden. A wombat, a sea creature and axe grinding grooves are carved into rock at the headwaters of Carters Creek.

Balls Head, Wollstonecraft

The outline of a 10m long whale-like creature is carved into rock on the left of the road leading into HMAS Waterhen. The engraving, which is fenced off, includes a man within the shape of the creature. Numerous other large engravings are located on other sections of the rocky outcrop upon which the creature is carved, however these are partly covered by the road, with sections of them having been destroyed when the road was built. During the early days of white settlement, the Wollstonecraft / Waverton area was well populated by Aborigines and this location appears to have been a sacred site, being high on a hill and offering commanding views of the harbour in both directions. These views are now obliterated by the nearby buildings and non-natural vegetation which covers the area. UBD Map 6 Ref H 7.
Four engravings have been found nearby by archaeologists who have removed soil from the bedrock of the old Coal Loader site. One depicts a man, another a fish, and there are two images of "spirit man". These newly discovered carvings add to the existing engraving (above) believed to be a picture of a whale.
Smaller engravings, six shell middens, two rock shelters and axe grinding grooves are located near the waterline towards the eastern and western tips of the headland but are not sign posted and may prove difficult to find. One of the shelters contains stencils of small fish and a hand, though they are barely visible these days. Alongside the lookout at the eastern end of the car park is a rockpool used to collect drinking water, and axe grinding grooves beside it.

Berry Island Reserve, Wollstonecraft: Follow the Gadyan Track and learn the story of the Cammeraigal who used the area as a campsite. Sites include numerous middens and a carving of a giant sea creature, a waterhole and axe grinding grooves. Regular walking tours of the Gadyan Track are conducted by the North Sydney Council (Tel 02 - 9936 8100), the guide being the Council's Aboriginal Heritage Officer.

Joseph Bugler Playing Field, Waverton: Traces of hand stencils and engravings are located on the rocks and overhangs above and around the path leading up from the reserve to Larkin Street. As they have been badly eroded and defaced, the inexperienced rock art explorer may have difficulty finding them.

Mosman: 79 known sites within the Mosman municipality have been catalogued though more are believed to exist. These are occupation sites (shelters, middens), religious or ceremonial sites and rock art sites. Many of course have been destroyed or lie under buildings, but many others are assumed by archaeologists to survive in the foreshore bushland. Ashton Park contains rock carvings of animals which are located near the steps going down to the beach on the eastern side of Bradleys Head.

Neutral Bay: next to sandstone cottage in Ben Boyd Road are rock carvings.

North and North West

Westleigh: A set of engravings are to be found on the Great North Walk bush track near the end of Quarter Sessions Road. Mainly fish and kangaroos, they are located off the main track on a rock face close to the corner of a backyard. Another group, on a large slab of rock, was removed from a nearby housing development site to its present location to save it from destruction. It has an observation ramp leading up to it from Quarter Sessions Road.

Hornsby: Over 100 Aboriginal sites have been recorded in the Hornsby region. These include engravings on sandstone ridges; rock shelters on the valley slopes containing cave paintings or drawing sites and archaeological deposits; open campsites and grinding grooves on valley floors; shell middens along tidal waterways; and scarred trees.

West Gordon: A rock shelf in the garden on Bolwara Avenue has a wallaby and 2 curved lines.

Ryde: Some 43 Aboriginal sites are recorded within the Ryde region. The building of roads and residences has seen most destroyed. Cave paintings were once common, but were few in number compared to other areas of Sydney. Few rock engravings have been found or recorded in the Ryde district though it is believed more existed before recording of them first began in the 1860s . A site at Settlers Park near Ryde bridge has a carving of a single flying duck which is rare for the Sydney area, and another carving representing a throwing weapon.

Winston Hills: An open campsite has been excavated and studied, the results suggesting an occupation date of between 5 000 and 6 000 years. Clan of the Dharug tribe occupied the Darling Mills Creek valley where the campsite is located.

Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park

This Park contains the largest collection of aboriginal art in the Sydney region. Over 200 groups of engravings are recorded. Most of the 1,110 individual figures have been carved onto horizontal sandstone slabs and vary in size from a few centimetres to 15 metres long. They include animals, fish, artefacts, people and ancestral beings. Three main sites - The Echidna Engraving Site, The Basin Engraving Site and The Elvina Engraving Site - are located off West Head Road between Elvina Nature Trail and West Head are all easily accessible and well signposted (UBD Map 77 Ref Q 15/B 8/F 9).
The art at the Basin Engraving Site is the easiest to view and recognise, the objects carved there include fish, a whale, male and female humans, boomerangs and a row of jumping wallabies. A few hand stencils (above), which are now barely visible due to weathering, can be viewed in an overhang on the Red Hands walking track near West Head. A large midden can be seen on the Sphinx track to Bobbin Head (UBD Map 134 Ref N 9). Engraving may also be seen on the Bobbin Head Road 200m inside the North Turramurra park entrance (UBD Map 134 Ref L 8).

Berowra Waters: On the eastern shoreline on vertical rockface are a wallaby and a circular object on the wall of a small rock shelter. 10 metres upstream are a shark, an eel, part of a kangaroo, parts of other worn figures at a place known as Shark Rock. 100 metres upstream on a vertical rock face are figures of headless men with 5 fish superimposed on the body and part of another worn object.

Moonie Moonie Point, Hawkesbury River: Flat rock surfaces extending 200 metres along the edge of the water on the west side of the point within the grounds of Peat Island Mental Hospital is a 3 metre long kangaroo. It has been damaged by road construction. A pipe has been laid across it. The main group 250 metres north is of men, an emu, an eel, 2 small wallabies (now worn away) and a kangaroo. A partly covered stingray is one of many carvings mainly covered over by road construction. On he west side of Big Bay on Moonie Moonie Point on a flat rock are a 12 metres long long, part of a kangaroo and unidentified lines that are all weathered.

Brisbane Water National Park: There are over 350 sites recorded in the Gosford region, mostly engravings of animals, birds, marine creatures, animals, bird tracks, human footsteps, male and female figures, hunting weapons and ancestral beings.

Bulgandry: 17 engravings and numerous axe grinding grooves are visible 2 km south west of Kariong off Woy Woy Road. The site is well sign posted.

Devil's Rock, Maroota: In an area near Wiseman's Ferry and adjacent to the extreme north-west corner of Marramara National Park are 12 groups of engravings. These include a ceremonial stone arrangement, 4 sets of axe grinding grooves, 3 rock shelters, 2 scarred trees and an open air campsite. Access to the site, via Laughtondale Gully Road, is restricted, and subject to special arrangement with the local National Parks and Wildlife Service office. Main rock platform includes 83 engravings and 54 axe grinding grooves. Engravings include boomerangs, fish, eels, human and bird tracks, a shield and boomerangs. Also of interest are motifs of European contact, which are rare in the Sydney region. These include a sailing ship, a man in a top hat and a woman in a crinoline dress.

Muogamarra Nature Reserve: Numerous examples of rock art, including whale feasting, can be found on rock faces beside Muogamarra Creek. Access is via a section of old convict built road on the Great North Walk beyond Berowra Waters on a large, flat rock shelf above Bird Gully near where the road meets the Bird Gully Track.

Bouddi National Park, Broken Bay

There are many sites throughout the park, particularly around Hardys, Rileys, Fisherman and Empire Bays.

Mangrove Creek, Spencer: Many sites have been recorded within Dharug National Park. Those around the lower and middle reaches of Mangrove Creek between Mangrove Creek and Spencer beside or off the walking tracks are the most accessible.

Blue Mountains

Walls Cave, Blackheath: An economic site where traces of aboriginal occupation has been found. Evidence still remaining includes scraping grooves.

King's Table, Wentworth Falls: The western spur contains 84 axe grinding grooves. 40 grooves are visible on the eastern spur's rocky top 400m south-west of the King's Table trig point. A nearby rock shelter has some rock art, mainly a pair of emu's feet.

Red Hand's Cave, near Glenbrook

Dozens of paintings, mainly hand stencils, are visible 10 mins. walk from the Red Hands picnic area. The paintings are protected by a perspex screen.

Woodford/Glenbrook: 57 sites, many of which were ceremonial and contain rock engravings and stone arrangements, occur on the ridge line running north and south from Woodford between Linden and Glenbrook.

Ticehurst Park, Springwood: A set of engravings tell the story of an emu hunt.

Eagles Reach, Wollemi National Park

A chance discovery by a hiker in the Wollomi National Park has been hailed as one of the most significant finds of Aboriginal rock art in Australia's history - a cave containing more than 200 paintings, some believed to be 4,000 years old. The cave was found by a hiker in 1995 in a remote part of the national park, but the site is so inaccessible that researchers were not able to visit it for a number of years. The exact location is being kept secret to stop it being damaged by vandals or sightseers. There are 11 layers of more than 200 paintings, stencils and prints in different styles, spanning a period from around 2000 BC to the early 19th century. The paintings feature people and godlike human-animal composites as well as birds, lizards and marsupials. More ... | Photos



The most important surviving artwork site in the environs of Cooks River at Undercliffe contains 23 white hand stencils, two of them with forearms. At the site there are also two foot stencils, which are rare in the Sydney region, and an extensive midden. The site is on private property and has no public access.

La Perouse: A carving of a large sea creature, possibly a whale, and its calf, was once clearly visible on the rocks at the southern end of Frenchmans Bay. Identified as being 120 metres south west of the La Perouse monument, the whale is 10 metres long and the calf half that length. Little of the carving is visible today, thanks to wind, water and foot erosion, being located at a spot which has been frequented by fishermen and visitors for over a hundred years. A carving of a shark and two unidentified objects, possibly weapons or tools such as an axe, are known to have existed 180 metres away. On a boulder like rock 30 metres north east of the fish were two carvings of boomerangs, one with a reverse curve.

Rocky Point, Sans Souci: 3 fish and a short V line are still visible below the high water mark on rocks on the south-west side of the point. These engravings are well preserved but are often covered by sand and/or water.

Georges River: Rock art, axe grinding grooves and middens are common around the bays of the Georges River. Middens are still visible at Alfords Point, Connells Point, Lime Kiln Bay, the largest midden being on Jewfish Bay, Oatley Park.

Sylvania: An Aboriginal Rock Shelter exists on a property on the Georges River waterfront. Located halfway up a sandstone cliff face, the midden contained shells of rock oysters, Sydney cockles and pink frilled murex. Human teeth and parts of two skeletons were found on the site in 1982.  The teeth were 2 molars and one premolar which probably belonged to a teenager judging by how unworn they are. A basalt hand axe also found was not made of local stone so it must have been made by another group of Aboriginals from another area and then traded. It was a common practice for the local community to trade axe blanks from further down the coast, usually from around Batemans Bay. On the site there are also ashes and charcoal raked out of cooking fires. There are many places in the northward facing overhang where water drips from the roof of the shelter, even when there hasn't been rain for weeks. Under one such drip there is a sandstone 'bowl' where the Aborigines probably collected water at a rate of 1.5 litres an hour. There are rock shelves which appear to have been used to store things. They are smeared with clay to make them smooth, the finger marks are still visible. On the wall are several child's and adult's hand stencils made by blowing red ochre. Like the basalt axe, the ochre would have been brought in from elsewhere.

South (continued)

Kurnell: Shell middens exist on the shores of Botany Bay near where Lt. James Cook came ashore in 1770. Elsewhere in the Kurnell section of Botany Bay National Park are middens, burial sites and at least two engravings of fish and footprints.

Burraneer Point, Burraneer

17 sites have been recorded on the Burraneer Point, however most are now on private property and cannot be accessed. A fish is carved into a rock at the Recreation Reserve at the end of Woolooware Road South (below). The rock is not in its natural state, having been moved to its present location during construction of the reserve's car park. A vertical rock art site with numerous well preserved engravings is located on Burraneer Point. Access by land to the site is not possible as it is on private property, however it is visible by boat and is pointed out to passengers on certain cruises of Port Hacking. Burrells Boatshed, near the Wahgunyah Cliffs on Gunnamatta Bay, was the site of many fine rock carvings which were destroyed when the boatshed was built in 1920.

Darook Park, Cronulla: Numerous rock carvings occur on private property overlooking the park. In the park itself, there are many rocks containing axe grinding grooves and numerous middens. An eel and a small animal (koala?) are carved on the sloping rear wall of a rock shelter on Gunnamatta Bay. Many overhangs on the shores of the bay are stained by the smoke from Aboriginal cooking fires.

Lilli Pilli Point: 3 groups of rock carvings and numerous middens have been recorded at numerous points around the Lilli Pilli peninsular, particularly the point which can be accessed by a walking track (they are not sign posted, however). Middens can also be seen at other points along the shores of the Port Hacking River, including Little Moon and Great Moon Bays, Yowie Bay, Gymea Bay, Beauty Point and Greys Point.

Gymea Bay: Rock shelters used by Aborigines are found around the shores of Gymea Bay. Flints, a skull and bone implements have been found by archaeologists during an excavation on Yowie Point.

Lucas Heights: Spear sharpening grooves are visible on the rocks surrounding a creek bed in bushland opposite the entrance to the AAEC Research Establishment on New Illawarra Road. The area is believed to have been a "bora" where tribal meetings and ceremonies were held. More sites located in the area contain engravings of a wallaby with young in its pouch, and what is believed to be a koala, however public access is forbidden as they are within the Holsworthy Military Area.


A rock shelf in a front yard in Short Street, Heathcote, contains a carving of a 2 metre long snake. There is much evidence of Aboriginal occupation in Heathcote National Park though most is not clearly identified to protect it from vandals. Of particular interest is a rock shelter used by Aborigines located beside the Bullawaring Track between Kingfisher Pool and Myuna Pools. The shelter, its roof blackened by the cooking fires of the Aborigines, once contained hand stencils on its walls but these have been obliterated by graffiti. Alongside the overhang is a rare surviving example of a scarred tree from which the bark has been cut away to form a shield (above). The shape of the shield is visible even though the tree is old and has been affected by bushfires.

Waterfall: On the north side of Yanagong Street 70 metres west of Princes Highway on a small patch of rock level with the ground between the carriageway and the road fence are 2 kangaroos. 2.4 km north of Waterfall 700 metres north west of the Trig Station on the west side of Princes Highway on a large rock at the south west end of the saddle 60 metres west of the transmission line are 3 large mythical creatures crossed by kangaroo tracks. Adjoining them are bird tracks and a bird in flight. The site has views to Heathcote Creek.

Darkes Forest: 65 metres south west of Old Illawarra Road leading from Darkes Forest to Liverpool 100 metres west of where the road crosses Woronora River on flat topped rock outcrops are 6 figures - kangaroos and 6 human figures. 20 metres west are 2 similar human figures. 3.2 km north west of Darkes Forest post Office north east of the main road on a rocky outcrop on the southern side of the head of the creek in a marshy area are 2 men, footprints, and 10 metres south, a kangaroo.

Royal National Park

Hundreds of sites have been recorded in the Sutherland district, those within the National Park's boundaries being the easiest to find and access. Middens are visible at Curracurrong Cove and Era and Garie beaches. More ...

Jibbon Headland

Engravings are visible on the walking track from Bundeena to Marley Head and numerous whales and sea creatures are carved into rock on Jibbon headland. The latter are well signposted with descriptions and interpretations of the art. Depicted are wobbegong sharks, fish, a whale, boomerangs and shields.

Cabbage Tree Creek

There is considerable evidence of Aboriginal occupation along the banks of this creek and The Basin. It is believed that the members of the Dharawal people lived here as late as the 1870s, making it one of the last areas in the Sydney region to have been occupied by the Aborigines in their pre-colonial lifestyle. This area was once rich in mddens, rock engravings and cave paintings, but many have been lost or are disappearing through vandalism, pollution or erosion by the elements. Axe grinding grooves and engravings of fish and animals are still visible. Numerous overhangs were used as campsites, as evidenced by their smoke-darkened roofs. Hand stencils are now rare but middens are plenteous on the shores of The Basin.

Audley: alongside the road from Audley to Fishermans Bay 100 metres south of turnoff to Costens Bay are engravings a flat rock surfaces scattered throughout the scrub on the ridge. These include a man with a three-pronged head-dress and circles and ovals 20 metres to the north. 130 metres west of the road on the southern edge of a large, level rock surface are two whales facing each other. 80 metres north is another whale in the centre of a large rock surface sloping down to the north. Both sites have commanding views to Port Hacking and South West Arm.

Wattamolla: Sites at Wattamolla Beach have been excavated by archaeologists and show it to have been a specialised fishing site. Between Wattamolla Road and Curracurrong Creek are two kangaroos. On the north side of the camping area overlooking the Wattamolla Inlet is a 1 metre long fish and the remains of human figures that have been defaced by vandals. 50 metres west of the coast road at a point 2.6 km south east of the Wattamolla turnoff are a number of rock faces with carvings. These include 3 male figures, 6 men in a line, and very faint axe grooves.

Curracurrang: The Curracurrang area has eight rock shelters, some of which have been excavated, revealing evidence of occupation, and two small groups of engravings, both sign posted, are located on a small outcrop at the extreme north-western end of a large rock platform about 150m west of the fire trail. A shelter at Curracurrang is one of the oldest sites found in the Sydney region, showing evidence of Aboriginal habitation up to 7,500 years ago.

South West

Sandy Bay: Numerous Aboriginal cultural sites occur around Harris Creek in Sydney's south west. At Sandy point there is a rock shelter with red hand stencils. There were originally over 20 but erosion and vandalism has resulted in most of them becoming damaged or erased.

Holsworthy Military Area

The Holsworthy bushland retains many indigenous sites and has been referred to as "Sydney's Kakadu". There are more than 500 significant Tharawal sites in the area including campsites, tool making sites and rock art. The art is mostly engravings of hands, boomerangs and animals. The main difference between the Holsworthy art samples and others in the Sydney region is that red and white pigment appears to have been used equally for hand stencils while in other samples red clearly dominated. Charcoal, however, was the most commonly used pigment for artwork. The area also features a number of engraving sites. All of these are well preserved and appear to be telling a story.
The presence of the firing range since 1912 has restricted public access and urban development, resulting in most of the sites having been preserved in pristine condition. The majority of sites are located around the many watercourses which pass through the area. Located on a key travel route for trade purposes between the Cabrogal clan of the Dharug Tribe, which was centred on the Cumberland Plain, and the Tharawal on the south coast. The sites recorded at Holsworthy include rock shelters, ochre stencils and carvings of animals and spirit figures. They are contained in 219 shelters with art and/or deposit, one shelter deposit, 69 axe grinding groove sites, five engraving sites, eleven grooves and engravings sites and one open site. Featured motifs include red and white stencilled hands, feet, boomerangs, wombats, macropods, fish, eels, turtles, bats, emus, birds, lizards and other animals.
The open campsite is where tools were made and exposes an indigenous industry with artefacts from the coast and up to the mountains having been found there. Of particular interest is an Aboriginal carving of a four-masted sailing ship, believed to depict James Cook's Endeavour, a rare record of exceptional interest relating to the earliest contact between the new arrivals and the indigenous Australians.

Campbelltown region: 184 items at 27 sites have been recorded in the Campbelltown region, particularly around Georges River, Harris Creek and Mt. Gilead. A further 95 items at 20 sites have been recorded on the east side of the Georges River around Williams Creek and Punchbowl Creek. These include people, bulls, lizards, dogs (dingoes), mythological figures, birds wallabies, humans and emu tracks.

Wedderburn: Cubbitch Barta National Area and the O'Hares Creek National Estate Area have both been recognised for their rich Aboriginal heritage value. There is at least one scarred tree. It is unusual for such a tree to survive in the Sydney Basin, especially in an area where agriculture has been practised for over one hundred years. Seven rock art caves, three grinding groove sites and one dwelling cave have been found.

Bull Cave, Minto Heights

As well as kangaroos, human figures and 11 mundoes (footprints) in red ochre, the cave paintings here depict a group of large mammals which resemble bulls. Researchers believe the paintings are genuinely Aboriginal, that they were drawn after 1788 and depict the progeny of cattle which escaped from the colony of Sydney in 1788. These cattle were found at Cow Pastures, which is close to Bulls Cave, by the first white settlers in the Macarthur district 15 years later after their escape. Sadly, the art in this and other overhangs in the area has been badly damaged by vandals.

Broughton Pass Aboriginal Massacre Site, Appin

By July, 1813 Europeans had begun to encroach on Dharawal land, having established farms in the Appin area. While the Dharawal tried to continue to live peacefully, Aborigines from other areas were also in the vicinity, having been displaced from their traditional lands, placing pressure on food supplies and increasing tension. Gov. Macquarie had endeavoured to abide by the British Government's instructions to ensure that British subjects attempt to live in 'amity and kindness' with the indigenous population. However, between 1814 and 1816 relations between Aborigines and Europeans in the Appin area became hostile, perhaps exacerbated by a severe drought which further increased pressures on the scarce food supplies. In May, 1814 three members of the militia fired on Aboriginals on two farms at Appin, killing a boy. This led to retaliation by the Aborigines, followed by further violence by whites. Over the next two years hostilities escalated and came to a head in March 1816, when members of the Gundangara attacked settlers, killing some and destroying property. It was in response to these attacks that Macquarie felt compelled to 'inflict terrible and exemplary punishments' on the Aborigines. He ordered three military detachments of the 46th Regiment, under the command of Capt. Wallis to be dispatched to Windsor, Liverpool and the Cowpastures to deal with the 'Natives' by 'punishing and clearing the country of them entirely, and driving them across the mountains.'
Early one morning he and his men came across the Dharawal men's camp at Appin. They slaughtered the men and cut off the heads of fourteen elders to take back to Sydney. While Wallis returned to Sydney, civilians, including stockmen, remained and continued to hunt down the Dharawal. They found the camp where women and children were staying, shot or trampled them under their horses' hooves and drove them over the cliffs of Broughton Pass.
The massacre annihilated the Dharawal people destroying their way of life and social structure. There numbers had already been decimated by disease and hostilities since European occupation but after the massacres of 1816 it is estimated that there were less than 30 remaining. Broughton Pass is located 5.5 km south west of Appin on the road to Picton.

The Kurrajong and Dooligah Trees, Mt. Annan Botanic Gardens: Two trees of significance to the Dharawal Aboriginal people are situated in the Yandel'ora area of Mt. Annan Botanic Garden. The trees formed a strong association with the way of life, customs, traditions and philosophies of the Aboriginal population of south-eastern Australia. The location of the trees within the traditional lawmaking area of Yandel'ora demonstrates their role in teaching children the laws of their group. The Dooligah tree is a particularly rare example because it is over 500 years old and demonstrates the survival of a story dating from long before European contact, being associated with the Watun Goori legend of the Dharawal people.

Lake Gilinganadum and Lake Nadungamba, Mt. Annan Botanic Gardens: Located in the north-west section of Mt. Annan Botanic Garden, these artificial lakes, created from dams remnant from the pastoral era and created in a creek and wetland system, have significance in local Aboriginal culture in that the site has deep associations with the lawmaking and dispute resolution practices of the Aboriginal peoples of south-eastern Australia. It was the only major inter-tribal lawmaking site in South-Eastern Australia and was a meeting place for Aboriginal groups from all over that region. The Aboriginal names of the lakes mean, 'lake of the frog' and 'lake of the child' respectively. The area in which the lakes are located is known by the Dharawal people as Yandel'ora, meaning 'the Land of Peace between Peoples'.

Menangle Eel Farm: 2 hectares of systematic pondage on Lyre Bird Creek, a minor tributary of the Nepean, the Menangle eel farm was used for eel farming by the local Aborigines. It is a rare example of sustainable farming practised by Aboriginal people, as opposed to hunting and gathering activities, their normal practice, which represented by sites such as the Brewarrina Fish Traps. The eel farm provided an essential food supply for the large cyclical population which took up extended residence in the area over 3 to 4 year cycles and is thus associated with the traditional way of life of the Aboriginal population and their occupation of the area. While the activity of eel farming is no longer practised, the site is important to descendants of the Dharawal because of its association with their ancestors and as evidence of their way of life and occupation of the land.

Dharawal state conservation area

The overhangs near the creeks of the Upper Nepean River in this locality are full of rock art that differs considerably from that found in the inner Sydney region. The art here appears more recent - some believe much of it was produced in the colonial era. The medium used is charcoal rather than the more traditional red and white ochres, which indicates the art was more spontaneous and possible produced "on the run". See story.

Northern Beaches

Gumbooya Reserve, Allambie Heights

68 rock carvings including fish, hunting implements, a dolphin and a large human figure which appears to be inside or on top of a whale. The carvings, which are well sign posted and fenced, are in a location which offers panoramic views up and down the coast, as well as inland, an indication it was in all probability a sacred site..
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Warriewood: numerous engravings, the least worn being a series of eels and a spear, are to be found near Narrabeen Creek.

Palm Beach: Many of the rocky headlands along the northern beaches contain rock carvings of some description, however most are faded due to exposure to wind, rain and surf. The engravings of fish, human footprints, a goanna, a boomerang, and some fish, located at the southern end of Palm Beach, are some of the easiest to find. Another site exists on private property on Pacific Road. Located high on a ridge and offering extensive views to the ocean and Pittwater, the site contains an engraving of a man with a fish inside the outline.

Eastern Suburbs

Point Piper: A set of carvings, being one of the last remaining 6 of 74 such sites known to have existed on the point, have been preserved through property owners in Wunnulla Road building their house around them. Still in pristine condition, they include a whale, fish and several men. Access is gained through a trap door under the house, however, being on private property, they are not open for inspection to the public.
An engraving of a man wearing a ruff around his neck, and armour on his knees and elbows, may still exist on a neighbouring property. Australian inventor and pioneer aviator Lawrence Hargraves, who once lived on the property containing the site, did extensive studies of the carvings and concluded the engravings proved that Spanish sailors, possibly from the "Lope de Vega" which sailed for The Great Southland from Jakarta in 1524 never to be heard of again, visited the Sydney area long before James Cook (1770).
On the extremity of the point 6 metres above water level there was a section of undulating surfaced rock which terminated with a large bounder-like rock. Across the surface of this rock was a 8 metre long whale. In its centre was a small circle with badly weathered fish on the north and south side of it. Two other fish were near the whale's tale, then a shield and another fish. 15 metres south east on a boulder like rock was a carving of a man with arms and legs outspread dance fashion with a figure of a deity. On a flat surface 10 metres further on was a kangaroo. 2 metres south east are two fish with footsteps across them (partly covered by soil). Below the rock in a shelter is a midden and the carving of a kangaroo.

Milk Beach, Vaucluse: Fish, shields and human figures have been carved into the rocks near the waterline. Often covered by sand, they are best viewed after heavy rain or at low tide. The remains of two hand stencils and a painting of a boomerang are situated in an overhang between Shark Bay and Bottle & Glass Point. They are not sign posted and due to weathering, are hard to find. Various engravings in the area surrounding Greycliffe House are known to National Parks & Wildlife rangers located there, but they do not divulge information on their whereabouts and rock art hunters must find them for themselves.

South Head

Cut on the expanse of flat bare rock at the top of the cliff on which the Hornby Lighthouse and cottages were built is the remnant of a group of carvings, possibly damaged by building operations. At the north end of the group is a fish, towards the middle of the group is a small whale, a 2 metres long fish and fragments of a wallaby. Only a fish remains on the rock facing North Head alongside the pill box next to the lighthouse. On the south east side of the lighthouse is a kangaroo and a fish. South of the lighthouse was a swordfish, the original pathway cut off its snout. The path has since been widened and the remainder of the fish has been buried under section of the path and grass. Towards the harbour side of the headland cut on several small patches of rock and level with the surface of the ground are two skates and a small shark.
Lady Bay, South Head: On a ledge of rock extending across the head of Lady Bay a few feet higher than the top of the masonry wall are the engravings of 2 large fish and several, very weathered ones on the rocks above the water to the south. On top of the rocky point at the south end of Lay Bay are portions of a kangaroo, other animals and a shield. All are badly weathered.

Watsons Bay: On the low ridge on the south side of Vaucluse Bay on a small patch of rock are weathered images of kangaroos. On the northern side of the small bay at the end of Keele Street is a boulder-like rock with the remnants of a fish engraved on it. 180 metres south on a narrow surface of rough rock nearly level with the ground, some 40 metres from the beach was the figure of a man. In a rock shelter to the south and on the beach, 40 metres from the figure of a man was two figures cut into an overhanging face of rock, one being a turtle, the other a man or deity.

Signal Hill, Watsons Bay: On south side of Signal Hill Fortifications on the sea cliff at its highest point is the carving of a fish. At the lower portion of The Gap, on a ledge commanding views right up the harbour to Garden Island in the area where the land slopes gently towards the harbour are the remnants of a series of engravings. These included a hammerhead shark (a characteristic inhabitant of Port Jackson), a bandicoot, wallaby and fish to the north. Near them were a large kangaroo and four wallabies, two of which have been completely weathered away.

Rodney Reserve, Dover Heights: On a small patch of rock 14 metres from the sea cliff in the area of the reserve off Raleigh Street was the figure of a man in warlike or corroborree gesture.

Murriverie Rocks, Williams Park, North Bondi

Located beyond the golf course on the rocks above the ocean, the site features a number of Aboriginal engravings, including sharks, fish, men and women. Many of the carvings were re-grooved at the local council's request in 1951. | More information

To their north-east is another group, some of which appear to be of non-Aboriginal origin. One carving in this group is of a Spanish sailing ship. Aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave extensively researched the engraving and concluded it is of a Spanish caravel and not a British sailing ship as was once thought. He believed it was made by the crew of the Santa Yzabel which left Spain in 1595 to establish a colony in the Solomon Islands and is evidence that Spanish vessels sailed the east coast of Australia long before Captain Cook visited our shores in 1770. Many historians view this explanation as more fanciful than likely, but whatever its origin, the carvings are definitely not Aboriginal. UBD Map 258 Ref C 1.

Bondi Beach: On the low edge of the low cliff on the west side of Ben Buckler Point halfway from Bondi Beach to the point and 9 metres above sea level is a whale that has been partly destroyed by erosion. 3 metres from the whale's head is a turtle. Further south at a higher level is an eel or shield on a small patch of rock level with the ground.

Centennial Park: On a flat rock in the saddle of the ridge between Fox Studios and Centennial Park on an old cart crossing (now Dharwal Street) below a quarry was a group of engravings comprising of 2 boomerangs, a kangaroo or wallaby and a waddy.

Mackenzies Point, Tamarama

A large sea creature, possibly a whale, is carved into a large rock above the cliffs. UBD Map 258 Ref P 6.

Coogee Bay: On rock in about the middle of the recreational reserve on the north of of the bay were four small fish.

Long Bay: On the north side of the bay 140 metres from the sandy cliff at the head of the bay was a carving of a sunfish. The carving was on rocks on the foreshore.

Little Head, Little Bay: On the top of Little Head north of the point and 15 metres from the trig station was a small wallaby and a fish. 200 metres to the south east on a low flat rock above the sea beach were carvings of a shoal of bream.

Bumborah Point, Phillip Bay: behind Botany Cemetery on a smooth rocky surface 6 metres above the high water mark are 2 large fish 5 metres long and several small fish. Only remnants of one of the large fish remain today.

Maroubra Bay: On the hillside on the north side of the bay on the coast where a foot track passes 200 metres south of Athol Park House was a 6.5 metres long shark, a man and a human footprint on the west side of the shark.

North Harbour

Beauty Point: A cave on the shores of Beauty Point on Middle Harbour, known as Red Hand Cave, contains a gallery of hand stencils painted with red ochre.

Cammeray: A rock shelter, smoked by thousands of cooking fires, contains the ashes of fires below the surface of the park which was filled in to create the playing fields.

The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach: A rock shelter, which is open to public view, has been preserved at the southern end of The esplanade, Balmoral opposite the swimming pool.

Taylors Bay: Rock carvings of kangaroos are visible on the rock face at the head of the bay. These are rare examples of carvings on a vertical face in the Sydney area.

Obelisk Bay: Rock carvings of fish and hunting implements have been found near the remains of a shell midden.

Dobroyd Head: Axe grinding grooves and rock carvings of footprints, known as mundoes (pronounced mun-doe-eez), have been found on the rocks below Scenic Drive.

Washaway Beach, Grotto Point

Engraving site contains numerous illustrations of a small kangaroo, a large kangaroo with tail buried, a large fish, a dolphin and an emu. The engravings are marked by heavy timber guard rails which make them easy to find. The engraving of the large kangaroo with its tail buried is not considered to be a genuine Aboriginal carving.

Reef Beach, Clontarf: Fish and shields have been carved into the tessellated rocks. These carvings are badly weathered and may only be visible only after a storm. A midden stretches the whole length of the beach. Visitors are warned that this is used by locals as a nudist beach. UBD Map 197 Ref E 13.

Forty Baskets Beach, Balgowlah Heights: Hand stencils and carvings of a kangaroo, emu, shark, fish, boomerang are well preserved in a rock shelter near the beach, however they are not sign posted and are not easy to find.

Middle Harbour

There are 76 known Aboriginal sites on the shores of Middle Harbour. A combination of rock shelters, middens and rock art, they appear around Castle Cove, Castlecrag, Middle Cove and Northbridge. The hand stencils above, some of which are not genuine Aboriginal art, are in an overhang near the Roseville Bridge.

Little Sirius Cove, Manly: A shell midden can be found at the north-east corner of the cove. UBD Map 216 Ref Q 13.

Quarantine Station, North Head: Numerous sites can be found around Quarantine and Store Beaches. These include hand stencils in rock shelters and engravings, mainly of fish, below an escarpment east of Constitution Monument. Red ochre drawings of three kangaroos have been recorded at nearby Store Beach. Access to the Station is restricted to organised tours only. UBD Map 218 Ref C 1.

Bantry Bay

The most extensive single group of carvings in the Sydney metropolitan area are located on a rocky outcrop on the hillside above Bantry Bay and accessed via the Engravings Track alongside Wakehurst Parkway 400m south of the end of Bantry Bay Road. There are some 82 figures, including two mundoes, people, animals, fish, shields, a canoe, a basket and bag, boomerangs, circles, stone axes and clubs, snakes and a whale. One group of figures shows two men, one of whom is carrying bark canoes. Other engravings occur in the surrounding bush land but they are not easy to find as they are not marked and often in locations where fallen leaves and other bush debris have covered them. Middens and rock shelters can be seen on the shores of the bay. Tool sharpening grooves have been found near the engravings and creek beds.

Manly Vale: A large selection of carvings can be found on flat rocks beside a creek which runs into the Manly Reservoir halfway along its length. They depict a whale, fish, human figures, kangaroos, a man wearing a body belt (believed to represent a spiritual being) and another man spearing a fish. These and other sites, including campsites and axe grinding grooves are featured on the Gulgadya Muru Grass Tree Self Guided Walking Track around the dam.

Other websites documenting Aboriginal art sites in the Sydney region