Cannon Hill, Alligator River
Aboriginal occupation and rock art site occur throughout three
residual outliers of the Arnhem Land plateau around East Alligator
River - Cannon Hill, Hawk's Dreaming and Obiri Rock. This region
contains a concentration or Aboriginal rock art of such variety and
quality of content that they have contributed greatly to the
understanding of Australian rock art and its development.
Over 50 art sites have been recorded in the Cannon Hill area, that
feature a wide variety of styles. This includes a number of distinctive
hunting figures as well as X-ray style paintings of kangaroos, fish and
other animals. Most of the painting occur in shelters, but there are
numerous motifs of people that do not. Under ledges, in crevices and on
small rock faces are frequently found human figures; men are in red
ochre, women are in white. Scattered on the floor of one shelter are
several large grindstones. Access to the area is restricted.
Hawk's Dreaming, East Alligator River
This locality has one of the largest concentrations of Aboriginal
sites in this region, including a large stone arrangement, rock art and
archaeological sites and a number of mortuary caves. Cockatoo Woman
Cave has a painting of a woman with male and female figures within her
body. Another figure is depicted with a body made up of concentric
circles. In other shelters, the more traditional figures, such as men
and women, animals and spirit beings occur regularly in shelters. One
such being is Nabulwinjbulwinj, a dangerous spirit who eats females
after striking them with a yam. His name is pronounced
The walls of one cave near the Small Labyrinth at the northern end
of Hawk's Dreaming are covered with large engraving, similar to
grinding grooves. Evidence that cave artistry occurred in recent times
here is seen in a number of motifs painted during the period of
European occupation. At Warlkada there is a ship, a man wearing a hat
and European clothes, a cat and even the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Excavation of deposits in the large open shelter of Nawamyon has
revealed faunal remains as well as stone and bone tools. Of
significance is a series of edge-ground tools, dated as 21,500 years
old. Access to the area is restricted.
Obiri Rock (Ubirr), East Alligator River
This locality has over 120 art sites in a range of styles and
located mainly in shelters. In the large shelters, early paintings have
been painted over with large multi-coloured art. People, animals,
running hunting figures and mythological beings are all represented in
the art here. Painted in red ochre are figures of Europeans with guns.
One pictures shows a spider being knocked down by water spurting from
the mouth of an archer fish.
Groups of Aboriginal people camped in rock shelters around Ubirr to
take advantage of the enormous variety of foods available from the East
Alligator River, the Nadab floodplain, the woodlands, and the
surrounding stone country.
The rock overhang of the main gallery provided an area where a
family could set up camp. Food items were regularly painted on the back
wall, one on top of the other, to pay respect to the particular animal,
to ensure future hunting success, or to illustrate a noteworthy catch.
Among the animals painted in the main gallery are barramundi, catfish,
mullet, goannas, long-necked turtles, pig-nosed turtles, rock ring tail
possums, and wallabies. Although Aboriginal people no longer live in
the shelter, the animals depicted are still hunted for food today.
Most of the X-ray art in the main gallery such as the kangaroo above
is from the freshwater period, so it is less than 1500 years old. There
are also some interesting examples of contact art. One 'white fella' is
depicted in trousers, shirt and boots and with his hands in his
pockets; another, with a pipe in his mouth and his hands on his hips,
is 'bossing us Aboriginal people around'. These figures are probably
early buffalo hunters painted around the 1880s. Buffalo hunters
employed Aboriginal people to help them hunt and run buffalo camps-they
paid them with 'a little bit of tucker and some tobacco'.
Close to the main gallery is a painting of a thylacine (Tasmanian
tiger). Archaeological evidence suggests that thylacines became extinct
on the mainland about 2000 to 3000 years ago. The Namarrgarn
(pronounced nar-marr-garn) Sisters are depicted at Ubirr pulling string
apart. They live in the stars, from where they can throw down pieces of
string, attach them to people's organs, quickly travel down the string,
and make people very sick.
A painting by Mimi spirits can be seen high up on the ceiling of the
overhang. Aboriginal people describe how the Mimi spirits came out of
the cracks in the rocks, pulled the ceiling rock down, painted the
yellow and red sorcery image, and then pushed the rock back into place.
Rainbow Serpents, or Rainbow Snakes, are powerful Creation Ancestors
that are known to many Aboriginal people throughout Australia. They are
believed to be one of the oldest artistic symbols used in the world and
seem to hold value and power wherever they are depicted. Rainbow
Serpents have different names in different languages throughout
Australia. At Ubirr the Rainbow Serpent is known as Garranga'rreli
(pronounced garr-rarn-gar-ree-lee). In her human form, she was called
Birriwilk and travelled through this area with another woman looking
for sweet lily roots. As she passed through Ubirr she painted her image
on the rock to remind people of her presence. She rested in the forest
at Manngarre, digging a hole in the cool sand.
The heap of sand from the hole became a rock where a huge banyan
tree now grows: the raised walkway on the Manngarre rainforest walk
passes over the rock. Birriwilk stopped to rest in the East Alligator
River: the round rocks in the middle of the River near Cahills Crossing
mark the place where she rested. From here she crossed the River into
Arnhem Land, where she remains in a quiet water hole. Her visit to
Ubirr is part of a Creation pathway that links Ubirr with Manngarre,
the East Alligator River, and other places in Arnhem Land.
The sites can be reached by following a 1-kilometre circular walking
track from the Ubirr car park. The walk takes about an hour.
In 2009, Traditional owners in the Northern Territory have revealed
a piece of rock art they believe is a painting of the first European to
cross the Arnhem Land plateau. The artwork is believed to depict
Prussian explorer Ludwig Leichhardt as he travelled through Arnhem Land
in 1845. The rock art site was rediscovered more than a decade earlier,
but traditional owners have only now decided to make the find public.
Australian Rock Art Research Association member and tourism coordinator
Andy Ralph says the markings suggest it could be the first time the
artist encountered a European. He says most rock art images in the area
show gun toting buffalo hunters dating to the turn of the 20th century,
but this image is much older.
Varying levels of the escarpment, the base and the plateau at the
top of this area contain a variety of art sites number over 200. Many
are sacred, totemic sites of deeply religious significance and
excavations in the area indicate most of the site are over 20,000 years
old. The permanence of water in the Deaf Adder Creek ensured the
Aboriginal peoples frequented this place regularly as it would have
been a good source of fish, water birds and game. Up and down the
watercourse around the permanent water holes are extensive rock art
galleries depicting a range of ages and styles, from simple red ochre
to X-ray style illustrations of animals and the period of European
contact. People with animal heads, people shapes like yams and
mythological being like the Lightning Man and Rainbow Snake are
Most of the food species are represented, including Barramundi,
which are seen in both their earlier depictions in red ochre and the
later X-ray style. Near them are hands painted, stencilled or printed.
An extensive gallery of humans and animals in X-ray still is a feature
at Djurrugu. Painted some 40 metres along an extended cliff, the often
superimposed figures are multi-coloured and number around 80 human
figures and 150 animals, the latter representing the region's most
important food species. Accompanying them are paintings of mythological
beings, sacred ceremonial objects and paintings from the years of
Hundreds of human and animal figures, located on well protected
walls and ceilings of shelters, are located at two major art sites at
Mt. Gilruth on its north side. One gallery is at its base, another,
some 300 metres long, is in the gorge below. The paintings here are of
the early rock art styles and include the now extinct Thylacines, the
The Lindner site of Naulabila, a major archaeological site in the
area, is situated in a shelter formed by a high sloping boulder. The
site had a long history of contact with the local Aborigines;
carbon-dating indicates the site was occupied up to 20,000 years ago,
and as recently as 1900 it was frequented by Aborigines, both in their
day to day activities and for rituals. The site has yielded a variety
of stone implements and appears to have been a place where blanks from
nearby quarries were brought to be retouched. Access to the Deaf adder
Creek area is restricted.