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Bunuba rock art maintenance

Steve Heggie (Healthy Landscape Manager)
Published 20 Jul 2016 by Steve Heggie (Healthy Landscape Manager)

Steve Heggie is currently stationed in the Kimberly to work with Bunuba Traditional Owners as they set about planning to manage their country in partnership with Bush Heritage Australia.

The Kimberly is well known for its Aboriginal rock art, particularly the celebrated Wanjina paintings of the coastal areas such as found within the Bush Heritage/Wunambal Gaambera indigenous partnership area.

Here in the western Kimberly, Bunuba rock art sets itself apart with an amazing diversity of rock art styles and ages. It reflects the geological landscape and biology of the land that Bunuba people inhabit – spanning the regional ecotones of desert, grasslands and rangelands through to the borders between Bunuba lands and those of the coastal Muwayi mobs.

Bunuba art echoes this natural and cultural boundary, including both southern examples of Wanjina and northern examples of petroglyph rock art.

It’s an eclectic rock star mix of geological and artwork sites that the Bunuba and Bush Heritage are now diving into as we work on the Bunuba Jalangurru Muwayi Healthy Country Plan.

The Jalangurru Muwayi captures Bunuba intent to manage these sites with a mixture of 'two-way' knowledge – science and Bunuba living culture in collaboration. Bush Heritage has engaged Dr Melissa Marshal to assist the Bunuba to bring this to fruition by sharing her knowledge of the rock art maintenance programs she has been working on in Kakadu‘s World Heritage recognised cultural galleries.

The Kakadu experience of management and maintenance is based around the premise that they are living cultural sites, not museums. The Bunuba recognise that their continuous living culture is needed to ensure current and future generations are able to access and visit their sites to conduct ceremony, law, Jumba and painting. Through this, Bunuba rock art sites will be managed and protected.

We’ve begun working out how to address rock art in the Jalangurru Muwayi by visiting a rock art site of cultural importance with traditional owners to get cultural direction.

The site has a heady mix of art styles, ages, rock types and cultural significance. So it can provide a template for the wider rock art maintenance program to come. It has examples of sedimentary rock that is flaking away and peeling art off with it, seasonal water inundation and fairy martin's using the galleries for nesting.

Dr Mel's expertise will make recommendations on how best to manage and restore the sites, and to train Bunuba people to roll out a program in which they record cultural site base-line data using the monitoring protocols we develop together and to do the site maintenance they identify as necessary.

The maintenance activities will involve correctly removing wasp, termite and fairy martin nests, and managing weeds and fire in the area. It will also include cultural activities that keep the sites, stories and law alive.

One of the most important and wonderful part of the site management is the renewal of paintings through ceremony.

I've found this to be a truly fantastic and rewarding example of the Bunuba’s cultural health, and their connection to law and country.

Fairy martin nests on a gallery. Fairy martin nests on a gallery.
Flaked rock with art ochre on it. Flaked rock with art ochre on it.
A western-facing rock art gallery. A western-facing rock art gallery.
Access to high galleries can be difficult. Access to high galleries can be difficult.
Petroglyphs are a form of rock art made by pecking the surface away with a stone hammer. Petroglyphs are a form of rock art made by pecking the surface away with a stone hammer.

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