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Warddeken rock art

Published 26 May 2014 by Damian Alway

During National Reconciliation Week a unique photo exhibition is being hosted in Melbourne at Trinity Grammar in Kew, curated by our partners in the Arnhem Plateau - Warddeken Land Management.

The images by photographer David Hancock capture Aboriginal rock art that is in danger of being eroded and lost.

While many rock paintings have survived thousands of years, ironically, it's the most recent paintings that are critically endangered — the soft, ephemeral pigments of the most recent paintings are also the most fragile — vulnerable to wind, water, the rubbing of feral animals, fire and the brushing of vegetation now growing in what were once the homes and galleries of the story-tellers.

Asked why the people of the Arnhem Plateau painted in rock shelters, the venerable artist and indigenous leader Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek AO explained (translated):

they would be asked by their children to paint illustrations of stories or animals. The children would say "paint it for me!" Parents wanted to explain things to their children.

The vast majority of the tens of thousands of images across the Warddeken Indigenous Area are not sacred paintings in the sense of being set apart from everyday life. They are, as Lofty Nadjamerrek has said, story paintings and many of these are stories from travels, related to the folks who stayed at home on the traveller’s return from the frontier. They are essentially an indigenous body of reportage.

The exhibition will be open daily from 27 May until June 3 at The Daley Gallery (Trinity Grammar), Charles St, Kew. Hours will be from 10am to 3pm weekdays and from 11am to 4pm on the weekend of 31 May and 1 June 2014.

More photos can be viewed online at David Hancock's website.

Traditional Custodian Jennifer Hunter. Traditional Custodian Jennifer Hunter.
This image was found in the East Alligator River valley. It is thought to depict the explorer Leichhardt and his horse.
Image of a horse. Image of a horse.
Despite an overhanging rock, this horse image shows ongoing damage — from wasps and termite nests and from animals rubbing against them. Rangers erected a steel barrier to keep out buffalo and pigs.
1883 surveyor David Lindsay and his party. 1883 surveyor David Lindsay and his party.
Struggling to cross the plateau at the end of a 6-month exploration on horseback they rested for several days near a cave at Narrolombun and seems to have been keenly watched.
Sadly the lower part of this image has been lost. Sadly the lower part of this image has been lost.
The body is shown within clothes. The x-ray style is often used to show the 'outer layer' of Europeans. It could be a woman, wearing a wide brimmed hat, draped with a fly veil.
Among the fish & kangaroos is a brilliantly drawn shotgun with nine cartridges. Among the fish & kangaroos is a brilliantly drawn shotgun with nine cartridges.
The painting is likely to be from the mid-20th century when Bardayal Nadjamerrek was first exploring the world of white people.
Asian water buffalo were introduced into North Australia from 1824. Asian water buffalo were introduced into North Australia from 1824.
They didn’t reach the Warddeken IPA until mid 20th century. Not surprising returning travellers had stories to share about them. Lofty Nadjamerrek’s son Keith poses.
Djurray, in Johnny Reid’s Wurnkomku Clan country, near the Katherine River. Djurray, in Johnny Reid’s Wurnkomku Clan country, near the Katherine River.
The large vessel here has a sunshade for the behatted, pipe-smoking Europeans. The boat may be early 20th century or as early as the 1870s.

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