Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rock Art and Red Soil (Gundabooka, Australia)

The rocky plateau of Mt Gundabooka rises awkwardly in a protrusion of rust coloured rock and olive green bush a few hundred metres above scrubby arid plains, the mountain visible for vast distances around. Fifty kilometres south of Bourke, it represents an important landmark for the Ngemba Aborigines or Stone People, a meeting place for millennia for various tribes and a source for shelter, food, medicines, tools and water. Cliffs, gorges and ancient waterways mark this ancient remote land estimated at nearly 400 million years of age.

Over 40,000 hectares of Gundabooka National Park is broken only by a red ochre highway and a couple short spur roads to major highlights. Native animals abound. Kangaroos bounce along the roadways or munch watchfully on the thick vegetation while shaggy emus use the main road as their own personal highway to ease their path through the park. Wild pigs (assuredly the least popular animal and hated by park rangers) scarper for cover while snakes bake joyously on the russet road.

Walking across rough rock country and over a small stony bluff in searing heat, a marked path leads to one of Mt Gundabooka’s most treasured sights, the Aboriginal Rock Art Gallery.

Karra mayingkalkaa, Paliira yuku ithu. - Welcome to our country. A sign welcomes visitors to this beloved Aboriginal land reinforcing the ongoing unity between Australia's indigenous people whose history goes back over 40,000 years and their country.

Under an idyllic natural rock cave that could provide shelter for numbers of people, stories of essential elements of aboriginal lives are told in yapa (rock paintings) in pipeclay and ochre. Graphic images of ceremonial dances (or wakakirri) are mixed with food sources such as emus and kangaroos and tools such as boomerangs, spears and fish-traps. Seemingly made in a different era (as they generally appear more faded), familiar hand stencils produced by spraying ochre from the mouth share the gallery.

Mt Gundabooka is managed in close discussion with its traditional owners ensuring both the artworks and sensitive spiritual values are preserved while maintaining access to this cultural treasure.

Nearby, small rock pools and a tiny shaded stream bubbles peacefully across sandy banks – a source of valued water (especially in periods of drought) and mild refreshment from the harsh summer sunshine. The Aboriginals knew that Gundabooka has a good supply of water, even in dry times, not only supplying a source for drinking but also a source of wildlife for food. By contrast in winter, warming fires near the rock cave could provide much needed comfort and protection from the savage night cold in this unyielding environment.

Other highlights include the short but aptly named Valley of the Eagles walk as visitors may be fortunate to spot the giant raptors soaring effortlessly on the thermals while smaller birds of various kinds twitter from the tree branches. Panoramic vistas highlight the featureless but enchanting flat land for miles around in all directions.

Gundabooka has an exceptional feeling of wilderness and remoteness, providing great views perched over the surrounding landscape and a tiny window into the spirituality and harmonious relationship the indigenous Australians shared with the land.


Barbara Weibel said...

I just love the photo of the enus galumping down the red dirt road.

Mark H said...

@barbara: Aren't they fantastic. Kind of our version of an ostrich...

Heather on her travels said...

It does sound like a facinating place - I'd love to be guided by one of the local aboriginal owner who could interpret all that art for me and tell me the stories

Mark H said...

@heather: I'd love that too. In many places the stories are dying as the tribal elders pass away. I know historians are trying to preserve as many of these valued tales and cultural heritage as they can. Even to sit and look at them makes the mind wander as to what life must have been like before European settlement.

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