Kakadu has some very special Aboriginal rock paintings

Thursday, Aug 06, 2009 at 22:53


Nourlangie is a popular Aboriginal rock painting viewing venue, and a wheel chair accessible path follows around the different galleries. This is a popular destination for the tourist coaches.

The most common ochres used in rock paintings are Haematite (red), Limonite (yellow), Pipe clay (white) and Charcoal (black).

The first paintings we saw have been made on a rough rock surface and are difficult to photograph. As with so many rock painting galleries, there are paintings on top of other paintings, as it is the significance was in doing the painting, rather than in the painting itself. Some of the paintings were very faded while others were more vivid, giving the impression that some may have been touched up. Some of these paintings are of recent origin.

Anbangbang Gallery. This collection of figures tells a story, although the meaning is not known to us.

Namarndjolg is the large figure at the top of the painting; he and his sister broke the kinship laws on the rock ledge above this gallery. Namarndjolg later became Ginga, the great saltwater crocodile. Aboriginal culture has very strict kinship laws regarding who they may marry, and the use of sister here indicates it was a forbidden relationship.

Namarrgon is the Lightening Man and he can be seen to the right of Narmarndjolg. He wears his lightening like a band around him connecting his arms, legs and head. He has stone axes on his knees and his elbows make thunder.

Namarrgon, his wife Barrginj and their children Aljurr came from the north coast searching for a good place to settle. Namarrgon now lives at Lightening Dreaming on the escarpment. His children Aljurr is the lightening, but also has another form – the bright orange and blue grasshoppers which come during the early storm season. They are looking for Namarrgon. Aboriginal people know that it is now time to seek shelter.

Barrginj, Namarrgon’s wife, is on the left side, just below Namarndjolg’s leg.

Family groups of men and women on their way to a ceremony are arranged at the bottom of the picture. Flecks on the breasts of the two women on the right indicate they are breastfeeding children.

Guluibirr, the Saratoga fish is a popular food fished from the waterways nearby and is seen just above the families on the lower right.

Here we saw paintings on top of older paintings; the most recent ones said to represent people dancing. Animals can also be seen amongst the figures.

Nearby the Anbangbang Billabong is a small lagoon which is part of a chain of wetlands. There is a walk right around the billabong, but we did not do this walk as the drive covers the entire length of the billabong with a few parking areas and picnic tables along the way to stop and take photos. The colourful sandstone of Nourlangie Rock can be seen across the lily covered water.

Nawurlandja Rock alongside Anbangbang Billabong has a 600 metre walk trail to the top to enjoy views across the Billabong and over Nourlangie Rock .

Nanguluwur is on the other side of the same rock system as Nourlangie and is a lesser known gallery. It can be reached by a two kilometre walk from the Nanguluwur car park, or for the more adventurous by walking across the top of the rock formation and returning via a trail around the base of the outcrop.

Mostly following an old road, the woodlands walk was easy. There was a slight climb towards the end of the trail before reaching the rock. This was the first time I had experienced seeing rock painting high on a rock face, and marvelled at how they achieved these paintings so high above. These included hands used as a stencil. Aboriginal rock painting sites are usually low in sandstone overhangs.

Some of the paintings were very clear, and included many x-ray style fish and turtles and some are dated as more recent in origin, being accredited to two people during the 1960s. It is also believed that Reckets Blue (laundry product) was added to the natural pigments during this era.

Of special interest is the picture of a sailing vessel. Ships like this were seen in the area between 1880 and 1950 when they brought supplies to buffalo hunting camps on the floodplains of the Alligator Rivers, returning to Darwin with hides. Many Aboriginal people worked in these camps seasonally. This painting clearly shows the detail of an anchor chain at the front, and has a dinghy in tow behind. Aboriginal artists have a very retentive memory for detail when seeing something totally new.

Hands have been the subject of rock painting since Aboriginal people first came to the area perhaps 50,000 years ago. The display of stencilled hands above includes some prints with all fingers open, and others with the middle three fingers grouped together.

We were to see even older rock painting in the extensive sandstone overhangs on Ubirr Rock.

Read more detail about this trip and see all the photos in our 2009 Travelogues


Red desert dreaming

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