Aboriginal Rock Paintings

Aboriginal rock paintings can be very, very old.

Rock painting is the oldest form of Aboriginal art that is preserved. This is because rock is so durable – bark paintings and other forms of art from thousands of years ago would not have been preserved until today.

This is also the reason why we often find rock art in caves – even from rock surfaces that were exposed to the weather they have been washed away.

aboriginal rock painting
   Aboriginal rock paintings by Fluoride (sasablog) via Flickr.com

The Oldest Continuous Tradition of Art in the World
Australia's Aboriginal rock art can be as old as 60,000 years. This is not the oldest rock art in the world, but it is the world’s oldest continuous tradition of art. Many of the examples are so old that it is not really known how old they are. It is also difficult to interpret the old ones, or work out what they were made for. We can only guess. Most of them seem to be about religious ceremonies or ancestral beings. Some also seem to be made just for fun – like hand and boomerang stencils.

The Oldest Examples of Aboriginal Rock Painting
Because humans first came to the northern parts of Australia, the rock paintings in northern Australia (such as Cape York in Queensland; Kakadu and Arnhem Land in Northern Territory, and Kimberley region in Western Australia) tend to be older than those of southern parts of the country. Some of the oldest examples are in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions in Western Australia, and also the Olary region in South Australia. These are thought to be at least 40,000 – 50,000 years old.

Where to See Some Good Examples of Aboriginal Rock Painting
There are examples on indigenous rock art everywhere in Australia. Even if you only visit a big city, you would find some art examples in some nearby national parks. There are, however, some places in Australia that are more famous than others, obviously because they contain some of the best examples. These places are mostly in northern and central parts of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Aboriginal Rock Painting in Northern Territory and Western Australia
There are many excellent examples of rock art in the northern parts of the remote Kimberley region in Western Australia. In Northern Territory, the most famous places are Kakadu, Uluru and Watarrka national parks. But there are also some very good examples in Keep River National Park, Nitmiluk National park (Katherine Gorge), and places around Katherine, Borroloola and Kunmunyini Springs.

Aboriginal Rock Painting in Queensland
The two most famous places in Queensland are Carnarvon National Park and Cape York Peninsula. In Carnarvon National Park, there are many stencils of hands, boomerangs, coolamons, shields and clubs, but there are also some examples on painted figures. There are many of them along the Carnarvon Gorge and they are excellent. In Cape York, there are many aboriginal rock art shelters around Laura. Not nearly all of them are accessible, but Guguyanlangi and Split Rock are. There are many paintings of animals, like reptiles and birds. These sites are very old, believed to be about 13,000 years old so newer and older paintings are often mixed in different layers. There are other places further north on the Cape York Peninsula, however the ones around Laura are some of the oldest and easiest to access.


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