Category Archives: Art

Rock Art

It sends a shiver down my spine.  I see strange elongated figures dancing, wearing tall headdresses, limbs swaying to the beat.   They share a space with crosshatched echidnas, giant kangaroos and striped thylacines.   I almost hear the voices from the past, ancient humans communicating across tens of thousands of years.   The rock art in the Kimberley region is unforgettable.

On our way back from Mitchell Falls, we find two aboriginal art sites.  The land here is flat and sandy, dotted occasionally with stacks of quartzite boulders.   The cultural sites at Munurru are well marked and easy to find from the road.   The well beaten path from the car park leads the way, but then you are on your own.  There are no signs telling you where to look, or even what to look for.   We become explorers, searching the jumbled pile of flat rocks and rounded boulders for the best place to paint.  We look for a hidden recess, the underside of a rocky overhang,  the roof of a small cave – a flat piece of rock, easy to reach, well protected from the elements.  We try to think as the artists did, to adjust our eyes to look for a red, white or yellow line that is man made.  And suddenly the art begins to reveal itself.


Echidna rock art

The paintings are drawn in red ochre, yellow, black and white.   Many are overpainted.    Some are clearly recognisable human figures, animals and plants.   Kangaroos are easy to recognise.   There are root vegetables, maybe yams?   A striped animal with a straight tail has to be a thylacine, the Tasmanian Tiger, painted thousands of years ago when he still lived this far north on the mainland.  He’s sadly now extinct.  Two huge birds painted lying horizontally, head to head, look like brolgas.  Thankfully these elegant birds are still with us.

Human figures wear what appear to be grass skirts and pointed head dresses with tassels.  They are shown moving, with bent knees and elbows, I assume in a dance.  They are beautifully painted in a very distinctive style.  Apparently they are examples of the famous Gwions or Bradshaw figures that are found throughout the Kimberley region.  People are also painted more simply, carrying bags or boomerangs and wearing skirts.  Pictures of daily life.

Leaving the obviously human figures, we move on to panels of otherworldly creatures.  Odd squatting frog like figures appear in one shelter.  I learn later they are child spirits, the first sign of new human life.  When a woman is found to be pregnant it is believed her husband has dreamed of a child spirit and allowed it to enter his wife.


Wandjina rock art at Munurru

It is said the child spirits came originally from the Wandjina, the mythical ancestors who sang the land into being.  The Wandjina panels at Munurru are eerie.  The ancestors have stark white alien faces with large blank eyes that stare impassively back at the observer.  They guard a burial site where a human skull and bones have been placed on a rock ledge in the sacred site. A common practice in this tradition.

A cooling wind blows gently through the boulders, but the air is heavy here with human history, with stories of the oldest surviving human culture on the planet, with images representing powerful myths that have endured for millennia.

Research continues, but recent dating of artefacts in the Kakadu indicates that aboriginal people have lived on this continent for 50-60 thousand years.   Imagine that.  It’s humbling.

Kimberley foundation:  Kimberley Foundation on YouTube

Tunnel Creek

It’s dark in here.  All I can see are some dancing lights ahead with the sound of water splashing as footsteps come towards me.

We are walking in a long dark tunnel carved through the Napier range by the waters of Tunnel Creek.   I am barefoot, feeling the crunchy coarse sand and cool water on my skin. I begin to make out the shapes of the people ahead as they splash through the water towards us.  The walls of the cave are ochre red and white.  Stalactites hang down and create amazing shapes in the shadows of the torchlight.  All is pitch dark except where the torches flash.

It’s impossible to see the depth of the water in this light and we are cautious as we step into a dark deep pool of water ahead.   It’s quickly up to, and then over my knees.  I hope there are no freshwater crocs in here.  We walk on.

We hear water falling into the creek to our left and point the torchlight that way to find a small waterfall where the creek water falls in a bubbling curtain over a marble white overhang.  We watch for a while.  Maybe that’s the head of a croc lying under the waterfall?  No, no, it’s just a stick throwing strange shadows.

The tunnel is about 750 metres long.  The ground is rocky in places and I wish I had waterproof shoes to protect me from the sharp edges and uneven surface of the creek’s course.

Splash, splash.  We turn a corner and fierce bright sunlight pours through the end of the tunnel ahead.  Clambering out, squinting in the light we walk under the shade of palms and blood woods.   Howard calls and we look up to see him peering down from a limestone overhang above. “Up here.  Rock art!”.   

Indigenous people have used this tunnel for centuries.  But there’s a more recent story that conjures up ghosts as we walk back through the darkness.  

This tunnel is said to have been the hiding place of an aboriginal man known as Jindamarra, nicknamed Pigeon.   He appears to have been a kind of black Ned Kelly, an indigenous outlaw.   

Working for the police as a tracker, he is asked to round up men from his own people.   He does as asked, but then relents, kills the accompanying policeman and sets his compatriots free.  They run off with him and the gang hide in this mountain range for 3 years, raiding the local area for food and some say leading an armed insurrection against the police.  He becomes a hero to his people, who believe he has supernatural powers to avoid capture for so long.  The police are desperate to catch him, as a rebel, for killing their own, and as a turncoat who they had once trusted.  

Eventually they find their man, and he is injured in a shootout.   He hides in Tunnel Creek to nurse his wounds,  there they track him down and he is killed.

Wading back though the water with our 21 century torches, this tunnel is still daunting.   What a hiding place it must have been.  How deep into the tunnel in the dark did he hide?   How did his hunters discover him there?  What shouts and cries reverberated around this place?  Like all the best stories, many questions are left unanswered and so to our active imaginations.

We reach the stone waterfall.  Halfway back.  The torch shines under the overhang.  That stick? It’s gone.   It was a croc after all!  Splish, splash we hurry out towards the safety of the daylight ahead.   The story of Pigeon and the darkness of the tunnel lingering in our minds.

2017 Day 1: To South Australia

Guest Author:  Richard McSephney

Four degrees centigrade, low hanging mist and a dampness that chills to the bone.
What better day to leave for the North where the weather is significantly better.

I find I have to guard against thinking that the adventure is the destination. So I concentrate on enjoying every kilometre, marvelling at the sun breaking through the mist, casting shadows and making the landscape look dramatic and unfamiliar. It’s going so well. Then I realise My new found approach to traveling isn’t that successful.  I’ve only made it to the bottom of our road. My mind wanders again. Not a great effort but I resolve to keep it up.

Today’s destination is Hahndorf, only 670 km from home but passing some memorable locations.

Take Casterton for example. Home of the Kelpie festival held over the Queen’s Birthday weekend.   Well actually it isn’t Her Majesty’s birthday at all.  It’s mine, so I propose it’s renamed Richard’s birthday weekend.
The festival is extremely popular with ever increasing numbers of visitors. Kelpie dogs of all shapes and sizes demonstrate their amazing capabilities and for their troubles the most successful get auctioned off at the end of the weekend.

Not much of a reward for the dog is it? He goes to a trial, works his heart out chasing sheep around all weekend then just as he expects to go home, the hammer falls and he’s faced with a complete stranger pulling his lead. Not much of an enticement to be a high achiever, is it?  It’s big business though, this year the top dog made over $ 15,000 and in the local shire office are the architect’s impressions of a fine new complex to be built in the town with government funding; The Kelpie Interpretive Centre! I wonder if on the front door there will be a sign, ‘ No Dogs Allowed’
For now, Casterton has another claim to fame, a fine bakery housing two rather splendid 1960’s Vespa scooters and a very nice skinny flat white.

We’re running behind schedule though, Howard is beginning to feel pressure about his proclamation of our arrival time and his suggestion that we cut lunch short is unceremoniously dismissed.

The Riddoch Highway is littered with famous winemakers establishments with kilometre after kilometre of vines stretching from the highway to the horizon, neat rows making a very appealing pattern.  It’s art, but to me this looks like a major mowing and pruning nightmare.

Talking of art, South Australia’s largest canvas is located on our route at Coonalpyn. Here internationally renowned artist Guido van Helten grabbed 200 spray cans, clambered up the walls of 30 high grain silos and painted portraits of some local children. They are astonishing.

Guido, if you happen to be reading this, take it from me old chap, your portraits are bonzer.

Not sure Jerry Saltz would have put it that way but he’s not on his way to the Gibb River Road is he?

And so to Hahndorf….it’s doing a mighty fine impression of being closed right now but tomorrow’s another day.

Thanks to the abc for the photo of the silos.  You can read more about them here


Inspired by the Flinders Ranges

This landscape inspires art.

In Hawker, on the edge of the Flinders Ranges, the artist Jeff Morgan was inspired to paint a round panoramic mural of the Wilpena Pound landscape. The work is astounding. It is also unique. It is the only cyclorama, or 360 degree round panorama, depicting a real view as seen from one viewpoint. Jeff’s work allows the viewer to experience the view from St Mary’s Peak as he has seen it. And what a view! As I climb the wooden steps in the centre of the tower that houses the work, I am inspired. The vista is stunning and he has reproduced it faithfully, and yet in an interpretation that is his and his alone.

Viewing the panorama

Viewing the panorama

What an artistic challenge, but I should not be surprised. This country, the Flinders Ranges, inspires. Views stretch to the horizon in every direction. The scale belittles any mundane worries and petty cares. The ranges are majestic in the true sense. In shrinking our own self importance, I think they may they have the potential to inspire us to greater works than we could otherwise imagine.

Looking to the left on the drive out of Hawker, the land is flat and stretches into infinity towards the horizon. It is dotted with flinty silver, green and grey vegetation. To the right, the landscape is dramatically different. The land has rippled over millions of years under pressure from movements in the earth’s crust. Massive rocky ranges have been forced into existence. Ancient sea beds have been uncovered, and limestone eroded to allow pink, yellow and grey rock to emerge on the surface. We are on another planet.

Fossil finds

Fossil finds

We take a short detour off the highway to one of Howard’s special places, and clamber up a stony incline to search for the fossilised remains of the sea creatures who lived here many millions of years ago. The rocks here are said to be between 500 and 650 million years old. We find intricately etched fossilised remains that in the delicacy of their ancient patterns suggest a hidden artist’s hand. Then when we reach the top of the rocky outcrop and gaze at the 360 degree views, we marvel at the shapes carved into the earth by dried river beds and the deep pink and ochre hues of the distant mountain ranges. Is nature the greatest artist?

Fossilised designs

Fossilised designs

Lunch time brings us back to earth and we visit the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna where we sample the feral antipasto plate. Emu, goat, kangaroo and camel are transformed into tasty smoked sausage, pate and cured meats, eaten with soft damper style bread. The walls of the pub are hung with brightly coloured indigenous artworks. The inspiration for their dots, swirls and line work taken from the natural world around us.

We leave the bitumen for unsealed roads at Lyndhurst and watch for swirls of dust approaching in the distance from oncoming vehicles. The leaders call out warnings on the radio as motorbikes and the occasional ute approaches.

The ranges disappear behind us.  The horizon seems to become more and more distant, the land flatter and flatter. This is the Australian outback.

The sun sets in dark oranges, pinks and yellows that reflect back the more muted colours of the rock. The day ends at Marree, at the start of the Birdsville Track and tomorrow is another day.