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Rock Art page 1Rock Art

Gwion


Aboriginal rock art is part of a tradition of painting and engraving that stretches back thousands of years. Some of the oldest surviving examples so far found are the rock engravings in the Pilbara in Western Australia and in the Olary region of South Australia which may be as much as 40 000 years old. For more information about the age of Aboriginal rock art, see How old is Australia's rock art?

Olary engraving

Engraved crocodlie head from Olary region of South Australia

Some Aboriginal engravings and paintings are so old that we cannot know who made them, why they were made, or what their real meaning might be. We can only guess, based on knowledge of Aboriginal life past and present, the stories and legends of Aboriginal people and, maybe, what the pictures look like to present-day eyes. Other rock paintings, however, are relatively recent and are part of living tradition. They are still very important to people who know and respect their meanings. A few are even repainted by men and women who have the traditional right to do so.

In places such as Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, and Central Australia the symbols and motifs painted on rock also appear in other forms of expression such as painting on bark or canvas, reflecting a continuing tradition of great vigour. Although all Aboriginal people shared a similar way of life and similar religious beliefs, they belonged to separate groups that had their own languages, country, legends, histories and ceremonies. So it is not surprising that there is a wide variety of styles and subject matter in the rock art found throughout the continent.

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