What’s left of thousands of years of a rich and complex culture

DHARUG NP – 10 – 11 August, 2022
Many years ago, someone sent me a document detailing Aboriginal art to be found in Dharug NP.  I love Aboriginal art, I love looking at it and visualising how it was created, Elders sitting around telling dreamtime stories and engraving fauna hunted or to be hunted.  But I’m frustrated that there’s so much mystery and only supposition about the meaning of the engravings.  How can we appreciate it in all its entirety when we can only “assume” what the story is behind the art?

This National Park is not managed jointly with the traditional owners.  We would be travelling through what was once the land of the Darkinjung people and so, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians and pay my respects to the Elders past and present (if in fact there are any).   According to Wiki, the Darkinjung people “are believed to have died out in the late 19th century due to the effects of disease and dispossession” along with (I’m sure) a fair amount of killing off by the colonists who wanted to farm the land on the rich flood plains.  There is a Darkinjung Land Council on the Central Coast and, again, according to Wiki (as far as we can trust Wiki) “the Darkingjung Aboriginal Land Council represents the interests of the Aboriginal residents of the Darkingjung lands, but those residents come from other Aboriginal groups.  This explains a lot!

As Caucasians (or pretty much anyone who’s not an Aboriginal), it’s definitely a “no-no” for us to even use a stick to try to define the groves.  And, if you are not a member of the community (in this case the Darkinjung), it’s against Aboriginal laws for someone from another area to touch (or re-grove) the engravings.  So, none of what we will see on this trip has been re-engraved for maybe the last 100 years (if not more).  As you will see from some of the photos, it’s just a matter of time before evidence of those who, over thousands of years, walked this land is gone, very sad for me, but it’s not about me, perhaps the aboriginal community look at it differently.

Starting in 1947, when he visited Group 6 with Paddy Pallin, over a period of 9 years McCarthy et al, spent a total of two weeks camping up on the ridges of the area searching for the various sites that they’d “heard” about and documenting them.  At first sight, the document pulls you in with the vision of following in his steps and stumbling upon these sites, but when you take the time to read the “technique and preservation” and “remarks”, you discover that even back in the 1950s, the art was difficult to make out. So, 70 years on, we were lucky to find what we did.

So, on to our exploration …

The start of our three day walk, Trish, Tamara and John G. Out of photo, Steve R and Steve W.

Group 10 – this is the site that’s easiest to get to, you could walk to it in half a day.  I’d looked for Group 10 before, but at the time didn’t have a GR, so searched up on the top of a hill which had flat rock slabs.  To me, it seemed like the logical place to sit and do some engraving if I was an Aboriginal person, but I couldn’t find anything, the site was further along in a saddle.

And we really couldn’t miss it as, at either end of the site, it was “signposted”. Mind you I think the notice is for bull-dozer operators so that they take care when grading the fire trail and don’t damage the site with their big machines. Two of the sites had this signposting, and another had some pink tape between a couple of trees. When I saw this sign, I was really disappointed, thinking that our weekend of exploration might end up being just walking from one signpost to another!

This was really all we found at Group 10, a water source and axe or spear grinding grooves (the men would sit around the pool of water and sharpen their hunting tools). All other engravings (17 in all in this area) were so faint that you couldn’t tell where they were.

McCarthy says “The site includes 145 figures, and numerically is the most extensive recorded in the Sydney-Hawkesbury district. ” This image shows just one series (series 2) of a total of six areas on this site. Apparently, series 6 was situated where “The bridle track passes across this rock”, the bridle track is where the fire trail was graded, so I doubt one would be able to find any evidence of this series.

Back on the track, so nice walking on the fire trail (never thought I’d be saying something positive about a fire trail lol).

Since Group 10 is so extensive, I think it deserves another visit to do a deep dive into the area to find each of the series, seeing this is such a prolific area for engravings.

Group 9 – having satisfied ourselves with Group 10 (or the lack thereof), we continued along to the next “signpost” and checked Group 9.  In all, according to McCarthy, this site had 31 different engravings, mind you, McCarthy says “The outlines of many of the figures have been smoothed by weathering and flowing water, but none of them is rubbed [whatever that means].  It was only after several examinations, that the full series was discerned”.  And 70 years later, there’s not much left.

On our first visit (on Saturday), we found the emu and boomerangs, it wasn’t until we returned on Monday in the early light that we think we found the figure in the top right-hand corner of the image. A change in light makes a difference.

Group 9 – this is what remains of “a young striped emu, 4ft 4in high with what appears to be a spear in its lower breast” (McCarthy’s sketch to the right).

Group 9 – 27 is “portion of a man” which I couldn’t see, and 26 is “three boomerangs, one of which is a high-angled returning type”.

John, Tamara and Steve trying to match up what they’re looking at with the McCarthy document. Sometimes there is a “line”, but it’s difficult to know whether it’s a natural part of the rock (like a crack), or something that was man-made.

John’s obviously found something and is photographing it, but it was so faint we couldn’t make it out, Trish making what she’s finding fit the sketch map.

Time for morning tea, you can just visualise Aboriginal men sitting here story telling and carving.

Group 8 – this group of artwork was just up the hill from Group 9 on a relatively insignificant rock platform, John and Trish walked right past it (they were ahead of us, but we stopped to check it out.  Not much to see, just a water source with sharpening groves, on the way back, John and I checked it out again and found the faint outline of a kangaroo, but very faint.

The sharpening groves at Group 8.

Apparently, what was here at Group 8, it was only on the walk back to the cars that John discerned one of the kangaroos, very, very faint though. We could see the three water holes, but we really couldn’t see as many sharpening groves as depicted in McCarthy’s sketch.

Group 11 – On the way to Group 11, we were briefly rained upon, but overall that was the only wet weather we had all weekend, and it was just a short shower.

 This is the McCarthy sketch of this art, it’s “(5) three mundoes (foot prints) beside one another in a parallel set; (and) (6) a beautifully portrayed echidna”.  the echidna was quite faint but the mundoes were easy to see.

The art at this site was on individual stand-alone rocks, but sadly they were beside the fire trail and we suspect that the bulldozer covered up all but this one rock where the mundoes and echidna can be seen.

Camp – by now it’s getting late and we’re looking around for a campsite, we needed a flat area (for 5 tents) and the ability to drop down to find water (so no cliff lines).  Trish spotted an excellent site across the road from Group 11.

My tent at the campsite.

Trish and Steve lazing around at the campsite, there was a good fire spot and a big log to sit on, but best of all, we only had to drop down 50m (or less) to collect water.

Sunday was to be out full-on exploration, all off track walking. We set off from camp somewhere between 8 and 9 and retraced our steps up the fire trail, branching off on a high point and making our way through the scrub.

Group 6 – we were soon at Group 6, three of us had been to this site before, and we were keen to see the reaction of the others as it is such an awesome site.

John G’s photo of some moss, gives you an idea of the scale of the site, almost the size of a football field.

This pool of water (one of 2 or 3), with its sharpening groves, provided water for us to pour on the engravings so that they would be easier to see (and photograph).

Kangaroo and beside that a man and a shield. This photo was taken in the late afternoon when the engravings were much easier to see.

John with notes picking out the outlines of emus.

Excellent engraving of man and shield.

Engraving of a baby kangaroo.

One of a large number of emu engravings.

Engraving of a snake (Photo: John G)

Group 5 – Whilst this group was noted in McCarthy’s report, and we had a “rough” idea where it was, all there was to be found were “two mundoes pointing northwards towards the main Group 6” site.  We hunted around but it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and we figured we shouldn’t waste too much time. The site was apparently so insignificant that McCarthy didn’t even sketch it.

On the way to Group 5, or where we thought it should be.

Group 4 – This group was a mystery, we hunted, and eventually gave up.  It wasn’t until we were walking back after loking at Group 2, that we stumbled upon this outcrop, and it fitted the McCarthy description.

Group 5 engravings.

Walking on the rock shelf, didn’t look like anything was there initially, but eventually we found a kangaroo.

Possibly the kangaroo but doesn’t seem to fit with the sketch.

Group 3 – By now we’re actually a little confused, we haven’t found 5 or 4 (at that point) with the directions given in McCarthy’s notes, things just weren’t adding up, had we walked too far, or not far enough?  Then I happened to spot a shield as we were walking to a rock ledge.  It wasn’t noted in any of the McCarthy sketches, but obviously it was a significant spot.  So, we stopped to take a closer look.

It was then that John found a faint line, we looked closer and eventually could discern the shape of a woman, which was definitely in the Group 3 sketches. This was a great find and confirmed our location vs the notes.

Group 3 – The engraving of the woman “the remarkable figure of a huge woman 18 ft. long. She is turned sideways with her face to the front, her feet-less legs are close together, her buttocks project two feet, her breasts are small and hang from the base of the arms. The latter are slightly above the horizontal, one has two large fingers, the other three, and both bear armlets on the upper arm and wrist. Her head is remarkable because of its enormous ears and five eyes, and the well-defined neck is an unusual feature of anthropomorphic figures among these engravings. Two attempts were apparently made to shape 011e side of the neck. Her outline is a smooth rubbed groove from I! to 2 in wide, and up to 1″ in deep, being well defined and preserved.”  We were really pleased to find this and it confirmed that we had found the Group 3 area.

Viewing platform on the way to Group 2, overlooking Mill Creek valley.

Group 2 – The notes were a little ambiguous looking for Group 2, but eventually we found a possible rock shelf, and were able to find one of the engravings described.

And here we found confirmation we were in the right plac, too hard to photograph (wrong light plus very faint) “a gigantic kangaroo 16 ft 6 in long and 10 ft 3 in across the body from hind-toe to back. The tail is rather short and broad, the neck very thick, and the facial outline rounded. … Four digits are shown on the front paw, and two large toes on the hind foot. The pose is stylized, semi-leaping in nature. This huge animal has been struck with twelve boomerangs from 1 to 2 ft long, some of which have the deep curve of the returning type and others the shallow curve of the non-returning boomerang. One might be a bladed throwing club. Five have hit the animal on the face, three on the neck, and one on the stomach.”  This was a great find!

We also found a kangaroo quite a distance from the kangaroo/bomerangs.

By now we’re pretty satisfied with outselves so we turn around to make our way back to camp.  John decided that he would take a different route, below the cliff line to see if there were any overhangs, Steve R joined him.  We set a spot to meet up and off they went.

Sure enough there was an overhang, and there were a couple of hand stencils in it, not surprising.

Group 7 – when we all met up again, we headed back to Group 6 and the team split up, some going back to camp and three of us going over to where we suspected Group 7 would be.

McCarthy’s Group 7 sketch.

We found one kangaroo but too faint to photograph, the others we didn’t find.  I’d been over this particular rock shelf at least 3 times, and I’m sure I looked for art work but didn’t find any, not surprising I guess, they were rather faint.

We were back at camp by 4pm and headed back to the cars the next morning (revisiting groups 8, 9 and 10).

I was very happy with what we’d found, but left with the feeling that some of the sites (where the art was spread over different areas), needed more investigation.  Maybe a day-walk here or there, John has in mind another overnight trip to look for Group 1, I’d like to go back and take another look at groups 2 and 4 which is doable on an overnight walk.  More unfinished business (lol).

Thanks Steve, Tamara, John, Trish and Steve R for coming on this trip with me, was a great adventure!

FOOTNOTE – Wildflowers – some of the wildflowers we saw on the walk, stunning!

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4 Responses to What’s left of thousands of years of a rich and complex culture

  1. Roderick Smith says:

    Are you sure about the engraving of a rabbit? I would have assumed that rabbits were introduced well after the engravings were made. Maybe a bilby?

    • marilyn says:

      Yep, you’re right not a rabbit it’s supposed to be a baby kangaroo but looks like a bilby to me, no bilbies mentioned in the sites.

  2. Jim Crockett says:

    It looks like weathering of rock occurs much quicker than what we thought if they are a few hundred years old.

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