Aboriginal Rock Art

Aboriginal rock art is a feature of what is generally known as Australian aboriginal art. It refers to both the rock carvings and paintings found in different regions in Australia. The aboriginal carvings or petroglyphs were made through abrasion of rock surfaces using hard objects. The paintings, on the other hand, were found in caves presumed to be shelters of the aboriginal people. These were made from extracted colors of earthen minerals, which were either stenciled or brushed on rock surfaces.

Both the petroglyphs as well as the paintings depicted subjects of ordinary aboriginal life. They revolve mainly around animals, humans, as well as abstract figures that are considered central to the spirituality of the aborigines. Depending on which region they are located, they showcase different styles and manners of depiction. Nevertheless, they all commonly show the culture of the aboriginal people.

Present-day Australians might easily dismiss these art forms as something trivial. For the descendants of the aborigines, however, these art forms are key to the religious tradition of their ancestors. As a sign of continuity, the descendants of aborigines make an effort to reconstruct these images to preserve their tradition. However, with harsh changes brought about by climate and human development, this task is increasingly becoming arduous.

Human threats to aboriginal rock art

One June 1, 2011, Australia’s Tracker magazine reported the alleged stalled efforts of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to hold the energy company Ausgrid accountable for the destruction of an aboriginal rock art found in Sydney. In constructing some of its power lines, Ausgrid had cut an important rock carving maintained by authorities of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC). While a case has already been filed, this same council expressed displeasure at what they claim as Ausgrid’s continuous exercise of “public relations” with OEH to drag the whole legal process.

The damages reported to the Metropolitan LALC, such as the one allegedly perpetrated by Ausgrid raise the concern of how the preservation of aboriginal rock formations has increasingly become challenging at present.

Preserving aboriginal rock art

Aboriginal rock paintings serve as the virtual window to the rich tradition of the Australian aboriginals. They contain clues to important social, economic, and spiritual insights about the life of ancient peoples. Just like any artifact, they deserve utmost care and attention.

Weather elements such as wind, rain and heat pose difficulties to preserving aboriginal art forms. The prevalence of wild animals such as pigs, squirrels, and buffalos also contribute to the destruction of these images. These simple problems are now addressed by putting hedges to keep out wild animals from these reservation areas as well as utilizing technological innovations that would keep the rock surfaces out of reach of water.

Perhaps what is more difficult to abate is human activity. Knowingly or unknowingly, it is what modern people do that contributes the most to the gradual destruction of these aboriginal artifacts. Simple daily routines as well as grand infrastructural projects like that of Ausgrid’s would speed up the rock’s deterioration process. Without a government that has a will that is perhaps as rock-hard as the petroglyphs, it is difficult to carry out a concerted effort to preserve these national treasures.

Metropolitan LALC’s perseverance and stubbornness is invaluable to this cause. And also is OEH’s persistence and vigilance. But they are still insufficient if individuals and industries don’t appreciate the importance of these aboriginal rock art to the nation’s heritage that lead them to do their share of the responsibility.

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