Scientists document painted portals to a vanished past
Victoria Laurie; 12/5/10
Last year, archeologist Mike Morwood and rock art specialist June Ross took the ride of their lifetime across the northwest Kimberley. They hired a helicopter and flew across largely trackless territory, their pilot landing periodically in spots where he felt he could get his helicopter down safely and where they believed a good rock art site might lie. Their journey took them from Bigge Island, one of the Kimberley’s largest offshore landmasses, east to inland pastoral stations, and north as far as the rugged Drysdale River National Park, the Kimberley’s largest park that lacks an airstrip, ranger station or even a single road. The pair’s aerial reconnoitre recorded 27 locations in which they documented a total of 54 rock art sites. “It was an absolute revelation,” Ross recalls. “What struck us was how many rock art sites there are, and we developed a great admiration for the artists who made them.” Across the Kimberley, hundreds of thousands of paintings lie in rock overhangs and caves, often behind curtains of tropical vines. Dappled light plays over the surface of hauntingly beautiful images that have made the region famous: Gwion Gwion or Bradshaw paintings depicting slender dancing figures in mulberry coloured ochre or younger images of Wandjina spirits, wide-eyed and startlingly white despite the passage of years.