Aboriginal rock art of the Laura valleys: One landscape, many Stories

Aboriginal rock art of the Laura valleys: One landscape, many Stories Book Section

Histories of Australian Rock Art Research

  • Author(s): Cole, Noelene
  • Secondary Author(s): Taçon, PSC, May, SK, Frederick, UK, McDonald, J
  • Published: 2022

Abstract: The Laura and Little Laura rivers in south-eastern Cape York Peninsula, Queensland (Figure 13.1), have similar environments, shared timelines of Aboriginal history and rock art practice, and parallel trajectories of archaeological research. Like other rivers of inland Cape York Peninsula (henceforth CYP), these were focal areas for Aboriginal settlement and corridors of customary travel, facilitating the exchange of ideas, information and materials across a regional network (Chase and Sutton 1987; Cole 2016; Land Tribunal 1996). However, from the onset of the Palmer River goldrush (1873) these valleys were appropriated for colonial transport routes, settlements and cattle runs. They also were the scene of a brutal war that transformed, but did not destroy, Aboriginal society and land use. Today these precincts lie in the heartland of the National Heritage Listed area Quinkan Country, inscribed for the richness, size, diversity and density of its rock art and its qualities as a ‘dynamic cultural landscape’ where the ‘ongoing collaboration between traditional owners and researchers continues to provide insights into patterns of human occupation in Australia’ (Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 2021). The inscription notes the associations of Quinkan Country with the lives and works of Tommy George (1929–2016), George Musgrave (1921–2006), Percy Trezise (1923–2005) and Dick Roughsey (1920–1985). This discussion is prompted by the weight of research and Aboriginal knowledge that has brought the values of the Laura valleys to light, the long trajectory of rock art research in the Laura Basin and my own research journey. I am also mindful of ongoing threats to the cultural landscape by road upgrades, agriculture, increased tourism, mining proposals and mineral exploration permits (Cole and Buhrich 2012). Previous rock art research in the valleys has tended to focus on major sites such as Giant Horse, Mushroom Rock, Split Rock, Sandy Creek and Yam Camp (Morwood and Hobbs 1995a; Trezise 1971; Watchman and Cole 1993; Wright 1971). This account takes a landscape approach to compare rock art across two significant precincts that, although separated to the south-west by a dissected plateau incised by the Mosman River, are also connected by a lowland travel route that skirts the plateaux via Sandy Creek. Given the latter connection, it is cogent to explore how the recognised spatial continuity of Quinkan rock art style (Cole 2016) applies (or does not apply) across these landscapes, and how figurative (primarily late Holocene) rock art might reflect documented models of Aboriginal cultural organisation.

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Suggested Citation
Cole, Noelene, 2022, Aboriginal rock art of the Laura valleys: One landscape, many Stories, Book Section, viewed 23 July 2024, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=38500.

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