Preserving the rock art of Kakadu: Formative conservation trials during the 1980s

Preserving the rock art of Kakadu: Formative conservation trials during the 1980s Book Section

Histories of Australian Rock Art Research

  • Author(s): Marshall, Melissa, Lee, Jeffrey, O'Loughlin, Gabrielle, May, Kadeem, Huntley, Jillian
  • Secondary Author(s): Taçon, PSC, May, SK, Frederick, UK, McDonald, J
  • Published: 2022

Abstract: Human interactions with the world and each other across time are most clearly represented in one of the most enduring legacies of humanity – rock art. Found around the world, the creativity and complex cultural interactions and associations of First Nations peoples are illustrated in these paintings, engravings and other media, conveying inherent understandings of relationships with Country, culture and kin. Here in Australia, this creative practice is shared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in cultural landscapes stretching across the country from the remote tropical north of Western Australia to the cold landscapes of Tasmania. Challenges to celebrate, protect, preserve and manage rock art in a changing world have been increasing exponentially, particularly since the mining and infrastructure development booms that followed World War II introduced many outsiders to remote areas of Australia. By the late 1960s, impacts to rock art sites from complex development pressures were being identified and described (Marshall 2020:122). At places such as Murujuga in Dampier, on the West Australian coast (Bednarik 2006), the Quinkan reserves on the Cape York Peninsula (Trezise 1971) and the Arnhem Land Plateau (Chaloupka 1974), such issues were brought to the attention of the Australian public, whereby advocates sought to support Indigenous communities in the face of these previously unidentified problems. For the Arnhem Land Plateau, recognition of the significance, value and importance of Aboriginal heritage during the twentieth century culminated in the establishment of Kakadu National Park in the 1970s and 1980s (hereafter ‘Kakadu’ or ‘the Park’). Kakadu was created to protect not only environmental landscapes, but also the living cultural heritage of the 13 clan groups in the area. With the increasing footprint of mining and industry in close proximity, the need to protect and preserve the plethora of rock art found here was vital. With 5000 known sites recorded in Kakadu alone and a further 10,000–15,000 expected, the full extent of the rock art of this northern region may never be fully quantified. Nonetheless, endeavours to scientifically protect and preserve the sites here were among the earliest attempts at rock art conservation in Australia.

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Suggested Citation
Marshall, Melissa, Lee, Jeffrey, O'Loughlin, Gabrielle, May, Kadeem, Huntley, Jillian, 2022, Preserving the rock art of Kakadu: Formative conservation trials during the 1980s, Book Section, viewed 21 February 2024, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=38528.

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