our past

In 2008, researchers from the Australian National University documented a wall of about 1500 paintings depicting Aboriginal contact with outsiders, including images of Macassan praus and European sailing ships.

Such paintings are scattered around Australia, demonstrating our role as this country’s first historians. The images shown here belong to the Mok and Djorrorlum clans in western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory and it has been suggested by people working in the area that they may document the travels of the explorer David Lindsay (1856-1922) who explored Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1883.

Aboriginal Australians have adapted to a range of climatic and environmental changes over thousands of years, and our ancient heritage should be a source of pride and celebration for all Australians. Researchers now say that our ancestors have lived on the mainland for over 60,000 years and on the Torres Strait islands for more than 10,000 years — a longer period than modern humans have been in many parts of Europe and the Americas.

Long before Europeans arrived in Australia, our culture had developed a level of stability and continuity that still exists today. Rock art and stone petroglyphs, some of which still exist at certain sites, is dated as some of the oldest in the world. A charcoal-drawn fragment recently discovered in the Northern Territory has been dated unequivocally as 28,000 years old. A stone axe found at the same site is dated at 35,000 years old.

 

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Petroglyphs from the Dampier Archipelago in Western Australia. The art in this area is amongst the oldest in the world.

The different degrees of weathering of particular types of faunal engravings on the Dampier Archipelago provide, in the national context, an unusual and outstanding visual record of the Aboriginal responses to the rise of sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age. The deeply weathered ‘archaic faces’ are an exceptional demonstration of the long history of contact and shared visual narratives between Aboriginal societies.

Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australian Heritage Database: Places for decision 2004, www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahc/national-assessments/dampier-archipelago/pubs/dampier-archipelago.pdf.

 

These rock art images belonging to the Mok clan in western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory are thought to portray a Tasmanian devil and a Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine. Both animals were once widespread throughout Australia, however it is commonly believed that the thylacine became extinct on the mainland around 3500 years ago with the introduction of the dingo to Australia, while the Tasmanian devil disappeared from the mainland around 400 years ago. Images such as these, along with depictions of other extinct Australian animals, date back as far as 28,000 years. They can be found on the walls of caves throughout Arnhem Land, testimony to the longevity and endurance of our culture.