Rock art is the oldest surviving human art form. In NSW, it is a link with Aboriginal life and customs before European settlement. Pictures on rocks were an important part of Aboriginal songs, stories, and customs that connected people with the land.
There are a number of different styles of rock art used across NSW, both of paintings and drawings and rock engravings. OEH conserves many rock art sites, working with local Aboriginal community groups. If you visit rock art sites, please be careful not to touch or damage the art and to show respect for the sites and surrounding areas.
Paintings and drawings
Drawings are pictures chalked onto rock surfaces using dry pigments. Paintings use wet pigments by stencilling, finger painting, or by using makeshift brushes such as chewed sticks.
The pigments used in rock art are usually naturally occurring minerals (like ochre), which are generally the product of weathering. They give very stable, long lasting, colourfast compounds.
Paintings and drawings can still be found where they are protected from direct rain and sun, such as rock caves, rock shelters and cliff faces.
Around Sydney you can see a number of good examples of rock painting. Examples of hand stencils are at:
In western NSW, the paintings and drawings are of very different styles to those made on the coast:
Engravings are outlines or filled-in figures, created on rock surfaces by pecking, hammering or scraping.
The sandstone around Sydney is rich in engraving sites, with a unique style of outlined figures. To see some good examples, try the following spots:
As with paintings and drawings, the engraving style is very different in western NSW. Mutawintji National Park has an engraving site which can be visited with a guide.
Rock art conservation
Some past conservation practices have led to the escalation of environmental impacts and have resulted in further damage to sites and it is for this reason that conservation measures and techniques must be carefully planned, evaluated and monitored.
OEH has developed an introductory guide to the preservation of Aboriginal rock art to assist staff, consultants and Aboriginal communities gain an understanding of conservation techniques and protocols for rock art conservation within NSW.
This video, “Managing Aboriginal Rock Art”, produced especially for the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service offers some very important insights into Aboriginal culture and the contemporary management of Aboriginal sites.
Born from the flames of a wildfire that swept over the iconic Echidna engraving in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, a series of maintenance works eventually led to a training video for land managers on the what, who, when and why for managing Aboriginal rock art engravings.
This professionally edited 20 minute video documents work carried out at The Basin Engraving site including interpretation, highlighting techniques and removal of vegetation covering rock art. Cultural Heritage staff also provide an up-to-date overview on the regulatory obligations for those planning to undertake works on Aboriginal sites in NSW. David Lambert, Rock Art conservator, provides valuable insights regarding the science and practical skills involved in the management of engraved Aboriginal art sites of the Hawkesbury sandstone.
This video is a must for land managers involved in any rock art management as well as for Universities, TAFE's, NSW Aboriginal Land Councils and local councils that carry out cultural heritage works and archaeological training.
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Page last updated: 08 September 2015