Cultural Heritage

Documenting art

The escarpment country of the Arnhem Plateau, found within the Warddeken IPA is home to what is, possibly, the largest undocumented body of kunwarddebim (rock art) in the world. Many of the estimated 30,000 - 50,000 rock art galleries are likely to contain world heritage quality art. Much of this rock art is thousands of years old and sites are threatened with damage or loss from uncontrolled wildfires and physical disturbance by feral animals who rub the art from the rock walls. Indigenous knowledge of places, stories and language related to rock art sites are also at risk of loss, as people who grew up on this Country pass away.

The Rock Art project builds on extensive community consultation, and aims to document and protect the extensive collection of Indigenous rock art throughout the IPA, with particular focus given to sites with where there is still living connection with Nawarddeken Elders, who grew up on the Plateau. Their stories, memories and first hand knowledge is being recorded for younger generations.

Additionally, Warddeken is using the insight and knowledge generated through the documentation process  to improve its management plans, aiding in reducing threats around the art galleries. These conservation techniques include targeted early burning and weed control strategies to reduce fuel loads, and fencing or feral animal control to reduce large animal (pigs, buffalo) access to vulnerable sites.

Karrinahnan bim ba kamak rowk, kobohkohbanj korroko birrinahnani dja bolkki karriyawoyhkerrngehme ba bu wurdurd kabirribolbme.

We look after rock art like old people used to. Today, we want to renew it and care for it to make sure it’s all fine so that the children learn our history.

— Lorna dja Suzanna Nabulwad

The project is 100% owned and directed by the Nawarddeken community, who have a strong focus on recording the intimate and irreplaceable knowledge of elders. Surveys have commenced on a number of clan estates, inline with explicit strategies, actions and measurable indicators that will guide a management regime to monitor and reduce threats to art, as well as support cultural connection and language related to the art.

As areas are surveyed, rangers are identifying important places that would benefit from fencing to exclude feral animals, and the sites are shared with staff and rangers who coordinate cool-burning fire management,  to create firebreaks and easier access for rangers to undertake seasonal conservation actions.