Protecting Cultural Heritage

Documenting art

The Warddeken IPA encompasses what may be the largest body of undocumented rock art in the world. The art is of world heritage standard and, to the traditional custodians of the stone country, is integral to cultural identity and an essential part of this living landscape.

Initiating this project represents a unique opportunity to build a rock art conservation initiative that will empower Indigenous people to manage and preserve a part of the world’s heritage for many generations to come.

What makes this project unique is that it will be owned and led by Indigenous people. Until now, rock art research has mainly been driven by non-Indigenous priorities. While traditional owners recognise the value of the contributions academics have clearly made to this field, Warddeken traditional owners wish to initiate a project that will challenge the orthodox research paradigm and put Indigenous priorities first, to ensure that rock art research is undertaken by Indigenous rangers in collaboration with academics who will be asked to respond to Indigenous-defined research questions.

The work of Warddeken Land Management Limited has assisted the descendants of those who painted this rock art to repopulate the Arnhem plateau. In conjunction with the Warddeken Rangers, the project aims to build on this movement of people back to their ancestral homelands to assist them to reconnect with their historical rock art legacy. The project will also provide opportunities for Indigenous staff to increase their technical skills related to archaeology and cultural heritage management, delivering employment and education outcomes in both these areas where few Indigenous people are recognised as leaders or experts.

Potentially the largest undocumented body of rock art in the world with less than 5% of the 1.4 million hectare Indigenous Protected Area having been surveyed.

— Shaun Ansell, Warddeken CEO

There are still elders who are holders of intimate, first-hand knowledge of rock art and occupation sites, having lived and camped on the Arnhem plateau as young people. As such, this project also presents an urgent and unique opportunity to record their knowledge.