Gundabooka …

The expedition from north central Victoria to far north Queensland was some time in the making.

The lovely Gayle* would accompany me up, we would pick up Mark* in Townsville. Gayle would part with us in Cairns. Mark and I would return south via Birdsville in the far south west of Queensland. The trip was designed to take in the best of Australia’s tropical rainforest and the driest of desert.

The Toyota Prado was freshly serviced and fuelled up. The first day was intended to be a big step over all places close and familiar. Across the Murray River at Echuca, north east to the Kidman Way then north to Gundabooka National Park not far from Bourke in New South Wales, a little over 900km.

Not far from Echuca the fuel system warning light fired up! We’d hardly started. Out came the iPad, Toyota dealers … yes. We were on the doorstep when Toyota Echuca opened. They had replaced the fuel filter and reset the alarm within 30 minutes. That was the only mechanical problem we would have to face. Gotta love Toyota.

We made it to Gundabooka in daylight, set up our camp and had time for an evening walk. On this occasion it was to serve only as a stopover but it is a worthy destination in its own right. The park is mostly dry woodland with some rocky outcrops, hills and a gorge. The area is of great significance to the Ngemba aboriginal people and there are paintings at a rock shelter that can be visited.



Some of the wildlife is quite friendly…


Some less so …


*Names changed to protect their privacy.

Bigge Island …

Another big day in the Kimberley. May 3rd started out with a boat trip past Crocodile Rock …

Crocodile Rock

to a little cove …

in which, at low tide, there is the entrance to a natural cavern …

Cathedral Cavern

It was a day spent in the vicinity of Bigge Island, not a lot of other people around but a place of significance to people for probably some 65 000 years. Here is a ceremonial ground, a place where initiations and significant cultural activities would have occurred …

Ceremonial Ground

In that one day we were able to see three styles of rock painting. The Wandjina style is a living tradition, the most prominent theme is the Wandjina itself …


… but other dream time figures and animals are also depicted. Hands are popular.


These in-filled kangaroos are beneath an overhang that is not suitable for habitation and may be an example of an older style …


Most intriguing of all though are the Bradshaw figures. Not only are they elegant, they are shrouded in mystery and have an interesting recent history. There existence was made known to the European world by Joseph Bradshaw who discovered them in 1891 whilst searching for a suitable place to run some cattle. He was familiar with the Wandjina style and recognised these figures as something quite different.

He wasn’t carrying a camera and the exact location was hard to record. The pastoral enterprise came to nought and so when he later came to address the Victorian branch of the Royal Geographic Society all had to show was his sketches. His enthusiasm for the fine detail and an aesthetic worthy of ancient Egypt elicited a lukewarm response.

American archaeologist Daniel Sutherland Davidson in a survey of Australian rock art published in 1936 was dismissive, pointing out that Bradshaw’s encounter with this art was brief and lacked any Aboriginal interpretations, his sketches were likely inaccurate and drawn from a Eurocentric bias.

Bradshaw’s discovery didn’t reach the mainstream until the 1950’s. Rediscovery of his original gallery has shown his sketches to be remarkably accurate.

And what of the Aboriginal interpretations? When archeologists began to ask  about the figures they found that the local people did not hold them in high regard, tastes had changed. They have explanations for the origin of the paintings but, unlike Wandjina art, no stories that bring them into the fabric of their lives.

The paintings mostly depict human silhouettes in a dynamic style that suggests running, hunting or dancing. They are often dressed in elaborate head ornamentation and often have tassels or sashes at the waist.

Bradshaw figures

An enormous amount of research has been carried out by amateur archaeologist Grahame Walsh between 1977 and and his death in 2007. But for all that we know little about the people who made these ancient and evocative images and exactly when they were painted.

Kimberley rock art …

If we share the stories of our country with gudia (whitefella), then they will have our country in their hearts as we do, and they will understand and love it, and never damage it.

David Bungal Mowaljarlai OAM  (c.1926–1997).

Before leaving Bachsten Gorge we took the time to explore some of the sandstone outcrops and natural shelters. We followed in the footsteps of many people over many thousands of years. We were fortunate enough to find some paintings on the shelter walls. Just as Mr Mowaljarlai suspected we would, we admired and respected what we saw. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, a few examples …






And lastly a photo taken from within a rock shelter …


If you are interested in this art there is an excellent webpage <HERE>.

To continue the journey <HERE>.