Rock art

1main entrance1

A short break from a monotony of my Bestiary posts, a different take on the art.
There is a large cave up in the Gulf, in the sandstone country down the Boroloola way, about 25 km from the nearest road. Until now more of a rumour than a destination, the two guys I met who have actually been there were both raving about it. Last year I tried to reach it on my bicycle, but too much sand on the trail and deep muddy creek crossings turned me back. This year I simply walked in. For the first time on my travels I carried a camera with me – I borrowed Nat’s spare point-and-shoot toy, and some of the pictures were definitely worth taking.
This will be a long post as I have no heart to break it up into shorter sections.

2bottom end
Tunnel cave was excavated by an ancient creek. It’s something like 50 metres long, now high above the present water level at the billabong.

3side windows1
Cave has an entrance at either end, where the water once flowed, a large opening in the middle where the sandstone roof caved in, and several windows in both sides.

4window view

5filligreed door0
Some window entrances are lined with fine filigrees of roots, like some elven ornaments.

The main entry is graced with a layered painting of a couple, two main figures are 6 feet tall, partly covered by later art.

The main body of the cave is painted over with large images; every flat surface of the walls or ceiling depicts something.

9hammerhead god1
Some paintings are easy to identify, goanna, crocodile, emu, dugong, but some are trickier, like this hammerhead bloke here.

11sunburst face


12wax monkeys2
If it wasn’t for the tail, I would guess it’s dancing figures. With a tail, I don’t know – there are no monkeys in Australia.

13rabbit fish
Other images are more enigmatic and some defy any classification.



Rainbow Serpent is represented at least a dozen times in the cave, often overlaying the older paintings. The biggest Serpent, about 14 feet long, was impossible to photograph, as it was twisting on a very low ceiling in the dark stretch of the cave.
Opposite him perched a life-sized emu in red ochre.




19wax snake 1

White dots surrounding this Serpent are not paint, they are blobs of beeswax attached to the stone of the wall.

20fat tick
This was a tiny painting in the entrance. Turtle? Mud frog? Tick?

21acrylic kids1
In another part there was a cycle of drawings done in a different pigment, in a different style, reminding of a modern kids’ drawing, or a graffiti.

22acrylic kids2

23a palette2
Every large cave has its own “palette”, a set of little round dishes gouged into the rock, in which the artists ground and mixed their pigment before they applied it to the walls.

The whole cave is a fantastic piece of real estate, cyclone proof, ventilated and air conditioned. This is a cattle country, so flies are abominable, swilling around you in their hundreds. Tight wrap-around sunglasses keep them out of your eyes, mostly, but there is no way of driving them away. The moment you enter the cave, though, flies disappear. They do not follow you in.
The cave has been inhabited for millennia, until the day that a ball of lightning flew in and killed the entire clan that was living there. Their bones are still heaped up in one corner of the cave.

Josh have seen the cave in the 80ies, and he said that a narrow shelf above the ossuary held a number of human skulls. Skulls are gone today, as are all other more interesting parts and all the stone tools. What’s left are broken and heavily weathered bones that suggest they were lying here exposed for a very long time.

Not far from the main cave is a small arch which hosts its own critter.

About 2 foot tall, what or who she is must be left to the experts to debate. I like her exquisitely drawn toes.

27evening tower2
Cave is a part of a large sandstone city with innumerable laneways, bays and intriguing towers. Without a central point of reference, orientation can be a tricky business, though.

28Lavazza 2
Midday break on the way back. Besides wild cattle, both buffaloes and wild pigs are common, so all the water holes are muddy. Water is all right to cook with, even drink if you are running short. This must’ve been a God’s own country before the introduced stock ruined all the water courses.

29lily billabong
Lily covered billabong at the foot of the stone city. I saw fresh water crocodiles in it, usually a sign that larger salties are not around. Yet, you’d have to pay me a lot before I dipped a toe in this water.

Photos by Kris Larsen




2 thoughts on “Rock art

  1. Pingback: Rock art :: Kris goes walkabout | -- ✄ - ✄ - the smallest forest - ✄ - ✄ --

  2. Wow! Amazing. I love the fact that you are out exploring and appreciating our great land. I am about to set out on a 12 month around Australia trip with my husband and 4 young kids, so can’t imagine we’ll be trekking 25km on foot, but I do feel inspired to definitely get off the beaten track and see what we can find. Thanks for this post; great!

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