Aboriginal rock art puts First Fleet in its place

Other News Materials 20 September 2008 09:44 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - A wall of Aboriginal rock art paintings replete with images of aeroplanes, bicycles, guns and steamships blasted open the notion that interaction between Australia's indigenous population and the rest of the world began with the British takeover and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, scientists said Saturday.

"This rock art dismantles the popular identity of Australia being a nation first visited by the British," Griffith University archaeologist Paul Tacon said.

The panoply of 1,500 pictures, some dating back 15,000 years and the most recent done in the 1940s, detail extensive contact with Bugis traders from the Indonesian port city of Macassar in Sulawesi, now called Ujung Pandang.

Aborigines are likely to have visited Macassar and crewed for the Bugis on boats that sailed to Australia in search of sea cucumbers.

The rock art in the Wellington Range in Arnhem Land was known about in the 1970s, but it was not until 1998 that the Griffiths University team began documenting it.

"There is layer upon layer of past art," Tacon told The Sydney Morning Herald. "It's as if everything that's passed these people by has been portrayed in that shelter."

There are scenes with Bugis sea captains, missionaries from Europe, whalers and even a World War II battleship.

"We are just the last in a whole bunch of people who have visited this coast," Tacon told the newspaper.