Some of the world’s oldest cave art

Only a fraction of the country’s estimated 100,000 rock art sites have been documented, and as one traveller discovered, protection is patchy.

Away from the sun’s glare, my eyes needed a moment to adjust. I heard my daughter and husband making their way up the rocky trail behind me through the oppressive heat. “This better be worth it,” my daughter Maia called out.

I peered through the dim light of a shallow cave and spotted an array of centuries-old paintings. There was a red ray with white dots overlapping a crocodile. Nearby, I puzzled over sea creatures with feathery fronds. Then I saw the sailing ships: painted one on top of the other in shades of yellow, red and orange, they evoked old European galleons and Indonesian sailboats. Oh, it was worth it, alright.

Spotted ray and crocodile (Credit: Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

Spotted ray and crocodile. (Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

And yet, I was perplexed. We’d come to Stanley Island, off Australia’s Cape York Peninsula, to learn about the Aboriginal Australians who once resided here. But we found the main sign marking Flinders Group National Park concealed by mangroves and the guestbook had recorded only a handful of visitors each month. This place attracted thousands of visitors in the early 1980s. Where were they now? Why wasn’t anyone here to keep an eye on the artwork? And how had this 75-year-old park, with its historic rock art, faded into obscurity?

I suspected part of the answer had to do with the remote location. We were in a small, uninhabited island group 340km north of Cairns. Getting to Stanley Island – or Yindayin, as it’s called by the local Aboriginals – isn’t easy. While some visitors arrive here on small coastal cruise ships out of Cairns or on coastal ferries, we travelled up the coast on our own boat and anchored in Owen Channel near the spot where we thought the rock art might be. Rather than hire a tour guide through theCooktown and Cape York Peninsula Information Centre180km south, we explored the island on our own.

After landing our dinghy, we headed up a designated trail through a fragrant orchard, past metre-high termite mounds and rugged cliffs. When we finally reached a beach on the other side of the island, I searched for the trail leading to the rock art.

Coming ashore on Stanley Island (Credit: Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

Coming ashore on Stanley Island. (Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

“There might be salties!” my husband Evan called to Maia each time she strayed close to the water’s edge. He was referring to saltwater crocodiles, of course – the kind that eat humans. Fortunately, we didn’t see any.

Once I found the trail, we trudged into the bush to find the artwork. The wind dropped and the humidity increased, and I began to wonder if the park had been forgotten for a reason. Then I stepped under the overhanging rock ledge and entered the shallow cave.

I couldn’t believe what I saw. There had to be hundreds of  paintings on the rock face: images of ships, canoes, birds and turtles. Each time I turned my head, looking up to the ceiling or deeper into the shelter, I spotted something new. The cave, which was almost big enough to hold one of the ships painted on its walls, was like a window into the past. Gazing at the white and ochre paintings, I was filled with wonder.

Ships on the wall (Credit: Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

Ships on the wall. (Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

The Aboriginal Yiithuwarra, or “saltwater people”, lived throughout the Flinders Islands for more than 2,900 years, until about 70 years ago. We don’t know how many people there were, exactly, but at one time dozens of multi-family settlements dotted the small islands. I thought about the Yiithuwarra who painted these ships. Each image was so detailed. Had the artists seen the ships from up close? Or just from afar? The only solidly identifiable image of a European ship was from 1899, but most of the images probably pre-date that.

We know that some ships landed on the island and carried people away. Even before the first European ship sailed past in 1606, a number of fit young men were coerced aboard Indonesian sailboats to fish for sea cucumbers in the rough local waters. In the 1880s, still more young men were recruited to work on small luggers, or fishing boats, in the highly lethal pearling and fishing industries. Records indicate that some local women were even traded for goods with those aboard passing boats.

And then it all came to an end. Details are sketchy, but by the late 1930s, Yindayin was nearly empty of its traditional people. Authorities soon removed remaining Yiithuwarra, taking them to missions on the Cape York Peninsula for fear they might lead an invading Japanese force to food and water.

As Evan and I studied the ships, Maia searched the walls and overhangs for the last image that was reportedly painted here: a dugong, the endangered sea cow that was once central to this Aboriginal culture. It was painted roughly 60 years ago by the last Aboriginal man born on the island. Then she spotted it: a bulbous, deep red creature with bright white stripes. She seemed to meditate on it for a moment.

“They’re almost all gone now, too. Aren’t they?” she asked.

My initial excitement over seeing the art faded to sadness. We still took turns pointing out images that captured our imagination: a bird’s single footprint, a kangaroo (on an island that has none), a boomerang (I guess they really did use them). But the thrill of discovery was overshadowed by the reality of the situation. Not only were the artists missing, but the seascape they recorded was also disappearing.

After an hour or so of studying the rock art, we wandered deeper into the island, noting former indigenous cooking sites, sleeping locales and other sacred places filled with yet more art. Despite the boardwalk that had been constructed under our feet, it was hard to shake the feeling that the inhabitants had just stepped out for a while. If only.

I thought about all of the extraordinary paintings out here, unprotected. They’re hardly alone, unfortunately. Only a fraction of Australia’s estimated 100,000 Aboriginal rock art sites have been documented, and protection is patchy.

Noelene Cole, an archaeologist and rock-art specialist, points out that many sites in northern Australia are endangered because rock art concentrations tend to be found in regions with mineral deposits, making the areas targets for mine developments. Even Yindayin is at risk. An underground coalmine and port facility has been approved for Cape York’s nearby Bathurst Bay, located on the mainland just a couple of kilometres from the islands. When the mine is built, the island could see more visitors, including miners out for recreation. They may not all appreciate the area’s cultural heritage.

Cole points to the well-publicized and recurring graffiti and vandalism damage that’s occurred to ancient artwork over the past several years after a gas processing plant, port and other industrial facilities were built on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia.

To date, officials have focused more on promoting economic development than  protecting cultural treasures, she said. But she hopes that will change.

Tranquil Australian waters (Credit: Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

Tranquil Australian waters. (Evan Gatehouse/Diane Selkirk)

The risk to the irreplaceable rock art was on my mind when we sailed away from the islands the next morning. There is, I realized, cause for hope. In recent years the Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land and national park system began including the traditional Aboriginal owners in the care and control of national parks where they have resided.

Resources tend to be scarce, and in places like Yindayin, where the traditional people haven’t lived for decades, it’s difficult for them to find a role for themselves.

But perhaps in time, decedents of the Yiithuwarra will again greet ships that arrive on their island – and care for the ships that their ancestors painted so many years ago.

2,294 Responses to “ Some of the world’s oldest cave art ”

  1. Hola! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from
    Dallas Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the great work!

    Also visit my site … club penguin walkthrough avalanche rescue

  2. Chance says:

    Amazing! Its truly remarkable piece of writing, I have got much clear idea
    about from this piece of writing.

  3. Maryjo says:

    It can still be dangerous if not properly executed and used, although, testosterone replacement treatment spells numerous advantages.

    my blog post … testosterone therapy for female to male, Maryjo,

  4. The included studies symbolized 3,236 guys (1,895 guys treated with testosterone, 1,341 men treated with placebo) who
    reported 51 major adverse cardiovascular events, defined as cardiovascular death,
    non fatal myocardial infarction or stroke, and serious acute coronary syndromes or
    heart failure.10 This study didn’t find a statistically significant increased risk of these cardiovascular events connected with testosterone treatment.

    Feel free to surf to my web page … testosterone therapy cost in india

  5. Top prostate supplements contain clinical strength ingredients like zinc,
    vitamin D, DIM, quercetin, saw palmetto, and others that help your body keep estrogen and
    dihydrotestosterone levels in balance.

    my blog post :: testosterone therapy cost

  6. When someone writes an piece of writing he/she maintains the
    plan of a user in his/her mind that how a user can understand
    it. Therefore that’s why this article is amazing.

  7. Very rapidly this web site will be famous amid all blogging and site-building users, due to it’s good content

  8. This is the perfect site for anyone who wishes to find out about this
    topic. You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want to…HaHa).
    You definitely put a fresh spin on a topic which has been written about for decades.
    Wonderful stuff, just great!

  9. dui defense says:

    Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all folks you
    really recognize what you’re talking about! Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my site =).
    We could have a hyperlink exchange arrangement among us

  10. Hi there! This post could not be written any better!
    Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept preaching about this. I am going to forward this information to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to send
    you an e-mail. I’ve got some creative ideas for your blog
    you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I
    look forward to seeing it expand over time.

  12. Sue says:

    You’re no longer gettting optimum outcomes from work ous that are disciplined, and

    My web page: testosterone therapy cost in pakistan (Sue)

  13. However, there arre means to boost this male hormone naturally and without side effects with the help of some simple changes to
    your diet and lifestyle.

    Have a lok at my website: testosterone therapy side effects anxiety

  14. Additionally, there are more experienced patients who’ve bsen on testosterone
    therapy for longer whom know their bodies and understand their reactions
    to treatment.

    Here is my website

  15. funny gene says:

    Wonderful blog! I found it while browsing on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?

    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
    Many thanks

    Feel free to surf to my blog – funny gene

  16. music notes says:

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with
    the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me
    from that service? Bless you!

    my web blog … music notes

  17. Just wish to say your article is as surprising.
    The clearness in your post is just spectacular and i could assume you’re an expert on this subject.
    Well with your permission allow me to grab your feed to
    keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

    Look into my page – family friendly comedians

  18. Its like you learn my thoughts! You appear to know a lot
    about this, like you wrote the e-book in it
    or something. I feel that you just could do with some p.c.
    to power the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is great blog.
    A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

    Also visit my web-site go fundsystem scam

  19. Great site you have got here.. It’s hard to find excellent writing
    like yours nowadays. I really appreciate individuals like can you hire a comedian you see on comedy central?!
    Take care!!

  20. I’m curious to find out what blog system you have been working with?
    I’m having some small security problems with my latest blog and I’d
    like to find something more safeguarded. How do i hire a comedian? you
    have any solutions?

  21. party theme says:

    Great blog! Is your party theme custom made or did you download
    it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out.
    Please let me know where you got your theme. Thanks a lot

  22. always i used to read smaller posts that also clear their motive,
    and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading here.

    my webpage; chiropractic care benefits

  23. Additionally, it’ll be clear that without the aid
    of increasing your Testosterone levels to represent numbers had
    in your youth, these results, aand nergy level outputs wouldn’t be possible.

    My webpage

  24. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I believe that you ought to write more on this issue,
    it may not be a taboo matter but usually people do not speak about these topics.
    To the next! Cheers!!

    Also visit my homepage …

  25. Thee same difficulties are faced by younger men and with just a couple of
    tweaks could potentially chawnge their lives.

    Review myy web blog

  26. Comics says:

    Asking questions are actually pleasant thing if you are not understanding something
    entirely, except this piece of writing provides
    good understanding even.

    Also visit my homepage: Comics

  27. Wow, marvelous blog structure! How long have you ever been blogging for?

    you made running a blog glance easy. The entire look of your web site is wonderful, let alone
    the content material!

    Also visit my website – collecting comic books

  28. A precise diagnosiss oof what’s called primary vs. secondary hypogonadism with a medical specialixt
    who understands thorough physical exam findings, symptom
    profiles, and lab and image testing procedures are important first steps in understanding whether testosterone
    treatment is proper for a man and what therapy might doo foor him.

    Here is my homepage …

  29. There are some tests youu should have performed consistently should you decide too begin testosterone treatment.

    Stoop by my webpage

  30. funny ideas says:

    I blog quite often and I genuinely appreciate your content.
    The article has truly peaked my interest. I’m going to book mark your site and keep checking for new details about once a
    week. I subscribed to your Feed as well.

    Check out my page … funny ideas

  31. crowdfuning says:

    Great goods from you, man. I have be aware your stuff previous to
    and you’re just extremely magnificent. I actually like what you’ve received here, certainly like what you
    are saying and the way in which by which you are saying it.

    You’re making it enjoyable and you continue to care for to stay it smart.

    I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a tremendous web site.

    Look at my webpage; crowdfuning

  32. Furthermore, it’s going to be obvious that without the aid
    of increasing your Testosterone levels to represent amounts had these
    results, inn your youth, and energy level outputs wouldn’t bbe possible.

    Feel free to surf to my web page:

  33. Cornelius says:

    It doesn’t continuee creating testosterone nce iit understands thst amounts are higher than it would have generally generated
    for you throughout the duration of that day.

    Also visit my website – testosterone therapy risks – Cornelius

  34. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.

    Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz respond as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to find out where
    u got this from. thanks a lot

    Here is my site – stand up comedians, clean

  35. This post is in fact a good one it assists new internet visitors, who are wishing for blogging.

    my webpage – doctors of chiropractic

  36. I couldn’t resist commenting. Well written!

    Here is my website; go fund system scam

  37. I like the helpful information you provide on your articles.
    I will bookmark your blog and check again right here regularly.
    I am relatively certain I’ll be informed
    many new stuff right right here! Good luck for the following!

    Feel free to visit my web blog: GoFundSystem Scam

  38. I like the valuable info you supply how to book a comedian for a private party
    your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check once more
    here regularly. I’m reasonably certain I will be told plenty of new stuff proper here!
    Good luck for the next!

  39. This supplement contains herbal treatments to accentuate the male hormone and raise the sexual desire
    of a man.

    My page;

  40. Thanks for sharing such a fastidious idea, paragraph is pleasant, thats why i have read
    it completely

    Here is my blog post :: comedians list

  41. Hey! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing a
    few months of hard work due to no data backup.
    Do you have any methods to protect against hackers?

  42. Bette says:

    Your doctor will then recommend the best potential testosterone replacement
    therapy, generally testosterone cypionate intramuscular injections.

    Also visit my site – anti aging supplements (Bette)

  43. Mammograms and monitoring of prostate-specific antigen,hematocrit, and lipid levels arre recommended for patients.

    Here is my webpage;

  44. Jett says:

    The researchers said the new study was prompted by a recent clinical trial of testosterone therapy in guys who
    were at high risk for heart disease.

    Also visit my web blog … testosterone therapy side effects
    anxiety (Jett)

  45. Jodie says:

    On the other hand, testosterone treatment is safe and effective for the
    treatment of young men with hypogonadism (testosterone deficiency)
    that resulted from a disorder of the testes, pituitary oor

    my homepage :: testosterone therapy benefitfs (Jodie)

  46. Vitamin D has also been shown to help with all things male (everything from sperm quality to testosterone amount).

    Here is my web page: best anti aging supplement regimen

  47. Taalk to your health care professional if you’ve got concerns or questions about testosterone treatment.

    my web site … anti aing supplements for men (

  48. Extended periods of deficiency of prroduction and
    functionality, duue to unnaturally maintaining and modulating your testosterone
    levels, will cause atophy of those glands and drawn-out abuse of these organs can cauhse
    irreversible side efffects and perrmanent damage and unwanted conditions.

    Also visit my blog post;

  49. Carson says:

    Hormone Replacement Florida Therapy is a treatment in which hormones
    are given to prevent or treat heaslth conditions common in menopausal women, including

    Look at mmy website – anti agting supplement regimen – Carson,

  50. Although it’s within reason too construe that hormone therapy may have a
    direct impact on the centers in the brain that control mood,
    it is vital that you acknowledge that the side effects of hormone therapy may also promote the development of
    melancholy,” Pal, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by

    Herre is my homepage:

  51. When practicing good nutrition that is complete, fats from meat and coconut
    oil are crucial to improve testostesrone levels in most people.

    Feeel free to visit my site ::

  52. Men also must be cynical, independent thinkers, and educated in their own quest of whether hormone
    levels are influencing thir health or not given tthe current environment of testosterone maqss
    advertising coupled witfh permissive prescribing off testosterone
    for common, nonspecific,aging-related or inferior self
    attentioin symptoms which might be completely separate of testosterone deficiency.

    Here is my blog post –

  53. Hypogonadal men also report amounjts of anger, confusion, depression, and fatigue that are significantly higher than those reported in eugonadal men (high testosterone men).

    Here is my web page –

  54. Pressure increases thhe amount off horone corttisol
    in blood which changes testosterone production.

    Take a look att my blog; dr dov rand west orange