For many thousands of years indigenous Australians have been creating unique rock art by carving images into the the rocks around Sydney and the Central Coast. The Central Coast area is just north of Sydney with the Hawkesbury River being the dividing line. These aboriginal rock engraving sites contain images of sacred spiritual beings, mythical ancestral hero figures, various endemic animals, fish and many footprints (mundoes) amongst others.
Very few sites are advertised to the public so finding these types of sites can become a challenging quest. Not advertising these sites is a way of protecting them from mindless vandalism and so not many people are able to locate and view these works of art. Photographing the inscribed images can also be very difficult as many are very old and eroded.
Some sites have suffered damage from heavy machinery, trail bikes as well as by people walking over the carvings unknowingly. Aboriginal rock engravings that are located in exposed locations are slowly but surely disappearing due to the natural influence of weathering. Not long after Europeans arrived in Australia a great many indigenous people died due to exotic diseases or at the hands of the British invaders. Consequently the production and maintenance of these galleries ceased.
Finding Rock Art…
Around the greater Sydney and Central Coast areas there are many thousands of rock engraving sites, but very few are advertised or made known to the public. The few sites that are advertised are considered “sacrificial” sites. These sites are not meant as a public showcase but rather they are designed to attract visitors away from what are considered more important sites.
A serious study might take quite a lot of investigation beforehand to locate possible engraving sites. Some well known sites can be found via your favourite internet search engine. We often spend time on Google Earth looking for likely looking rock platforms that may contain engraved motifs. Once a rock platform has been located, the co-ordinates are put into a hand held GPS device that we use to locate the platforms out in the bush. A GPS device is also essential for safely navigating back out of the bush too!
The best time of day is either very early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. The slanting sunlight causes the engravings to appear out of the rock surface in sharper relief. Finding engravings when the sun is high in the sky can become a near impossible task. Likewise, a heavily overcast day produces a lack of contrast between the inscribed grooves and the surrounding rock surface making the task very difficult.
Engravings that are in heavily shadowed areas can also be difficult to spot. You may walk around an area where you suspect there might be rock engravings and find nothing, only to come back later in the day to the same area and find that the designs have appeared like magic when the sunlight is coming from a lower angle in the sky. Many of the surfaces are covered in lichen, leaf litter and other detritus that makes them hard to find. Be aware that many aboriginal sites can be very difficult to reach and you may encounter snakes, goannas and other wildlife along the way.
Photographing Rock Engravings…
To best photograph rock engravings you need an oblique light source. The sun low in the sky or a remote flash unit can both produce good results. If you have a flash unit built in or mounted onto your camera then you should turn it off before attempting to photograph the rock. A camera mounted flash will light the engraved grooves and the rock surface equally. This will reduce the contrast between the grooves and surrounding rock effectively making the images disappear.
Some people try to improve the visibility of engravings by pouring water along the grooves. Some engravings can be extremely large (especially whales) and can be a problem to photograph by someone standing at ground level. This can be solved by setting up a rig to hoist the camera high above the engraving.
We use a method of planar mosaic imaging that involves taking many images of an engraving (sometimes hundreds or even thousands) from about waist height and then use special software to stitch these into a final single composite image. On some images we also add a false colour cast to highlight an otherwise difficult to discern design. We may also use fluorescent builders twine carefully placed along the grooves to help highlight the design. Builders twine is limp and lays nicely in the grooves without trying to twist or make its own path.
Careful and judicious post processing of the photographs can make some difficult to see carvings more apparent. Each rock platform presents different problems when it comes to photography. Ambient light, shadows, textures, low contrast and accessibility must all be considered when deciding the best method to photograph any particular engraving or site as a whole.
Rock Engravings As Art
On this website we are not going to try and explain these images or try to tell their stories. For that kind of information you would need to consult an indigenous person with that cultural knowledge.
We are interested in these designs as intriguing and beautiful works of art that will, sadly, eventually erode and disappear as many already have. Rock art is a glorious expression of life and belief that has been produced by people that have lived in this land for many thousands of years. This is art from a culture that is many times older than the pyramids or stone-henge and this is an art form that can be difficult to appreciate first hand due to the way that these engravings are located across the land.
The style of aboriginal rock engravings that are found around the Sydney and Central Coast areas are simple figurative silhouettes that seem to manage to contain just enough information to convey the nature of the subject and a few contain interior detail. Sometimes the artist has taken advantage of natural formations and lines to include in these carvings.
Protecting Rock Engravings
When you go to an engraving site please remember that these sites are culturally significant to the Australian Indigenous people. Engraving sites should not be damaged or defaced and you should try not to walk on any carvings. These engravings could be thousands of years old. The carvings are difficult to date precisely because the Aboriginal people would re-groove them periodically, especially during ceremonies. Engravings that might appear relatively recent could have very ancient beginnings.
Please do not try to make the designs more visible by scratching them with rocks or tools or chalk. Enjoy the engravings as they are and leave them that way. These rock engravings are a unique resource and should not be destroyed.
People who may be offended by images of sacred rock engravings should not enter this website.
All images on this website can be clicked on to view an enlarged version.