Between Dampier and Karratha on the Pilbara Coast of Western Australia is the Burrup Peninsula, part of the newly created Murujulga National Park. Deep Gorge is located within the boundaries of Murujulga off a rough dirt track, within sight of the new multi million dollar Yara (Orica) ammonium nitrate plant, used in fertilisers and explosives.
I came to see some Aboriginal rock art but I was overwhelmed by what was here! There are an estimated 10,000 aboriginal rock art sites in Deep Gorge. The images are called petroglyphs (not paintings) and are made by removing the outer surface of the rock by pounding, abrading and scoring. Over time, the patina adds a protective coating and lustre to the works. The estimated age of the rock art is between 25,000 and 30,000 years. These are perhaps the oldest rock art in the world.
I walked respectfully, not climbing on the rocks or photographing human images as requested by the local country men and women.
Some would like to have the entire Burrup Peninsula declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The federal and state governments have conducted enquires. The CSIRO claimed the extra nitrates in the air had no particular impact on the rock art, however the data they used has now been called into question!
Yara on site monitoring is apparently worlds best practice and has proved to be unreliable as their monitoring stations were either turned off or not installed!
What’s not in dispute is the significance of the rock art, which belongs not only to the Australian people but to all humanity in perpetuity. The patina is fading, the rock art is fading away and may well be lost within a generation.
There are no rangers, no fences or permits required to walk into Deep Gorge. We just turned off the bitumen a short way along a dusty rutted track, then walked along the trail through the spinifex.
Nothing prepared me for the sight of such history and art works. Some were once recognisable but their meaning and context have been lost in time. A stream runs through here, middens of shellfish, kangaroo bones and fruiting trees suggest it was a place of ceremony. A whole culture perhaps lost to antiquity.
As I walked solemnly along the lake bed, marvelling at the cathedral like surrounds, I was accompanied by the incessant hum of the Yara “Jobs & Growth” enterprise.
Walking back through the Gorge, I startled a Kangaroo. No doubt it’s a descendant of one of those carved on the rocks above us that are tens of thousands of years ago!