Kakadu National Park contains the highest concentration of Aboriginal rock art in Australia and the galleries at Ubirr, Nourlangie and Nanguluwur are spectacular and interesting. The fact that some of these paintings are as old as 20,000 years, but still part of a living culture, makes it even more interesting to view.
At Ubirr we saw many examples of the more recent x-ray style paintings, about 2,000 years old, showing the internal organs and bone structures of creatures like Barramundi fish and Long-neck turtles. There is also an excellently preserved example of the Mabuyu hunting figure which is estimated around 2,000 years old. According to local lore, Mabuyu was a fisherman. One day, he caught a lot of fish, but some other Aborigines cut his line and stole the fish from Mabuyu. Mabuyu found out who the thieves were and went to their cave. He rolled a rock in front of the opening, trapping them in the cave. The men who stole the fish and their wives died because they could not escape from the cave. This story is used in Aboriginal lore to demonstrate morality and the consequences of stealing. There was also an interesting, more recent painting of a man with a gun, documenting the contact with westerners.
At Nourlangie the rock art galleries are very impressive with different styles of paintings and amazing stories. The story of Namarrgon, the Lightening Man. Violent electrical storms occur on the Arnhem plateau and according to Aboriginal Dreamtime explanation of this work, Namarrgon and his family came from the sea and traveled Australia for many years. He uses the stone axes that are mounted on his head, elbows and knees to split the dark clouds and strike the ground, creating lightning and thunder. In addition to his axes, he also has a band wrapped around his body. This band belongs to thunder and works side by side with the axes to shake the earth and the heaven. Barrinj is Namarrgon’s wife and she is the mother of all grasshoppers.
There is also an excellent painting of Nabulwinjbulwinj, a dangerous spirit that eats females after striking them dead with a yam, a type of vegetable….weird!
The story of Namanjolg is a story of incest. It is said that Namanjolg and his sister had sex and later eloped. Ashamed of what they did, Namanjolg's sister told their family. Upon hearing of their sin, Namanjolg's family sought him out to punish him. When they found him, he was on top of what is now known as Feather Rock, dancing around a fire. A member of his family then pushed him into the fire. Namanjolg, covered in ash, dove into a nearby billabong and became a crocodile. Namanjolg's sister took a feather from his headdress and placed it at the site to remind others of the Aboriginal laws regarding incest which she had broken with her brother. Namanjolg's sister later becomes the Rainbow Serpent, Ngalyod, the subject of many Aboriginal stories from the Dreaming lore.
Also at Nourlangie, are paintings of kangaroos who are not present in Kakadu for thousands of years (only Wallabies and Wallaroos), dated at least 20,000 years old.
At Nanguluwur there is an interesting painting of a tall ship, evidence of the interaction with early settlers. The amazing part is that the site is 200km from the sea and shows the importance of these paintings to convey messages. There are also interesting hand paintings and x-ray style paintings as well as paintings of Namarnde, powerful ancestors that created the earth, live in caves and eat human flesh. Also at Nanguluwur is a painting of Algaigho, the Fire Woman, who planted the yellow banksias in the woodlands and used their smouldering flowers to carry fire.
These rock paintings are world heritage jewels and should be preserved for generations to come.
Rock art at Ubirr
X-ray paintings at Ubirr
Man with a gun
Mabuyu hunting figure
Barramundi x-ray style painting at Ubirr
Namarrgon (right), his wife Barrinj (left bottom) and Namanjolg (top)
Nabulwinjbulwinj the dangerous spirit that eats females
Nourlangie Rock Art
Tall ship painting next to a Barramundi x-ray painting at Nanguluwur
X-ray style paintings
Algaihgo, the Fire Woman, in the center of the painting
Hand paintings at Nanguluwur