Far North Queensland, Australia: Rock of ages

 |   |  1 min read

Far North Queensland, Australia: Rock of ages

By the time we get to the top, and it is only a slight uphill walk for 15 minutes, we are breathless in the dry heat and reaching for our water bottles. Below us the smooth sealed Peninsula Development Road leads south to Cairns some 180km away, but up here on the top of this valley near Laura, where a sign indicated the population was 70, we are back possibly 15,000 years.

Yes, the Aboriginal rock art here has suffered from over-painting and you suspect some of it is perhaps only a century or so old, but at Split Rock you can discern the fearful Imjim figure (who bounces like a kangaroo on his massive penis), the Timara spirit with its pendulous ears and numerous images of dingoes, flying foxes (upside down, naturally), echidnas and wallaroos.

This site – only “discovered” by a road crew 50 years ago – is one of many around Laura, a region considered by UNESCO to be one of the top 10 rock art areas in the world.

Most sites however are remote, protected and unavailable to the casual visitor, but the aptly named Split Rock has been opened to the public although locals ask no photographs be taken. As with the request you not climb Uluru, it goes mostly ignored – and perhaps the attrition of thousands of snapping shutters means there is little left to rob the images of. But no one in our small party bothers.

We wait for a group of a dozen elderly visitors from Cairns to depart and sit in silence reading the huge wall of images before us.

Aboriginal people have had continuous occupation of this region for around 50,000 years and the walls dance with their story here in Quinkan country. The doomed explorers Ludwig Leichardt and later Edmund Kennedy came through this area, and there is a representation of a horse six metres long which was painted after Kennedy passed through in 1848, the year both men died.

But most of the images go back into that shadowy pre-history which Europeans can never fully comprehend: the emu dreaming story, the Yam spirit, the Timara Quinkan with its elongated arms and who showed the people how to find food out here in this unforgiving landscape . . .

And under these giant slabs of sandstone the people would shelter from the heat and the rains. Just over there is the women's area.

This region is the still an important hub for Aboriginal people. The Laura Dance Festival takes place here every second year and pulls thousand of artists, performers and curious tourists.

But it is up here in the soulful silence under a cloudless sky where you can contemplate those larger questions about the continuity of culture, the spirits which walk this land and, not the least, wonder why, if you were building that road down below you would climb up here when you had a break.

Me? I'd probably have just laid down in the shade.

For more stories about remote and always interesting Australia start here

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Travels articles index

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Live it like a local

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Live it like a local

The view across Kuala Lumpur at sunset from here – 35 storeys up – is spectacular. Over there, glistening gold in the last sun-flecked flickers of this typically humid day, is the... > Read more

Kuching in Borneo Malaysia: Big city, small town

Kuching in Borneo Malaysia: Big city, small town

  “This is my kind of Malaysia,” says Bob from laidback California as we enjoy Tiger Beer at the James Brooke Bar and Bistro near the relaxing riverfront in Kuching.... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

BOB MARLEY REMEMBERED IN NEW ZEALAND (2009): The symmetry of commemorations

BOB MARLEY REMEMBERED IN NEW ZEALAND (2009): The symmetry of commemorations

Summertime in the late Nineties and I am walking in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Around the corner come two Maori guys who greet me with eyebrow flashes and a hefty, "Kia ora."... > Read more

DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by ERIC BURDON

DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by ERIC BURDON

Eric Burdon -- frontman for Newcastle's ragged r'n'b band the Animals in the 60s -- tells a good story. In fact his life is a series of good stories, and before his New Zealand tour in 2001 he was... > Read more