Having conversed a number of times with Michael from Sydney Rock Art via email, I was quick to accept an invitation to join him and Carolyn on a weekend expedition to photograph an Aboriginal engraving site in Brisbane Water National Park. As well as documenting numerous sites in and around the Central Coast and being a local expert on indigenous art, I was interested in some of the photographic techniques that Michael uses to capture Aboriginal rock art.
We start with a visit to the Woy Woy engraving site, where Michael points out a number of (sometimes very faint) engravings that I’d not seen documented anywhere else – and we manage to find two new ones. Then it’s onto a part of Brisbane Water National Park near Umina, as Michael leads the way up a bushwalking track that ascends from the road, passing some interesting sandstone formations.
There are some nice views from the ridge over the Central Coast: Umina and Ettalong is in the foreground, with Fishermans Bay, Rileys Bay and Hardys Bay beyond. You can also see the oddly-shaped and slightly incongruous Umina water reservoir, which is also a trig station (TS10588 Umina Trig).
The track follows a number of rock platforms along the top of the ridge, many of which look like a potential canvas for engravings.
Once we reach the engraving site, we gradually identify an increasing number of figures. A large skate is marked out with some string; inside the skate is a smaller fish.
Nearby is a wallaby or kangaroo, and a figure with a large “belt” around the middle. There are also some fish, and a much larger figure. Many of the carvings overlap, making it a bit tricky to work out what they all represent.
The number of engravings and size of the site makes it impossible to capture all of the figures in one photo, so Michael demonstrates his planar mosaic imaging approach. Thousands of photos (over 2,500 on this site, Michael confirms later) are stitched together to form a large composite image.
While Michael and Carolyn continue documenting the site, I explore some of the surrounding rock platforms. I don’t spot any other engravings, but one of the rock overhangs below the ridge has what I initially think may be some charcoal drawings (which on further investigation, seem natural).
On the way back, we search some of the other rock platform for more art and spot an engraving of an axe. Michael demonstrates another of his photography techniques, using a remote flash to provide oblique lighting. My photo is on the left; you can barely make out that there is anything. The photo on the right by Michael clearly shows the grooves.
As we head back to the car, we stop to admire some of the impressive stone overhangs next to the trail, weathered by thousands of years of wind and rain.
It’s been a most enjoyable day: great company, nice views, an interesting Aboriginal site that I wasn’t aware of – and I’ve learnt some new photography tricks I’m keen to try out!