The Gosford Glyphs (also known as Kariong Hieroglyphs) are becoming an increasingly popular (ie. busy!) destination, so I’ve been avoiding the area on weekends. A gloomy and wet Sunday seems a good opportunity to venture out and have a look at these not-so-ancient hieroglyphs without the crowds – as well as to explore some of the indigenous rock art in the area. I’m doing a loop walk starting with the Bambara Trail, which goes from Woy Woy Road into Brisbane Water National Park, and the Kariong Sacred Land Aboriginal Place. (This is the most common starting point for the Gosford Glyphs bushwalk.)
The firetrail descends gently through the eucalypt forest; we take a short detour up a steep sidetrack that looks like it heads up to the Lyre Trig, and provides a view over the Bambara Trail before we return to the main track.
After one kilometre, the Bambara Road Firetrail reaches a junction, marked by a Brisbane Water National Park sign (which is guarded by a dragonfly).
The Bambara Road Trail continues straight head, soon meeting the Corrumbine Creek Firetrail. We turn down the unnamed track (on some maps, it’s referred to as the Hieroglyphic Trail), which is a narrow walking trail. After a few weeks of rain, it’s a bit muddy in sections.
It’s only about 300m along this track, before we reach the base of the cliffs where the Gosford Glyphs are located.
At the base of the cliffs is an enormous angophora, which is sometimes referred to as the Grandmother Tree.
To the right of the tree is a low cliff, with a sign warning of falling rocks. Nearby in a low sandstone shelter is a box covered in hieroglyphic characters – probably a geocache.
Finding the Gosford Glyphs is a bit trickier than I expected… there’s a couple of ways to reach the narrow cleft that contain the hierpglyphics. You can scramble through a long tunnel…
…which takes you to the Gosford Glyphs. Or squeeze through a small hole at the bottom of the chasm.
The Gosford Glyphs cover both sides of the high, parallel sandstone walls, described as a natural crypt. (The crypt or cleft is naturally formed, resuting from a natural erosion process with Hawkesbury sandstone where the edges of the plateau calve into blocky fragments.) There are approximately 300 Egyptian hieroglyphs, making this site the largest collection of Egyptian hieroglyphs outside Egypt and Sudan.
There has been a few conspiracy theories around the Gosford Glyphs, with one theory being that they were inscribed by Egyptian travellers who sailed to Australia 5000 years ago, becoming shipwrecked near Gosford. You may wonder why there is no other evidence of Egyptian occupaton – that’s because they were caught stealing sacred stones from the desert and the “Aborigines tracked them all the way to Balmoral Beach in Sydney and killed them”. Even if Egyptian travellers did somehow find their way in Australia a few thousand years ago, there is a chronological discrepancy: “Symbols from Egyptian eras thousands of years apart have been grouped together” (Associate Professor Boyo Ockinga, Macquarie University Department of Ancient History).
While there is no doubt the hieroglyphs are fairly recent, it’s less certain is when they were inscribed. The official National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) position is that the Gosford Glyphs were discovered in 1983 by staff, and that they had been recently carved based on the “lack of lichen growth in the grooves and the visual appearance of spalling chips around the symbols”. Another report states that the carvings were first formally reported in 1975 by Alan Dash, a local surveyor who was mapping a water easement for Gosford Council. Associate Professor Boyo Ockinga believes the engravings were made in the 1920s, when there was widespread interest in ancient Egypt (after the discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun).
The three hundred hieroglyphs depict boats, chickens, dogs, owls, stick men, a dog’s bone as well as two cartouches (an oval with a line at one end tangent to the oval, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name) that appear to be the names of kings – one of them Khufu (second king of the Fourth Dynasty, 2637-2614 BC) and the other uncertain. There is also a carving of the ancient Egyptian god Anubis.
Rather than returning the same way fro mthe Gosford Glyphs, we climb up the end of the “crypt”, and continue up the steep hill towards the Lyre Trig.
We pass a large boulders that looks a little like a long whale… and another rock that looks like a shaped trough – a “weird smelted or shaped rock which looks like a dish or spoon drain”. (This was apparently used to make geopolymer render, the same material that some conspiracy theorists believe the Egyptian pyramids are actually made from).
Another impressive angophora, a bit further up the slope, extends over a rock platform. I’ve seen references to this being an Aboriginal birthing tree.
We stop to look at some of the many Lyre Trig engraving sites – the Kariong Sacred Land, declared an Aboriginal Place in 2013, contains over twenty Aboriginal rock art sites. And while the Gosford Glyphs are intriguing, it’s a shame that by comparison there is so much less interest in the nearby indigenous art, which really does date back thousands of years!
An informal but fairly obvious trail continues up the hill, winding around some rock outcrops as it makes it way up to the Lyre Trig.
At the top of the hill is TS7212 Lyre Trig, a trig station in the middle of a broad rock platform.
A short distance from the trig point are some sweeping views over Brisbane Water National Park and Brisbane Water.
From the trig station, we return via the Lyre Trig Firetrail, which descends back to Woy Woy Road.
Right next to the trail is another Aboriginal engraving – a large kangaroo.
The firetrail finishes on Woy Woy Road, with a short walk along the road to get back to the Bambara Trail. (I notice on the Lyre Trig Firetrail gate a new “access prohibited” sign on the gate, which I believe is due to the nearby housing development planned by the Aboriginal Land Council. Only the last 60m of the firetrail crosses Aboriginal Land Council property, so if you prefer to avoid potentially trespassing on private land you can “bushbash” a very short distance from the firetrail to Woy Woy Road, just after the last bend in the firetrail.)
Getting to the Gosford Glyphs
The Gosford Glyphs have become increasingly popular, so if you can avoid weekends – or pick a drizzly day – otherise you may find the carpark full when you arrive. The quickest and easiest way to get there is via the Bambara Road Firetrail; there is a car park next to the start of the trail. You can return the same way, or continue up to the Lyre Trig and return via the Lyre Trig Firetrail (if doing the loop you need a detailed map, as you’re not following an official trail – allthough you should quickly pick up a rough trail above the Gosford Glyphs.
More information on the Gosford Glyphs / Kariong Hieroglyphs
- Australian Geographic – The Gosford glyphs, debunked
- Kariong Hieroglyphs – Theories and Rumours
- NPWS Letter – information on hieroglyphs
- All things Woy – Alan Dash speaks about the Gosford Glyphs
- ABC News – Egyptologist debunks new claims about ‘Gosford glyphs’
In the same way that photographing Aboriginal rock art is best with low, angled light you can use an off-camera flash to bring out the details of the hieroglyphs.