Summary: A weekend exploring the valleys and cliffs of the Parr State Conservation Area for Aboriginal art sites.

Bordering the Wollemi and Yengo National Parks, the Parr State Conservation Area is a fairly rugged area – and one which is yet to reveal many of its Aboriginal rock art sites. The known sites are generally hard to get to: “The rock art is scattered throughout the protected, remote portions of the nominated area and thus, through its inaccessibility, remains intact and well preserved.” This overnight camping trip is intended to explore some of the valleys and cliff lines for more unrecorded art sites.

Day One on the Terraborra North Trail

It’s mid-morning by the time we set off from the locked gate along the Womerah Range Trail, on a perfect, cloud-less winter’s day.

After 600m the firetrail reaches a junction, and we veer right onto the Terraborra North Trail (the Womerah Range Trail continues for another 38km all the way to St Albans Road and the McDonald River, via Heartbreak Hill). Although the off-track exploration is in fairly steep country, we’re camping along the firetrail, so it’s easy walking. A few people are on mountain bikes, we’ve all packed some red wine to help with the cold evening – and there’s even a few guitars and ukuleles in our group of 13 explorers.

After a few more kiloemtres, we set up camp at a relatively flat spot along the Terraborra North Trail, which follows a ridge. Leading our motley group of bushwalkers is Mark and Mike, who between them have recorded many of the sites in this area.

As we wait for the stragglers to put up tents and hammocks, we visit one of the previously recorded rock art sites, which is close to our campsite. Among many charcoal figures in the long overhang are two kangaroos.

We split up into smaller groups, and head off from the firetrail to drop (almost literally!) into one of the many gullies off the main ridge.

Our first gully is a relatively easy one, with very little undergrowth as we reach the creek at the bottom. It’s almost rainforest-like as we follow the small creek downstream, past moss-covered boulders.

Eventually our creek intersects the next gully, where we meet up with one of the other groups who have descended the adjoining gully. Just below where the two creeks meet, we stop for a break under an enormous overhang.

Although it’s unlikely there are any art sites at the very bottom of the valley, we follow the gully down to where it meets one of the many valleys which run parallel to the Terraborra North Ridge. With no water along the ridge, the creeks in these larger valleys provide the most reliable source of water (although even after a wet few months the creek is only just flowing; finding water here in a dry summer would be challenging). We fill up our water bottles here, before the trek back up to the ridge.

It gets dark pretty early, so we get back to camp for an early dinner… and some music by the campfire.

Day 2

We’re back out early the next day, heading down from the main trail again along another side-gully.

There’s some pretty cool natural art in one of the many sandstone shelters we explore.

We’re doing a loop down one gully, and then back up the next one. There’s many overhangs and a high cliff line which we follow, but no new Aborignal rock art to be found.

We climb back out of the gullies, to re-group on the main trail.

Our next off-track foray takes us down a gully on the opposite side of the main firetrail, where we first visit another art site previously recorded by Mark. The sandstone shelter has both white and charcoal figures.

We descend from here into another gully, past many more caves and overhangs.

Another cave stands out for it’s natural beauty and symmetry.

Most of our walking has been relatively easy, with a bit of scrambling up and down cliff lines and the occasional lawyer vine to trip you up… but the climb out of this gully is the hardest. A large section of wild tobacco (Solanum mauritianum) makes the going hard, and unpleasant. Although more frequently found in disturbed areas, the wild tobacco bush is a noxious weed, with its seeds spread by birds. The leaves are densely covered in felty hairs and the plant produces 150 to 200 seeds per plant, which can be an irritant to asthmatics.

Once back up on the firetrail we have just enough to visit one last seies of overhangs.

Mark is saving the most impressive shelter until last: the long panel of charcoal figures is one of the most spectacular Aboriginal rock art sites I’ve seen around Sydney.

Many of our group are camping a second night; I need to head back to Sydney for another work week. I return along to Terraborra North Trail as the sun sets, making it back to the car just before dark.

More information on the Parr State Conservation Area

The Parr State Conservation Area was named after William Parr, one of the earliest European explorers of overland northern routes out of Sydney. A State Recreation Areas (a class of protected area reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974) allows a greater level of access and recreational use than in national parks – and permits underground mining and surface exploration. Unlike the nearby Gardens of Stone SCA, there is no mining or commercial operations within Parr.

Access to Parr State Conservation Area is generally via firetrails, most of which are closed to vehicles. The 48km Womerah Range Trail traverses the park, providing a “challenging hiking and mountain biking route with scenic views through the dramatic sandstone landscape of Parr State Conservation Area.” Almost all the trails follows ridges, so exploring the many valleys and creeks means going off-track.

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Molly · July 14, 2022 at 1:50 pm

Magnificent — what an expedition! That shot of the natural carvings in the rock is amazing. I wondered if the itchy plant was wild tobacco, or if it might be the native so-called incense plant (Calomeria amaranthoides). It too can cause asthmatic attacks, but is a common recolonizer after bushfires (giving way to normal flora of the area after a few years). Smells nice but tedious to push your way through because of how closely the plants grow together. plus 3rd pic down here:

    oliverd :-) · July 14, 2022 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks Molly – you may be right about wild tobacco (Solanum mauritianum ) vs Calomeria amaranthoides. I’ll check with the others in the group. I did think it was an odd/remote spot for a noxious weed, but I’d seen reports of wild tobacco being found in Yango NP and Parr SCA.
    Great links too, thanks for sharing.

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