One of only two sign-posted Aboriginal sites at West Head (the other being the Red Hands Cave), the Basin Aboriginal Site is very accessible, with interpretative signage and distinct engravings. Although the engravings have not been re-grooved, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) undertakes periodic ‘highlighting’ of the engravings so they are more easily seen and less prone to vandalism.
Among the 53 motifs on the large rock platform, is a “particularly artistic composition” (Ian Sim) of an intertwined couple. Above the couple is a moon or boomerang… early descriptions of the site (McCarthy and Sim) describe a sword club or boomerang above the man and woman, and don’t link the two engravings. However, a later interpretation of the site suggests that the couple is reaching for the moon. In Astronomical Symbolism in Australian Aboriginal Rock Art, Norris and Hamacher argue: “it is unclear why a man and woman should reach up towards a boomerang in the sky. The engraving makes more sense if, as suggested above, the crescent represents a Moon rather than a boomerang, but is still unusual in that the moon is shown with the two horns pointing down, a configuration normally seen only when the moon is barely visible in the early morning or late afternoon. But such a configuration can be seen during an eclipse, and this suggestion is supported by the two figures, one of which partially obscures the other. Such carefully drawn obscuration is unusual in these rock carvings, and in this case may represent the Moon-man obscuring the Sun-woman (or vice-versa) during an eclipse. Other circumstantial evidence for this hypothesis is that the man and woman face toward the northeastern horizon, in the direction a solar eclipse could be seen in the early morning.”
Norris and Hamacher explain: “there is a clear difference between a boomerang-shape and a crescent moon: boomerangs typically have straight sides and rounded ends, whereas the crescent moon always has a curved shape and pointed ends“.
Norris also adds that John Clegg speculated that “a hermaphrodite figure near this engraving may represent the moon-man and sun-woman fully superimposed during a total eclipse.“
There are a few male figures around the site: the man below has a fish next to his right leg.
Another man (described as a male anthropomorph figure by Sim) has a long narrow object projecting from his head, and a fish within the outline of his body. A large fish (six feet in length) is next to the man.
At the north-east corner of the site are two more men, and a woman. The largest figure, a man has a four-rayed headdress and is holding a broad fish in his right hand, and a sword club (boomerang) in his left hand. The woman has breasts, but no hands, feet or genitalia. The second man has no eyes or neck, and four pointed figures on each hand.
Near these three figures is a pair of legs and a “long, conical penis” – the rest of the man’s body is missing.
Another male figure is depicted with a much broader left arm, and an odd-looking right foot.
At the southern end of the site is an arc of seven kangaroos or wallabies, all leaping northward and in close formation.
Next to the leading kangaroo is a large fish (one of six fish in close proximity).
The interactive site map below has links to many of the engravings.
Two legs and "long, conical penis" - rest of figure is missing
A male figure with broader left arm, and an odd-looking right foot.
A man (described as a male anthropomorph figure by Sim) has a long narrow object projecting from his head, and a fish within the outline of his body. A large fish (six feet in length) is next to the man.
The second man (in a group of three figures) has no eyes or neck, and four pointed figures on each hand.
Man and Woman
At the north-east corner of the site are two men, and a woman. The largest figure, a man has a four-rayhed headdress and is holding a broad fish in his right hand, and a sword club (boomerang) in his left hand. The woman has breasts, but no hands, feet or genitalia.
Man with fish
A man with a fish next to his right leg.
An intertwined couple (man and woman): early descriptions of the site (McCarthy and Sim) describe a sword club or boomerang above the man and woman, and don’t suggest any connection between the couple and the boomerang. However, a later interpretation of the site suggests that the couple is reaching for the moon.
Moon (or boomerang)
Moon (or boomerang) above couple. (Boomerangs typically have straight sides and rounded ends, whereas the crescent moon always has a curved shape and pointed ends.)
Single fish (near boardwalk)
Two wallabies (or kangaroos) in a series of seven
Wallaby and Fish
First wallaby (or kangaroo) in a series of seven, next to a fish
More information on The Basin Aboriginal Site
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Basin Aboriginal art site Web page has some very basic information on the site. An old (1987) flyer has a lot more detail on what can see at this site.
Rianartemis · December 5, 2022 at 12:41 pm
Hi, I have spent a lot of time with these engravings over the years and puzzled that the title of ‘Man’ is given to the figure that is at the side alone in group A with the enlarged arm/hand and leg with strange foot – and slit between the legs. All the obviously male figures have long penis’ outside their legs, and because this figure lies in a slight dip where there is a dark red sandstone around it I would like to suggest that this figure in group A is a young female with her head covered undergoing circumcision ritual. Like the other figure closer to the rest of the group there is a similarity of shape, position and adornment – hair belt at waist, and possible head/face covering. These figures are not active but prone. Are there still elders who carry the stories of the significance of this area ? Please consider my comments, I am not qualified to even suggest these alternative meanings other than to say that when I was a young girl entering puberty and first saw this figure in group A my feeling was that that particular figure was a girl like me. Later in life I have revisited the place many times, and over the years it has become better known and of course clearly signposted, but it still resonates with celebrating purification, fertility, and abundance. Thank you for reading this suggestion and thinking about it next time you are onsite. Riana.
oliverd :-) · December 8, 2022 at 8:39 pm
Thanks for your comment – I’ve responded via email as you’ve seen, but what you suggest is very feasible. I look forward to re-visiting this site!