One of the most impressive and accessible Aboriginal engravings, the Elvina Aboriginal Site lies just off the Elvina Track at West Head. A narrow and unsignposted walking track leads to an enormous tessellated platform (the site was originally called “The Tesellated Pavement”).
The Elvina engravings include a “large spiritual ancestor of the Daramulan type in the composite guise of hero and emu” which indicates that this is a ritual site of great importance. The emu is the totem of Daramulan, and he is associated with the two emus here. This group was regarded not as an isolated entity, but a part of many interconnected sites across the Lambert peninsula, including the Topham Hill Daramulan and the nearby Coal and Candle Creek engraving site.
Emu in the Sky
The Elvina Aboriginal site is thought to have an astronomical connection – and forms part of a body of evidence that the Aboriginal people had a deep understanding of the motion of objects in the sky. One of the best-known Aboriginal constellations is the “Emu in the Sky”, which is formed by the dark patches between stars in the Milky Way. It was suggested by Hugh Cairns in 1996 that the engraving of the large emu at Elvina represents the Emu in the Sky – and not a real emu. This is based on how the legs trail behind the emu, a position that is unnatural for a real emu but is similar to The Emu in the Sky. Even more intriguing is that the time of year when the Emu in the Sky is correctly oriented to the engraving of the emu, is the same time that real-life emus are laying their eggs.
The link between traditional Aboriginal Australian culture and astronomy is explored by Ray P. Norris and Duane W. Hamacher in “Astronomical Symbolism in Australian Aboriginal Rock Art” (Rock Art Research. 2010. Download PDF.)
Elvina Aboriginal Site engravings
Over fifty figures are scattered over the broad expanse of rock, which were documented by McCarthy in six groups or series.
Two of three shields in a group
One of three shields in a group (this one is the most weathered)
A man only about three feet in height, "in a stepping posture, with his hands above his head". He has a tiny half-oval head, no eyes or neck, arms upraised. He has a straight right leg with bifurcated foot vertically downward, left leg bent at pointed knee, concave and conical foot outward as if stamping or tapping the ground in front of him, conical penis".
A"koala bear" posed as though climbing a tree and with a large human-shaped foot.
Large fish (6' 6" long)
Shield and Fish
Shield and fish with "pointed head, no eyes good tail".
Goanna with a "long, conical head" and fin-like legs.
A "poorly shaped" shield
Narrow boomerang (18" long)
Group of Fish
Group of fish; are all different shapes and sizes.
Pair of bream-like fish
Large emu (11 feet high) standing upright, with "an irregular neck as if swallowing food"
Young emu with a conical head bent downwards as if feeding and three pointed toes on its foot.
A large whale (25 feet long) with long, conical head and a small (open) mouth
An enormous ancestral (19 feet long), which has a human foot on its hind leg, and has a bag of magical quartz crystals held or suspended from its fore-limb. A head decorated with a rayed head-dress was added later, and is superimposed on the long neck of of the deity.
Eel and Shield
An eel (with four bars across its body) and a man with upraised arms and a long straight-sided body.
Series 1 (A)
At the south-west edge of the site are three shields, which vary in shape and size.
About 15m away on the edge of the platform is a man only about three feet in height, “in a stepping posture, with his hands above his head”. He has a tiny half-oval head.
Nearby is a “koala bear” with fingers and toes. Posed as though climbing a tree, the koala a large human-shaped foot.
In the south-west corner of this group are a group of 13 figures in close proximity. These include a large fish (6′ 6″ in length).
Next to the fish is a shield and another fish with “pointed head, no eyes good tail”.
A goanna is depicted with a “long, conical head” and fin-like legs.
A group or school of six fish are swimming together (the fish are all different shapes and sizes) and a “pair of bream-like fish”.
In this group is also a small and narrow boomerang (18″ long) and a shield which is “poorly shaped”.
Series 2 (B)
On a large rock surface in the north-western corner (separated by a narrow crevice) is a goanna.
Series 3 (C)
Located at the northern end of the same platfirm as Series 1, this is considered the most significant group. Three figures close together comprise an ancestral being (deity) and two emus. The larger of the two emus (“The Emu in the Sky”) is eleven feet high.
It’s depicted standing upright and with “an irregular neck as if swallowing food”. It has a slightly curved leg with three big, pointed toes.
Facing away from this large, or adult, emu is a young emu. It has a conical head bent downwards as if feeding and three pointed toes on its foot.
Completing the trio of figures is an enormous ancestral, described by McCarthy as “a majestic figure perched above the emus” and “an extraordinary and unique spritual ancestor figure”. It’s hard to photograph, being 19 feet long! The deity has a human foot on its hind leg, a bag of magical quartz crystals held or suspended from its fore-limb.
The figure has a long neck; a head decorated with a rayed head-dress was added later, and is superimposed on the neck.
A short distance away is a large whale, which has a “large conical head with mouth open”. It has two dorsal fins and two ventral fins, and a good tail.
Near the whale are another two figures: an eel (with four bars across its body) and a man with upraised arms and a long straight-sided body.
Series 4 (D)
About 40 feet to the north on a rock in the scrub is a leaping wallaby and a pair of mammals (probably rock wallabies).
Series 5 (E)
A strip of low vegetation separates these figures from Series 2 and 3. This group has an eel, broad fish, a man and a shield.
Series 6 (F)
Situated on another rock outcrop to the east, this group has eight figures including three fish, part of a whale and an oval.
More information on Elvina Aboriginal Site
- Sydney Rock Art – Elvina Bay Site