The Finchley Aboriginal Area (originally called Flat Rock and also the Northern Map Site) includes over a hundred figures, including ancestral beings and an “emu woman”. Located within the boundaries of Yengo National Park, the site was designated as a protected Aboriginal Area in 1976 (unfortunately, prior to this, the site was damaged by people scratching the figures, and a tractor driving across the rock platform).
It’s a major engraving site within the Sydney area, and significant in that it represents the most northerly extension of of the Sydney engraving style and “may represent [a] cultural boundary”. It’s also one of only two Aboriginal sites (the other being Burragurra or Devils Rock) of the 21 sites along this ridge where there is thought to be some knowledge of the meanings behind the rock art. Some of this “meaning” came from Adolphus Peter Elkin, an early and influential Australian anthropologist, obtaining an interpretation of the site from a karadgi (“medicine man”) of the Kattang tribe (this is covered in more detail below).
The Finchley Aboriginal Site site has 137 motifs in total (including 65 animal tracks and 3 mundoes), and were documented in three group or series by Ian Sim in 1966. Fred McCarthy later combined Series 3 and 4 (which are on the same rock platform).
A man holding a club or boomerang
Small man with stumpy legs
Very weathered/damaged koala figure
Deity (one of 3 in a row)
A large anthropomorphic figure with three-rayed headress
Deity (one of 3 in a row)
A man or boy (this figure was extensively damaged in 1964)
Deity (one of 3 in a row)
A man 6' fall
"Koala bear 3' high, standing up with its body parallel with the ground..."
An emu-woman ("the lower half depicted as an emu whilst the upper torso represents a woman") or koala figure
One of three emus in a row
One of three emus in a row
One of three emus in a row
Animal or human figure
"Koala bear or man (12) in profile"
Described as a "line maze", this figure consists of three conjoined ovals.
The main series of engravings at the Finchley Aboriginal Site was thought to represent a “koala totemic site visited by ancestral beings consisting of a large hermaphrodite, a man and a boy… there is one set of a big man, a mythological character who appears to be attacking a smaller man associated with a koala, and there are, in all, three koalas in the group”.
One of the most prominent figures in this group is an ancestral being or anthropomorph, holding a sword club:
Ancestral being 8′ tall, upright, half oval head attached to arc of ams and. shoulders, 2 eyes, 3 pits in a row for mouth, 8-rayed headdress 12-15″ long, short arms upraised, 2 fingers on right hand which is holding a sword club 2′ long vertically, 4 fingers on left hand, long concave sided body deeper on left side, belt, broad hips, short legs outspread, feet outward, right foot convex and round ended and shorter than the left one which is flat and round ended, and its lower outline is continued as a bar to the top of the leg; conical penis with bar across end.
A cluster of multiple figures also at the eastern end of the site includes two male anthropomorphs and a koala, multiple bird and kangaroo tracks (which are hard to see), an oval and three axe grinding grooves.
The largest of the figures is a man holding a club or boomerang:
6′ tall, upright, with a long, narrow, straight sided and open ended head, the top of one side of which is bent toward his right am, no eyes or neck, ams upraised, right arm continuing as a sword club or boomerang, straight left arm has concave ended hand, body swells out in the middle with the right side angled and the left side convex, 6 pits on chest and a kangaroo track with shank below them, truncated legs very wide apart, very long round ended penis slanted to his left with a bar across the middle.
It’s been suggested by Bill Smith (Chairman of the Koopmahtoo Aboriginal Land Council) that this figure has penis for a head, meaning that his head is ruled hy his penis and it makes him do bad things (which is why he’s hitting the smaller figure on the head).
Next to him is another, smaller man with stumpy legs:
…half oval head, 2 eyes, 3 pits below them, 5-rayed headdress 4-6″ long, straight ams slightly upi.aised, round ended right hand touches left arm of (10), left hand is a haIf oval outward, like a claw, broad slightly convex sided body, belt, short legs outspread, bar on left foot, feet are rounded ends of legs, outside outlines of legs continue as an arc across the body, on his right side there is a large bird track touching his right arm, and from it a rod to his crutch, his penis is a blunt ended oval, and there is a bar at the top of his left leg.
The third figure is a koala, which has been damaged and its figure hard to make out.
The next figure along the rock platform is another large anthropomorphic figure with headress, which forms part of a row of three spirit beings.
8′ tall, half oval head with flat top, pair of basin pit eyes, 3-rayed headdress 6-12″ long, no neck, short broad upraised arms, 5 fingers on right hand, left arm round ended, pit beside little finger on right hand, very wide body with convex sides, 1 well shaped breast on right side with nipple, bigger and convex ended breast on left side with a short spike on the top side and a row of 3 pits along the middle of the breast…
The next, smaller deity is a man or boy; this figure was extensively damaged in 1964 by vandals who tried to remove the carving. Emu tracks lead through this figure and the next one.
…5′ tall, half oval head, 2 eyes, neck, 7-rayed headdress 12-16″ long, truncated arms upraised with left am lower on the body than the right one, convex sided body, straight legs outspread, feet outward, convex and round ended, and upward, conical penis, 4-7 pits on face and body.
Upside down (compared to the other two spirit figures) is a third deity:
…a man 6′ tall, upright, half oval head, 2 basin pit eyes, 7-rayed headdress 1′ long, no neck, truncated arms upraised, right one short and pointed, left one continued as a sword club or ron-returning boomerang with curve toward his head, broad body tapers from the arms to the hips, short legs outspread, left one finlike and broad and atta.ched to outline of body, right one narrow and straight, feet outward, right one flat and conical, left one convex, conical and upward, broad and large conical penis with a pit in the middle, 50 pits scattered over his face and body
Further along the rock platform the figure have been damaged by the tread of a tractor; of those engravings that can still be made out there is a long, sinuous line and another figure described as “2 parallel bars 2′ long, 1 forked at one end, with 2 bars at a right angle to it, like a pair of kangaroo’s legs”. A line of three emu tracks is very obvious – there are a total of 44 emu and kangaroo tracks in this area, but many are hard to see.
The last distinct engraving at the western end of the rock platform was described as a koala (referring to the animal, and not a deity figure as the term was sometime used), despite the engraving appearing anthropomorphic.
Koala bear 3′ high, standing up with its body parallel with the ground, narrow half oval head upward at 45°, 2 eyes, long narrrow foreleg bent upward at the wrist. 2 fingers on hand, broad body with high arched back, concave belly with large round ended breast hanging down at a right angle, 2 pits on the back, broad and straight hind leg divides into two narrow legs with flat, round ended feet outward, and the heels are joined by a curved bar or arc…
This site has a few more figures – some of which are hard to see due to the rock surface being damaged – and several axe grinding grooves.
The second major grouping of figures (Series 3-4) is situated on an adjoining but separate rock platform. It was described by McCarthy as “two hunting compositions, emu and kangaroo, with the tracks of the animals but not of the hunters; the profile figure is probably a magician singing the emus… or he may be a second koala; as he is looking towards the emus he is probably associated with them in the composition. The 2 axe grooves again confirm the association between engravings and axe grooves”.
A very distinctive figure is the “emu-woman” at the northern end of the group: “the lower half depicted as an emu whilst the upper torso represents a woman” (Burragurra Revisited). Conversely, McCarthy described the figure as a koala, rather than as an anthropomorph:
Koala bear 5’6″ long, in profile, ha,lf oval head, conical chin downward, 2 eyes, neck, arched back, convex belly or pouch, curved arm upraised, 5 digits, conical breast downward, round rump, truncated hind leg vertical and slightly incurved, evidently a female climbing a tree or clinging to the trunk.
Above this koala / emu-woman are three emus in a row, “standing quietly upright with their bodies at 45° to the ground”.
Between the emus and the emu-woman is another animal or human figure:
Koala bear or man (12) in profile, 4′ long, oval head tilted backward, no eyes, neck, arm upraised and curved inward, open ended, convex back, straight belly, rounded rump, upper leg at right angle and foreleg bent downward at right angle, flat and round ended foot outward at a right angle, bar 4″
long for penis; his head touches one of the emu tracks.
Described as a “unique figure” and a “line maze”, this figure consists of three conjoined ovals.
There are 21 emu tracks in this group, again many of them are hard to see.
There is also at least one (shallow) axe grinding groove.
Interpretation of the Finchley Aboriginal Area rock art
Although contemporary interpretation of rock art sites is discouraged, this wasn’t the case a hundred years ago – and much of this interpretation seems to have been derived from the indigenous people of the area. One of the earliest recorded post-colonisation interpretations was by Elkin, who sought an interpretation of the site from a karadgi or “medicine man” of the Kattang tribe from Port Stephens, based on 1937 drawings of the site by R. H. Goddard.
He was advised that the Finchley rock art showed the country “belonged” to the emu clan (from the McDonald River) but depicted a ceremony of the visiting men and women of the Flying Fox clan. The site belonged to one Aboriginal tribe, but was also used at different times for initiation ceremonies. The series of footsteps or mundoes indicated the route by which Baiame visited the site.
A recurring theme is that the Finchley Aboriginal Site has a “mapping function”, with both the bird and kangaroo tracks and the human figures pointing to significant destinations.
In this particular group we find three different kinds of birds represented: left to right being an emu, a small ‘water-bird’ (?) and a brush turkey. If they are indeed clan totem indicators – and that does appear to be the case, given our knowledge of sites in the surrounding district – then, appropriately, their feet point in the relevant directions. As to the tracks themselves, well, they appear to show us the relevant pathways followed by ‘bird-totem people’ and ‘kangaroo-totem people’; remembering, of course, that they are not arrows like our road-signs but must be read in reverse as tracks.
The two human figures present have related – though significantly different – mapping functions. The man can be interpreted as either leaping or as being on bended knee… Either way, the orientation and the pointing arm are relevant here because Yengo itself is the destination. The woman (who could be pregnant) clearly points with her own curving arm and fingered hand to a destination in another direction entirely – roughly south-east as it turns out – and does so consistent with female forms in profile throughout the area.Garry Jones, Yengo Country
There is also some pseudoarchaeology of the site, most notably Frederic Slater (who claims that Aboriginal Australians came from Egypt). He proposed that the large deity figure was a spirit called Muri:
The dominant figure at the site, with beams of light extending from the head, a band around the waist and throwing a boomerang with another at his foot, is believed to be a spirit called Muri. He [Slater] speculates that the group of figures depicts Muri explaining the mysteries of life and death to the four sons of Daramulum, who was the first man created by Baiame. According to Slater, these carvings represent the higher teachings of Indigenous culture, “by means of the Boomerang, Muri illustrates how the spirit goes out but returns. That is to say that the soul that is within the man does not die but lives on”.Sally Booth quoting from Frederic Slater, Interpretation of the drawings at Burragurra and Yango (1937)
Getting to the Finchley Aboriginal Area
The Finchley Cultural Walk and the rock art in Yengo National Park is accessible via the Yango Creek Road (from Wollombi or Laguna) then Upper Yango Creek Road, Finchley Track past Finchley Lookout and finally the Yango Track. These unsealed roads, but suitable for 2WD vehicles unless it’s very wet.
There are also Aboriginal tours of the site, which provide more of an insight into the indigenous culture and engravings.