Summary: The Howe Aboriginal Area is one of the most important ceremonial Aboriginal rock engraving sites in the Sydney area. Figures includes an enormous Daramulan and three Rainbow-Serpents.

The site at Howe Aboriginal Area in Somersby was described as a “ceremonial one of the highest importance, equalled in conception by few other groups in the Sydney-Hawkesbury district”.

The most probable interpretation is that Daramulan, the culture-hero, is for some reason directing the two men to kill the Rainbow-Serpents, which are under his control. The group was probably a totem-centre of the local horde, and part of the Bora initiation ground, which would incorporate other sites, used by their tribe in this district. On the other hand, ceremonies quite unconnected the with the Bora might also have been performed there. It should be borne in mind that the abode of these Rainbow-Serpents was undoubtedly in the pools below Somersby Falls, only three-quarters of a mile away.

Fred McCarthy

The Aboriginal engravings are scattered upon acres of rock within the Howe Aboriginal Area, with the principal series being on the eastern side.

Engraving Mankind Group 38
Daramulan Fish Tail Rainbow Serpents Man


AWAT1785 LR Howe Aboriginal Area

Daramulan figure at one; the enormous, one-legged culture-hero is eight metres in length.

Fish Tail

AWAT1975 LR Howe Aboriginal Area

Fish-tail shaped line

Rainbow Serpents

AWAT2034 LR Howe Aboriginal Area

"3 large and elongate figures"; the creatures were considered by McCarthy as a representation of the rainbow-serpent.


AWAT1777 LR Howe Aboriginal Area

One of two men, or hunters, amongst the rainbow-serpent.

Series 1 (Fig 1 & 2)

The main rock platform has a Daramulan figure at one end; the enormous, one-legged culture-hero is eight metres in length.

For almost six feet down, his torso is decorated with a series of lines representing a cicatriced or painted pattern. He is facing the north-east in an alert pose as though looking at the other gigantic figures to the eastward. His eyes are shown in two pairs, although the face is in profile. On his leg are two small natural punctures.

Fred McCarthy

The Daramulan’s neck has a broad necklet, and he boasts a “remarkable oval headdress 5’6” long bearing eight long roughly parallel stripes.

AWAT1968 LR Howe Aboriginal Area

Near the Daramulan figure is a “Fish-tail shaped line”.

At the opposite (eastern) end of the site are “3 large and elongate figures” which is the hunting composition.

Into two of these strange creatures spears have been driven by hunters standing in the usual animated upraised arms pose; the fingers are shown on both hands of one man and on one hand of the other. The spear-thrower in each case is shown at the proximal end of the spear; one man is standing as though he had killed it.

The creatures were considered by McCarthy as a representation of the rainbow-serpent, and not dugongs or seals as they have well marked ears, and no bifurcated tail. (By comparison, McCarthy points to the Jerusalem Bay Track site as representing a seal, with the only possible dugong engraving being at the Taber Trig site.)

All of these rainbow-serpents possess “a pointed head on which the ears and neck are shown. The eyes are circular pits up to 3″ in diameter and 1″ deep, and two of the figures have an additional small pit right on the end of the nose”.

There are two men, or hunters, amongst the rainbow-serpents. One of them is inside the middle eleongated figure.

AWAT1781 LR Howe Aboriginal Area

The other man is just above the three rainbow-serpents.

AWAT1777 LR Howe Aboriginal Area

Rainbow-Serpents were a significant figure in Australian Aboriginal mythology, across most of the country. In southern NSW the Wiradjuri tribe regarded the Wawi as a serpent-like creature who lives in deep waterholes and burrows into the bank. The Gu-ru-gnaty wsa an aquatic monster among the Thurrawal and Gundungurra tribes, who lived near the coast south of Botany Bay. It resided in deep waterholes and “would drown and eat strange blacks but would not harm his own people”. In the Blue Mountains, the Gurangatch carved water courses, including the Wollondilly and Kedumba valleys.

…this myth is a belief in a gigantic serpent which has its home in deep and permanent waterholes and represents the element of water which is of such vital importance to man in all parts of Australia. The serpent is often regarded as being visible to human eyes in the form of a rainbow. The Rainbow-Serpent as it appears in Australian belief may with some justification be described as occupying the position of a deity, and perhaps the most important Nature deity.

A.R. Radcliffe-Brown as quoted in McCarthy (Mankind 1947)

There’s an association of quartz-crystals with the Rainbow-Serpents, as well as an association to waterfalls – particularly in the New England Tableland (where there are many waterfalls). Many sacred Bora ground were documented as having a representation of the Rainbow-Serpent in the form of a sinuous mound of earth.

McCarthy noted a couple of other nearby sites which also had Rainbow-Serpents: the Mooney Mooney Aboriginal Area and another near the old Penang Mountain Road; Sim later recorded one near Narara Dam. It’s possible that some figures described as eels are Rainbow-Serpents (W.D. Campbell documented over 50 eels), but McCarthy notes that “only a small number are identical in shape with the gigantic Rainbow-Serpents at Somersby”.

About the Howe Aboriginal Area

The Howe Aboriginal Area was established in July 1976, from land gifted to the state by Mr J. Featherstonehaugh Howe to preserve the Aboriginal rock engravings. A local Somersby resident, Howe had a citrus orchard and poultry farm. Two years before his death in 1943, Howe gifted seventeen acre to the state, which were gazetted as the Peter Howe Trust Reserve in in February 1944. In 1976, the reserve became the Howe Aboriginal Area.

How to get to the Howe Aboriginal Area

The Howe Aboriginal Area is reached via a service trail off Grants Road in Somersby; it’s about 20min from Gosford and an hour from Sydney. The site is not signposted but is right next to the trail, and is about a 300m (5min) walk from Grants Road (there is no parking near the rock engraving site).

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Dave Aquilina · August 19, 2022 at 8:21 am

Hi Thanks for a wealth of information. The figures at the Howe site and Mooney site have been re grooved or wire brushed to make them stand out. Also Swintons cave has had several hand prints added lately. Its such a pity. I wonder if the same people would change the Mona Lisa which is no where near as old or historically important.

    oliverd :-) · August 19, 2022 at 9:33 am

    Thanks Dave.

    “The figures at the Howe site and Mooney site have been re grooved or wire brushed to make them stand out.”
    I believe they remove the lichen from the grooves – I’m trying to get more information on the technique, as I don’t believe it involves re-grooving or anything invasive! Does make a huge difference.

    “Also Swintons cave has had several hand prints added lately.”
    I’ve always wondered if this cave was still being “used”, by the Darkinjung people? I’ve tried asking the question, but never got a response.

    “I wonder if the same people would change the Mona Lisa which is no where near as old or historically important”
    Yes, I’ve no doubt if the Mona Lisa was hanging outside the Louve, there would be some idiot who draws new eyes on it… it’s my biggest bugbear, in that I’d love to share more about some of the amazing Aboriginal art sites that are out there, but also appreciate they need for them to be kept “secret” to protect them.

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