The Aboriginal engraving site at Jibbon Head is the only signposted rock art site within the Royal National Park, and the most extensive site. Royal National Park contains over 650 recorded sites, many of which were first recorded in the early 1900s: the Jibbon Head Engravings were first documented in 1903 in The World’s News. To help protect the engravings, a viewing platform was installed in 2018 by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in conjunction with the Dharawal Local Aboriginal Land Council and Dharawal community members.
The Jibbon engravings include whales, kangaroos, a stingray and a spiritual figure, and a non-Aboriginal kangaroo. Descriptions of the carved figures have varied over time; the 1903 recording and later ones could not be reconciled – possibly because the original report referred to “a large number of flat rocks”, which may refer to separate sites. All of the Jibbon Head carvings are on a single rock platform, and are said to be up to 2000 years old.
One of the most interesting motifs is the large spiritual figure, which was described by Jo McDonald as a “mumuga”:
…another fabled monster of the Thurrawal, possessing great strength and residing in caves in mountainous country. He has very short arms and legs, with hair all over his body but none on his head. He cannot run very fast, but when he is pursuing a blackfellow he evacuates all the time as he runs, and the abominable smell of the ordure overcomes the individual, so that he is easily captured.R.H. Matthews, 1904
However, the interpretative signage at the Jibbon Head Engraving Site suggests that this figure is a Dharamulan (or Daramulan), which is interesting as this deity is consistently described across most Aboriginal tribes as having one leg, and is almost always depicted in profile. Its name is derived from “dhurru” which means thigh, and “mulan” which means one side, as he possesses only one leg [R.H. Matthews 1904].
At one end of the platform are two overlapping whales, or Burriburri. which are the largest figures and important in Dhawaral mythology:
The whale is a very significant spirit ancestor for us. And the whale, when it first had its canoe, the koala and the starfish wanted to steal it. They both schemed, and the starfish said to the koala, ‘Well, I’ll climb up on top of the whale and pick the sea lice off him and put him to sleep while you steal the canoe.’ So, the starfish did that and, while he was picking the lice off the whale’s skin, the whale fell asleep. While he was sleeping, the koala jumped in the canoe and started rowing as fast as he could and as far away as he could from the whale. But then the whale woke up and he discovered that he was tricked, so he got the starfish and he splattered him on the rocks. That’s why the starfish looks like that today.
And then he took off after the koala, who stole the canoe, but the koala, as he was rowing, he was getting stronger and stronger, so his arms were getting bigger and stronger, so it was very hard for the whale to catch up. But, when the whale finally did catch up to him, the canoe was already on the land. And that canoe today can still be seen; it’s an island called Windang Island, just south of here at the mouth of the Illawarra Lake.Shayne Williams in The Importance of Conserving Rock Art: A Conversation at the Jibbon Petroglyph Royal National Park (2019)
Just above the whale is an oval figure, which may be a shield.
There are a total of two whales at the Jibbon Head engraving site, and a shark (Jo McDonald) or orca (Shane Williams et al) in the middle of the platform. (A fourth pilot whale was referenced in the 1903 report and by Shane Williams et al, but could not be identified by Jo McDonald.)
Near the top of the platform is a skate, or stingray.
There are two wallabies or kangaroos, but one of them (below, right) is non-Aboriginal and was thought to have been added in the 1970s: “a pecked petroglyph of a macropod by a non-Aboriginal person in a non-Aboriginal style”. The Aboriginal kangaroo is depicted with four legs, which is common south of the Georges River; further north they are carved with two legs (the notable exception being the Max Allen Track kangaroo in Killara.
Also at the site is an eel and what may be a jellyfish or an turtle.
Getting to the Jibbon Head Engravings
The Jibbon Head Engravings are located on the headland at the end of Jibbon Beach near Bundeena; Jibbon (or “Djeeban” in Dharawal) means ‘sand bars at low tide’. The site is about a kilometre from the town of Bundeena, about 300m walk along the beach and up onto the headland.
- The World’s News – Rock Carvings and Drawings at National Park, 7 Nov 1903 [PDF]
- R.H. Matthews – Ethnological notes on the Aboriginal tribes of New South Wales and Victoria (1905). p.143 [PDF, 32MB]
- Jo McDonald – Sydney’s Aboriginal Past, p.183
- Shayne Williams, Tanya Koeneman, Paul Tacon – The Importance of Conserving Rock Art: A Conversation at the Jibbon Petroglyph Royal National Park, Australia, 2019. [PDF]
- National Parks (NPWS) – Viewing platform for Jibbon engravings