From what is thought to be over 6,000 Aboriginal drawings around the Sydney metropolitan area when Europeans colonized Australia, about 4,500 sites are currently registered with the Office of Environment and Heritage. Of these sites, less than 5% are sign-posted or publicly documented. Some engravings are in spots you least expect them; on other occasions I’ve explored huge rock platforms that would seem to make an ideal canvas, and have seen no rock art.

Sadly, while all Aboriginal sites in NSW are under the protection of the National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974 (which makes it illegal to disturb, damage, deface or destroy any relic), they are gradually disappearing. It’s possible that by 2060 there may be almost no Aboriginal rock art left. This is partly though erosion, with engravings losing about half a grain of rock per year – which is equivalent to 1mm every seven years. More disturbingly, between 2005 and 2009 the NSW government approved 541 permits to destroy or disturb Aboriginal heritage sites. (Why Australia’s Aboriginal rock art will disappear.)

The summary below represent the most signficant and well-preserved sites in and around Sydney; a separate page for each national park provides a more comprehensive listing of the Aboriginal engraving, cave art and other historically significant sites.

MAP KEY
Green: Site located on an official bushwalking track (may also be signposted)
Orange: Site reached via an informal track
Red: Site is off-track or not easily reached
** Not all sites below are shown on the map; many locations are not disclosed

Sydney & Sydney Harbour National Park

There are a surprising number of Aboriginal engraving sites across the inner suburbs of Sydney and around Sydney Harbour – although many are now isolated from their natural environment… some are on golf courses, in small reserves and on private property. A few engravings were re-grooved in the 1950s and 1960s. View all sites.

Balls Head (Waverton)
An engraving of a whale around six metres in length. Within the body of the whale is a faded, but just-visible figure thought to be of either a man curing himself of an illness or a magician enticing the whale to become stranded.
Distance: 0m – right next to road
Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 3/5
Location: In front of Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability on Balls Head Roa

Grotto Point (Dobroyd Head)
Located along the popular Spit to Manly bushwalk, this signposted site includes boomerangs, fish, sharks, an enormous kangaroo and a fairy penguin. The engravings are about 1,000 years old and have interpretative signage. 
Distance: 50m
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 4/5
Location: About 400m return from end of Cutler Road and on the Spit to Manly bushwalk

Lane Cove National Park (Sydney North)

Part of the Sydney Basin, the Lane Cove area had many engraving sites and the Lane Cove valley provided a wide range of food for multiple Aboriginal language groups. However, with Lane Cove National Park occupying a relatively small area mostly along the river and urban development adjoining all side of the Park, many sites were destroyed over time or are now situated on private land. Over 40 sites have been recorded within the park, but many of these were on the river bank and flooded by the building of the weir in 1938. View all sites.

Max Allen Track (Killara)
Located right next to the  Max Allen Track is a quite clearly defined kangaroo, and some smaller engravings. Both upper and lower limbs of the animal are shown, which is stylistically different to most macropod engravings north of the Georges River.
Distance: 150m return.
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 5/5
Location: Next to Max Allen track

Garigal National Park (Sydney North) and surrounds

Garigal National Park has extensive Aboriginal art sites, with over 300 Aboriginal sites recorded – the Guringai people are the traditional custodians of this land. Heritage sites include cave art, rock engravings, shelters, middens and grinding grooves. Many sites are also preserved in Crown land and land managed by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. View all sites.

Bantry Bay (Frenchs Forest)
An enormous Aboriginal engravings site, the Bantry Bay Aboriginal site was the first to be visited by Europeans in 1788. There are 82 figures in total, including mundoes, people, animals, fish, shields, a canoe, boomerangs, circles, stone axes and clubs, snakes and whales.
Distance: 1.8km return.
Ease of Access: Easy.

Quality: 5/5
Location: Access via Engraving Track from end of Bantry Bay Road
Moon Rock (Belrose)
A significant Aboriginal cultural site, Moon Rock was declared an Aboriginal Place in 2016. The site has over 50 engravings, including tools and weapons used and animals caught and eaten in the area. The name of the site is derived from rare engravings that depict the eight phases of the moon, beginning with the creator Biaime’s boomerang.
Distance: 3.5km return.
Ease of Access: Moderate. No public access (as at June 2020)

Quality: 5/5
Location: Access via Slippery Dip Trail from Morgan Road (Belrose).
Wheeler Heights Aboriginal Site (Cromer Heights)
A large site documented by W.D. Campbell in 1899, who described it as “one of the finest groups the Writer has come across”. Carvings include a line of mundoes and a successful kangaroo hunt. 
Distance: 2.2km return.
Ease of Access: Easy.

Quality: 4/5
Location: Located just off the Cromer Trail

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (Sydney North)

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, located in Sydney’s north, is the largest park in the Sydney metropolitan area and the and the second oldest national park in Australia. Named after its original inhabitants, the Kuringgai or Guringai Aboriginal people, it’s rich in Aboriginal history with about 800 known Aboriginal engraving sites – Ku-ring-gai Chase is one of the areas nominated by Australian Geographic in Australia’s top 7 Aboriginal rock art sites.

Ku-ring-gai Chase has a number of Aboriginal heritage sites which are accessible, and thousands more which are hard to reach, or are yet to be recorded. View all Aboriginal Engravings in Ku-ring-gai Chase

Bobbin Head Track
A short side-track to some marked Aboriginal engravings; many of them are very indistinct. Continue a bit further to another rock with a clearer engraving. Across the multiple sections there are a goanna, greater glider, two birds, two emus, a wallaby or large tiger quoll and some figures.
Distance: 3.2km return from Bobbin Head Road. Ease of Access: Easy/Moderate
Quality: 3/5 (many are very faint)

Location: Just off Bobbin Head Trail (there is a sign)
Gibberagong Track (Bobbin Head)
Opposite a signposted Aboriginal engraving (of a single human figure) are a number of axe-sharpening grooves. There is also a fish and small shield nearby.
Distance: 1.6km return from Bobbin Head.
Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 4/5
Location: Both sides of the Gibberagong Track / Rainforest walk. 
Slade Lookout (Duffys Forest)
At the end of the Slade Lookout Track is a very clear engraving of an emu or waterfowl (which is thought to be non-Aboriginal in origin) and a lizard that is almost directly underneath the emu/waterfowl.
Distance: 1.4km return. Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 4/5
Location: End of Slade Lookout Track
More info: Duffys Wharf Track and Slades Trail bushwalk & Sydney Rock Art
Spirits Rock, Cowan Trail (Duffy’s Forest)
A rock platform near the end of the Cowan Trail which has numerous engravings (most fairly distinct) including a dozen figures, shields, an assortment of fish and a very large carving of Baiame.
Distance: 8km return. Ease of Access: Moderate
Quality: 5/5
Location: End of Cowan Trail
More info: Cowan & Wilkins Track & Sydney Rock Art
America Bay Track (West Head)
There are multple sites along the America Bay Track , including one featuring a large Daramulan, and another with a five-metre long orca, as well as a female figure, stingray and goanna.
Distance: 0.3km return.
Ease of Access: Easy/Moderate

Quality: 5/5
Location: Main site is just off America Bay Track
Basin Site (West Head)
A well-preserved and popular engraving site, with interpretative signage and a divided walkway to keep people off the engravings. Many drawings including people, kangaroos, fish, and symbols. View sketch.
Distance: 0.8km return. Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 5/5
Location: Signposted detour off The Basin Trail
More info: Sydney Aboriginal Rock Engravings, Sydney Rock Art & Stanbury & Clegg p.63, Ian Sim (Mankind Vol 6 No. 6, Nov 1965)
Elvina Aboriginal Site (West Head)
One of the largest engraving sites in Australia; the drawings include a giant whale, an emu and the Baime/Daramulan creator spirit and his emu-wife. View sketch.
Distance: 0.5km return. Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 5/5
Location: Elvina Track carpark near start of West Head Road (on the right)

More info: Sydney Aboriginal Rock Engravings, Sydney Rock Art & Stanbury & Clegg p.28
Red Hands Cave (West Head)
One of the best showcases of Aboriginal art in the area, the cave is reached via the Red Hands Cave loop walking track. The hands are thought to have been painted between 500 and 1600 years ago using a mixture of ochre and water.
Distance: 0.6km return. Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 5/5
Location: Trail starts from Resolute Picnic Area
Resolute Track “Garigal Site” (West Head)
A small, sign-posted site with well-preserved Aboriginal engravings depicting a man, shark/whale and two eels. There is a second site 80m further down the track, with a shark and some eels. View sketch.
Distance: 0.9km return. Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 5/5
Location: Just off Resolute Track
More info: Sydney Aboriginal Rock Engravings, Sydney Rock Art, Stanbury & Clegg p.72, Ian Sim (Mankind Vol 6 No. 6, Nov 1965)
Mt Ku-ring-gai
A small site sandwiched between the old Pacific Highway and the railway line and accessed by an unsigned track. The site features three figures and the longest single line of mundoes (footprints) ever recorded.
Distance: 0.1km return
Ease of Access: Easy/Moderate

Quality: 4/5
Location: Just off Pacific Highway, 400m north of Mt Ku-ring-gai railway station

Berowra Valley National Park (Sydney North)

Berowra Valley National Park is within the traditional country of the Guringai people to the east of Berowra Creek and the Dharug people to the west. It contains a number of significant Aboriginal heritage sites, including engraving sites, cave art, artefacts, middens and campfire sites. View all Berowra Valley sites.

Benowie Track (Berowra Waters)
An unusual Aboriginal engraving site on a vertical rock surface, which includes a Baiame figure, and what is probably a seated Daramulum figure with an infant or small child on his lap. 
Distance: 0.1km
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 3/5
Location: Near Benowie Track.
Currawong Road
A large rock platform features a six-metre Daramulum figure, who is holding an axe (not easily visible) and has a band across his penis (suggesting circumcision, which is generally not performed in eastern NSW, or a painted band. Another male human and a half-finished figure are no longer visible. 
Distance: 100m walk from road.
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 3/5
Location: Bushwalking track off Currawong Road
Washtub Gully (Berowra Waters)
Along the creek just before it reaches Berowra Waters are a number of  engravings, including a large opossum and fifteen fish (many no longer visible); some of the fish are being attacked by a bird. A shelter with two red ochre fish is nearby.
Distance: 100m walk from road.
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 3/5
Location: Bushwalking track off Currawong Road
Westleigh Aboriginal Site
A signposted site next on Quarter Sessions Road is a rock slab with an engraving depictig a pair of leaping kangaroos. The rock was relocated here from a nearby housing development to save it from destruction.
Distance: On side of road.
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 2/5
Location: Adjacent to 280 Quarter Sessions Road (Westleigh)

Bouddi National Park (Central Coast)

Bouddi National Park and the surrounding area contain over 100 significant Aboriginal sites, including rock shelters, rock engravings, middens and grinding grooves. Only one site (Daleys Point Aboriginal Site) is signposted, and while many sites are close to walking tracks they are hidden from view. Interestingly, the tribal boundaries of the local Aboriginal people their languages are unclear: some sources suggest the Daruk/Darug tribe inhabited Bouddi NP, while others say that the Guringai (Kuringgai) language was spoken from the north side of Port Jackson to the Tuggerah Lakes. To learn more, Girri Girra runs guided tours in the National Park to significant Indigenous sites.

Daleys Point Aboriginal Site – cave art
Below the Daleys Point Aboriginal Site is a long cave, protected by a steel grill. On the ceiling and back of the cave are some Aboriginal charcoal drawings.
Distance: 3.2km return from Wards Hill carpark (Killcare Heights).
Ease of Access: Moderate

Quality: 4/5
Location:  End of Daleys Point Trail.
More info: Sydney Rock Art & Daleys Ridge Circuit bushwalk
Daleys Point Aboriginal Site – rock art
The impressive Daleys Point Aboriginal Site (also known as Milligans Cave or Fish Hook Shelter) has a large amount of well-preserved engravings, mostly consisting of aquatic animals (as well as a kangaroo and human).
Distance: 3.2km return from Wards Hill carpark (Killcare Heights).
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 5/5
Location:  End of Daleys Point Trail. Site is signposted.
More info: Sydney Rock Art & Daleys Ridge Circuit bushwalk
Little Beach
Within a gully is large boulder which features a vertical engraving of a whale; inside the whale is an engraving of a large fish. Nearby is another engraving depicting the upper part of a figure holding an object.
Distance: 0.3km from carpark. Ease of Access: Moderate
Quality: 5/5
Location:  Little Beach Trail
More info: Sydney Rock Art
North West Ridge Aboriginal Site
There is a large orca and two stingrays somewhere on this large rock platform – they are quite weathered, and even harder to spot without sweeping the considerable leaf litter off the platform. View sketch.
Distance: 2.2km from The Scenic Road.
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 0/5
Location:  End of North West Ridge Trail
More info: Sydney Rock Art

McPherson State Forest / Warre Warren (Central Coast)

The Warre Warren Aboriginal Place covers over 200 hectares within within the McPherson State Forest, near Mangrove Mountain. The area contains over 200 mapped sites of cave paintings, rock engravings and grinding grooves. Although a network of forestry trails criss-cross the area, none of the Aboriginal sites are signposted or easily accessible. 

Swinton’s Cave
This sacred cave depicts generations of markings and drawings, with 857 motifs (mainly handprints) – the largest assemblage of motifs of any currently known sites. Above the cave are some axe grinding grooves.
Distance: Approx 4km from Kyola Road (Kulnura) 
Ease of Access: Moderate

Quality: 5/5

Brisbane Water National Park (Central Coast)

Brisbane Water is part of the traditional lands of the Darkinjung and Kuringgai peoples, and contains hundreds of engraving sites within the park. The rock art sites include animals, birds, sea creatures, bird tracks, human footsteps, male and female figures, hunting weapons and ancestral beings. Many of the sites were documented by W. D. Campbell in 1899, and later by Fred McCarthy and Ian Sim.

Four sites are promoted by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (Bulgandry, Girrakool, Howe Aboriginal Area and Mooney Mooney Aboriginal Area – for a more comprehensive list of sites, refer to the Aboriginal Engravings in Brisbane Water page.

Bulgandry (Kariong)
A timber boardwalk with interpretative signage circles a small site, which has many engravings. The site is named after “Bulgandry Man” (left), who has an elaborate head dress and holds a round object in his right hand. There’s also a kangaroo, octopus, shark, fish and an eel. Next to the path are some axe-sharpening grooves. 
Distance: 0.5km from carpark.
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 5/5
Location:  Off Woy Woy Road (look for signs)
Girrakool
An engraving of a man, located on a rock platform along the well-marked Girrakool Loop walking track.
Distance: 150m walk from carpark. Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 2/5
Location: Girakool Picnic Area at the end of Girakool Road. 
Mooney Mooney Aboriginal Area
Created in December 1979 and adjoining Brisbane Water National Park, this Aboriginal site protects a number of engravings which are on an enormous rock platform. The figures include an enormous figure with an elaborate head dress, as well as fish, a kangaroo, eels and a lizard, . 
Distance: 200m walk from Old Pacific Highway.
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 4/5
Location: Just off Old Pacific Highway, Somersby

Maroota

Maroota is located to the north-west of Sydney, just south of the Dharug and Yengo National Parks. It has a high concentration of (known) Aboriginal sites, with 12 engraving sites being located in one square kilometre at Maroota south of the Hawkesbury River; significantly higher than the Mangrove Creek valley which was also systematically sampled. The original inhabitants of the Maroota area were the Darug (or Dharug) people. View all Maroota sites.

Devil’s Rock (Maroota)
One of the most significant sites in the Sydney basin, Devil’s Rock has over 67 figures, situated between engravings of Baiame and Daramulan.
Distance: 300m from parking area.
Ease of Access: Easy/Moderate

Quality: 4/5. Varies – some engravings very indistinct. 
Location: Near Laughtondale Gully Road

Popran National Park (Central Coast)

Located north of the Hawkesbury River about 50km north of Sydney, one of the major reasons for Popran National Park’s dedication as a protected reserve was its high density of Aboriginal sites. Over 800 sites have been recorded, the majority being engravings and grinding grooves. The park covers an area used by the Ku-ring-gai, Darkinjung and possibly also the Dharug people, and it is thought that a travel route used by both inland and coastal Aboriginal groups traversed the area which is now Popran National Park. View all Popran National Park sites.

Emerald Pool – engravings and grinding grooves
Remarkably well-preserved engravings of two fish alongside Hominy Creek with clearly visible peck-marks, and a significant number of axe grinding or sharpening grooves.
Distance: 10km return or loop. 
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 4/5
Location: Downstream of Emerald Pool (Emerald Pool Loop bushwalk)
Upside Down Man Cave
A cave shelter with over 274 motifs dating back to around 1500 AD, which  represent three different engraving types.
Distance: 1.8km return
Ease of Access: Easy

Quality: 5/5
Location: Calga section of Popran NP
More info: Upside Down Man Cave

Yengo National Park (Lower Hunter Valley)

Yengo National Park was an important spiritual and cultural place for the Darkinjung and Wonnarua People for thousands of years, and 640 Aboriginal cultural sites are recorded in the park and nearby areas. Being a laregly untracked wilderness area, many of these are difficult to access. It is said that Baiame, the ancestral being, stepped off from Burragurra to the flat top of Mount Yengo and back into the sky when he finished his creation. View all Yengo National Park sites.

Devils Rock (Burragurra)
Accessible by four-wheel drive (or by walking), this deeply spiritual site is located along the Boree track. In the distance is Mt Yengo and Mt Wareng. The rock itself is covered with carvings including the spirit footprints of Biame, who is said to have entered and left the earth from here. 
Distance: 9km if walking / 200m return from 4WD track. Ease of Access: Moderate
Quality: 3/5
Location: Boree Track, 23km (45min) from Laguna. 4WD may be needed for last 9km.
Finchley Cultural Walk
A short walk with informative signs leads to the Finchley Aboriginal engravings, considered to be one of the best Aboriginal sites in Australia. Includes multiple figures and an emu.
Distance: 400m. Ease of Access: Easy
Quality: 4/5
Location: Near junction of Yango and Finchley Track, about 17km (30min) from Laguna

Further Afield

Some of the Aboriginal art sites I’ve been fortunate to visit, beyond the greater Sydney region. Rock art, including painting and engravings or carvings (petroglyphs), are found at sites across Australia. The the oldest examples of rock art are in Western Australia’s Pilbara region and South Australia’s Olary district, having been estimated to be up to 40,000 years old. 

Northern Territory

The oldest rock art painting that’s accurately dated is a charcoal drawing on in the Narwala Gabarnmang rock shelter in south-western Arnhem Land (Northern Territory). Dated at 28,000 years old, it’s one of the oldest known pieces of rock art on Earth. There are easily accessible rock art sites in Kakadu, Uluru, Watarrka and Katherine.

Keep River – Jinumum Walk
The Jinumum Walk follows the bed of the Keep River, which is the traditional lands of the Miriwoong and Gajirrabeng people. The ledges along the river were a wet season shelter for the Miriwoong people, with the rock art remaining as evidence of their presence.
Distance: 3km return. Ease of Access: Moderate
Quality: 4/5
Location: About 20km from main road

Locations and Size

The average engraving site contains 10.9 carvings, and sites with larger numbers of motifs are rare (only 8.5% of engraving sites have more than 30 motifs present and 0.6% of sites have more than 100 motifs present). The largest site – Burragurra – has 174 engravings.

  • Some sites (19.1%) contain only one engraving
  • The majority of sites (83.4%) have less than 16 engravings
  • About two-thirds (66.1%) have less than eight motifs (Figure 5.1)

The most common location for engraving sites are ridgelines (55.9%) and on the side of hills (41.2%). They are relatively rare on the bottom of valleys (2.8%) – and almost half (45%) of engravings in valley bottom locations were vertical engraving sites, on boulders adjacent to major waterways.

Reference: Dreamtime Superhighway (Chapter 5)

Engraving styles

The rock art of the Sydney Basin is defined as the Simple Figurative style. Figurative in that there is a high level of recognition between the art and a ‘natural’ assemblage (human figures, animals, birds, fish) and Simple in that a minimum amount of detail is provided:

the style is dominated by figurative motifs … the majority of (these) … conform(ing) to a pattern of crude naturalism. Whether the motif is engraved or painted, in outline or solid form, it usually consists of a very simple silhouette of a human or animal model. Most portrayals are strongly standardised. Human beings are depicted frontally, animals and birds in profile, snakes and lizards from above.
An archaeological approach to the study of Australian rock art, L Maynard, 1976).

Two “artistic units” were defined within the broader Sydney region: one of these being located around the Upper Hawkesbury and the other south of Botany Bay. Some general observations that apply to engravings across the Sydney region include:

  • Human figures are sometimes depicted in profile, while some animals (e.g. the echidna) are not always
  • In rock paintings Baiame is often depicted as a human figure with a large head-dress or hairstyle, with lines of footsteps nearby. He is always painted in front view; Daramulum is drawn in profile.
  • Macropods and other zoomorphs (figures relating to a deity or god or representations of an animal form) are depicted in profile with all four legs south of the Georges River, and with only two legs to the north (known exceptions being a macropod located just south of Port Jackson with four legs and another near the Lane Cove River (Max Allen Track in Killara)
  • Whales south of the Georges River are less highly stylised than their northern
    counterparts, with few containing decorative infill or anatomical details (such as gills or eyes)
  • Echidnas north of the Georges River are depicted in profile and to the south they are depicted from beneath as ‘pelts’.

References: Dreamtime Superhighway (Chapter 5) & Wikipedia.

Resources

These Web sites offer more photos and details on many of the engraving sites summarised above, as well as additional information on the history of Aboriginal art.

Aboriginal Engraving sites

Research and References

Books

Two of the the most-referenced books are A Field Guide to Aboriginal Rock Engravings by Stanbury & Clegg (which is no longer in print) and Aboriginal carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay by W. D. Campbell (written in 1899). More recent books tend to focus on a smaller set of engraving sites.


5/5. A comprehensive guide to Aboriginal engravings. Sadly, it’s been out of print for a while. 

4/5. A good introduction to Aboriginal culture; some rock art sites listed. 
Booktopia

5/5. Very detailed guide to Aboriginal history, with detailed reports on a small number of engraving sites. Booktopia
  • Aboriginal carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay by W. D. Campbell (1899) – available on-line or as a PDF download
  • Dreamtime Superhighway (Sydney Basin Rock Art and Prehistoric Information Exchange) by Jo McDonald – available as a PDF download
  • Rock engravings of the Sydney-Hawkesbury District (Part 1) by F.D. McCarthy (1959) available as a PDF download
  • Rock engravings of the Sydney-Hawkesbury District (Part 2) by F.D. McCarthy (1959) available on-line or as a PDF download

 

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3 Comments

yeverett – Optimist, hiker, red beemer GS700

yeverett · July 14, 2020 at 8:43 am

Muogamarra Nature Reserve has some wonderful engravings. It’s only open a few weekends a year in Spring. Put it in your diary and go on a guided walk!

Devines Hill and Finchs Line (Dharug NP) – Hiking the World · January 10, 2021 at 11:02 am

[…] a quick stop to look at the Maroota Aboriginal engraving site, we take Wisemans Ferry across the Hawkesbury River for a short loop walk that’s focused on […]

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