There is some spectacular Aboriginal rock art in Queensland, especially in Quinkan Country which was recognised by Australian Geographic as one of Australia’s top 7 Aboriginal rock art sites. The age of the art varies from over 15,000 years in Quinkan Country, to about 100-3,500 years old in Chillagoe-Mungana National Park (below).
Queensland rock art was classified into five regions by Daniel S. Davidson in 1936, and these five regions were largely unchanged in a later mapping by Tacon in 2001:
- Northwest Central Queensland: comprises distinctive painted anthropomorphic motifs found in the Selwyn, Argylla and Leichhardt Ranges. The rock art includes animal tracks (mostly macropod and bird tracks) depicted in both engraved and painted form.
- Laura (Quinkan Country): named after the Quinkan spirits (a prominent and distinctive motif) this region is characterised by large colourful, figurative paintings of (mostly male) anthropomorphs, zoomorphs (macropods, dingos and echidnas, flying foxes, fish, birds, reptiles), X-ray motifs, plants, tracks and material culture items. The rock art has been dated to at least 17,000 years ago.
- Princess Charlotte Bay (Queensland Islands): Some of the better-known Queensland rock art is found along the Queensland coast and adjacent islands (the Flinders Island Group, Hook Island, Clack Island and Cliff Island). The stylised motifs are mostly red with white outline and include many marine animals, moth-shaped figures and an elongated torso zoomorphic figure.
- Central Queensland Highlands: The rock art of the Central Queensland Highlands is characterised by the predominance of stencilled hands, feet, implements; by simple, geometric painted designs such as grids and zigzags; and by a variety of simple engraved motifs, such as tracks and vulvas. A number of publicly accessible sites are in Carnarvon National Park.
- North Queensland Highlands: the rock art is characterised by the predominance of stencilled hands (adult, child and variations), feet and implements; the painting of simple, geometric designs (grids and zigzags), and hand prints.
Jo McDonald and Lucia Clayton added two Queensland regions in their study of Australian rock art:
- Herbert/Burdekin: rock art dominated by non-figurative and highly stylised figures, which is very different from inland traditions. Motifs include painted ladders, asterisks, circles, barred circles, zigzags, and variations of the grid theme in white or red, and painted shields (most shields are very well preserved, suggesting it’s a recent motif type).
- Torres Strait: Rock art in the Torres Strait has been systematically recorded on a number of islands, with 1,281 red, yellow, white, blue, black, mulberry and pink paintings recorded across 56 sites. They are monochrome and bichrome with motifs including anthropomorphs, zoomorphs, material culture objects, faces/masks, and a large quantity of geometric and abstract images. Most of the art is thought to be a few hundred years old via relative dating techniques using oral traditions, comparisons with earlier observations of images, and excavation data.
Visiting Queensland rock art sites
A small number of Queensland rock sites are open to public visitation, although they all require some effort and commitment to reach.
- Blackdown Tablelands has the signposted Ghungalu rock art site accessed by a short (2.5km) loop walk
- Buluwai Country in the Wet Tropics has the Bunda Bibandji rock art site in Davies Creek National Park (4WD access)
- Carnarvon National Park has some spectacular rock art sites in both the more remote Mount Moffatt to the north (4WD recommended), and the popular Carnarvon Gorge section (which has the popular Art Gallery shelter and Catherdral Cave). These sites are accessed via a number of walks of varying lengths – allow at least a day for each section of the park.
- Chillagoe-Mungana National Park has two easily accessible sites – Mungana and Wullumba – which are estimated to be around 3,500 years old (with one motif about 100 years in age)
- Ngaro Sea Trail – visit the Ngaro Cultural Site in Nara Inlet on a kayak trip though the Whitsundays (you can also do a guided tour).
There also a few sites that can be visited by joining an indigenous guided tour.
- Normanby Station (from Cooktown) – guided tours to the homelands and ancient rock art of the Balnggarrawarra people.
- Quinkan Country has a number of spectacular galleries, which feature the Quinkans Spirit Beings.
- Ang-Gnarra guided tours to the Giant Horse and Mushroom Rock art sites can be arranged with the Ang-Gnarra Aboriginal Corporation and the Laura Rangers (while Split Rock can be done as a self-guided tour but requires a ticket).
- Jarramali Rock Art Tours ventures to more remote “off the beaten track” galleries, including the Magnificent Rock Art Gallery, which are 20,000 years old. Allow two days for the 4WD tour (or you can visit by helicopter as a day-trip from Cairns).