Gabarnmung - a site of significance

In June 2006, the Jawoyn Association's Ray Whear and pilot Chris Morgan made an astonishing discovery during a routine aerial survey on the Arnhem Land plateau.

They spied an unusually large rock shelter, landed the helicopter and on walking into the open cave, found themselves at a stunning gallery of hundreds of rock paintings.

Anthropological work with senior elders Wamud Namok and Jimmy Kalarriya enabled the Jawoyn to learn the name of the site - Nawarla Gabarnmang. The two men had both visited when they were children, and told of it being an important site where people camped on route to ceremony on Jawoyn country.

They also identified the Jawoyn clan Buyhmi as the traditional owners of the site. When Buyhmi traditional owner and elder Margaret Katherine was taken to the site, she cried out to her ancestors and wept for a place and family she had never known.

Since the rediscovery, extensive research has been carried out at Gabarnmung. Rock art specialist Robert Gunn has been recording every motif at the shelter - photographing and studying up to 600 individual motifs, along with petroglyphs of birds feet and ancient cupules.

In May 2010, an international team of archaeologists conducted an excavation at the site. They studied the paintings, the shelter formation, and dug two small pits. The group, including Monash University's Bruno David and France's foremost rock art archaeologist Jean-Michel Geneste and geomorphologist Jean-Jacques Delannoy, uncovered a wealth of cultural material, including stone flakes, knives, axes, ochre palettes and animal bones.

Among those found, was a fragment of a ground-edge stone axe. Carbon dating around the entire piece returned a date of 35,500 years, making it the oldest of its type in the world. Recently, charcoal taken from the bottom of one of the pits has been carbon dated, revealing Aboriginal people were visiting the site more than 45,000 years ago. The archaeologists will return to the site over the next four years.

In early December, a group from Oprah's Ultimate Adventure travelled to the site to see its paintings and hear stories from elders Margaret Katherine and Lily Bennett, who is the traditional owner of land nearby. They rated the visit the highlight of their experience in Australia.

Gabarnmung is also the subject of an independent documentary and art project by Australian journalist and filmmaker Emma Masters and Canadian artist and filmmaker Adrian Buitenhuis.

© Jawoyn Association :: ICN 373 :: Website design by Darwin Web Design, content by Jawoyn Association