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6 September 2003
Aboriginal art at Ayers Rock is vanishing

Australian scientists are being asked to help to preserve ancient Aboriginal rock art at Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, which is vanishing because of wind, rain and vandalism. There are about 90 rock art sites around the base of Uluru, depicting the stories and ancestral totems of the Anangu people. But the art, possibly the oldest and most valuable in Australia, is being ravaged by the elements, while graffiti sprayed by tourists is also damaging it.
     A team from Melbourne University has started working with the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru, to document the paintings for posterity. The scientists are making sketches and digital images of the sites, and recording video footage of Anangu elders recounting the stories associated with them. Three-dimensional images are also being made. The move was initiated at the request of the Anangu, who feared that their history and "Dreamtime" stories might be lost as older generations died. They hope the use of modern technology may re-engage younger people in their 40,000-year-old culture.
     The Melbourne team plans to compile a database of the art that will become a resource and educational tool. Cliff Ogleby, co-ordinator of the project, said: "The older people see it as a sort of 'keeping place' where things that are important to them can be kept and looked after." Mr Ogleby said that most of the damage was being caused by vandals. "But wind, rain, bird nests and the occasional wallaby looking for a back scratch are also taking their toll," he added.
     Some of the artworks are sacred exclusively either to men or women, and can only be viewed by them. The same applies to the relevant information on the database. Mr Ogleby sent his female postgraduate student to record data from the sacred women's sites. A sophisticated log-in system means only approved people can enter certain areas of the database.
     Mr Ogleby said: "The ultimate aim is for Anangu to compile the material themselves, without outside help, and store it in a digital 'keeping place' of their own design. The system is designed so that they can sit down and record through video or photography what they see as important. This might include creation stories, descriptions of rock art or the uses of local bush tucker."

Source: The Independent (5 September 2003)

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