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19 October 2006
Funding rejection 'threatens' Wollemi art research

Fieldwork in what is believed to be one of the most significant rock art sites in Australia has stalled after the Federal Government declined to fund further research, archaeologists say.
     Scientists exploring the Wollemi National Park north-west of Sydney recently announced the discovery of numerous shelters, many with rock drawings and stencils up to 5,000 years old. They also discovered what is believed to be the first hafted stone axe found in south-eastern Australia, estimated to be about 150 years old. But now the archaeologists are being forced to look for international funding to continue their work and cannot even afford a day trip to the remote area to protect vulnerable sites from damage by bushfires, says team co-leader Professor Paul Tacon of Griffith University.
     He says the largest and most significant site, an engraved platform a few kilometres from where the axe was found, is at immediate risk. The platform features large eagle and koala figures and images of what are believed to be ancestral beings. "There is a lot of vegetation around the edge of the platform and fallen tree limbs which will provide fuel [for bushfires]," Professor Tacon said. "If we get a really hot one in the next few months, there is a risk that some of the engravings we've discovered won't be there any more.
     Professor Tacon says the Australian Research Council informed him last week that his grant application, worth several hundred thousand dollars a year over the next five years, had been knocked back in favour of international projects. Australian archaeology projects at all. Most of the money went for people working on archaeological projects overseas," he said.
     The researchers are currently talking to a New Zealand company for funding to help them return for more surveying in April. An Australian Research Council spokeswoman could not comment on individual funding applications, but confirms some applications for international archaeological projects were successful in the last round.
     Meanwhile the future of the axe, which still has traces of resin most likely made from plants and beeswax, remains up in the air. Professor Tacon says it will either remain undisturbed in the cave where it was found or be moved to the Australian Museum in Sydney for public display. "Perhaps it can remain and eventually turn to dust," he said. But a final decision about whether the axe should stay or go will be made by local Aboriginal groups, he says. Dave Pross, from the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council, wants to see the axe in a museum to prevent it being picked up by bushwalkers and ending up on an online auction site like many other Aboriginal artefacts.

Source: ABC News (16 October 2006)

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