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19 July 2008
Wollemi Wilderness yields its ancient secrets

There is a ridge and a creek in the heart of the 500,000-hectare Wollemi Wilderness (New South Wales, Australia) which are so remote they have never been officially named by Europeans. An archaeologist, Wayne Brennan, and his colleagues have called these wild features Forgotten Ridge and Creek and have just completed the first archaeological survey there. They have uncovered six archaeological sites, including a rock shelter with about 100 drawings and stencils.
     A party of bushwalkers - Rik Deveridge, Mark Jessop and Michael Cartier had discovered three rock art sites and on their return they contacted Mr Brennan. They reported an ancestral figure drawn with charcoal - either a half-man half-goanna or someone wearing an elaborate headdress. A few kilometres away they had found another strange motif - possibly a half-rat half-woman - and two ancient red-ochre hand-and-arm stencils. At a third site they found more than 30 axe-grinding grooves.
     Mr Brennan, who along with Paul Tacon and Dr Matthew Kelleher has spent the past five years searching the Wollemi for its secret prehistory, quickly set about getting to the unexplored area. Past discoveries in the wilderness area have included thousands of charcoal and ochre drawings, a one-hectare rock platform named Gallery Rock covered in engravings, two rare stone axes and a number of timber tools, including a firestick.
     "Normally anthropomorphic figures are quite rare but in the Wollemi there are some very interesting combinations - eagle man a bat-human, half-kangaroo half-humans, a rat woman, and now a possible goanna man," Mr Brennan said. He and his team were flown by helicopter into the area last month for a five-day survey, and immediately viewed the first site found by the bushwalkers - a large axe-grinding platform. "This would have been a nodal point, a meeting place," Mr Brennan said. "The axe is not just about sharpening and shaping. It's about waiting, down-time, talking. This waterhole would have always been kept clean. There would have been serious talking and axe grinding. It would have been about connecting with the place and the people."
     The following day the bushwalkers guided Mr Brennan into a rainforest and under a series of overhangs. Coming around a corner was a large rock shelter, and on the wall was the suspected goanna man. Professor Tacon, a Griffith University rock art expert, said he believed the reptilian head was probably an elaborate headdress. Near the rock shelter with the rat woman is a deep pool with huge round boulders on the creek bed. In the rock shelter the rat woman charcoal drawing has deteriorated badly.
     While Mr Brennan and other archaeologists recorded details of the finds, Mr Deveridge, Mr Cartier and Mr Jessop set off to scour more unexplored country in search of archaeology. The walkers discovered four sites, including a rock shelter with as many as 100 motifs on its walls. They found a stencil of a child's boomerang, children's hand stencils, and stencils of two of the biggest hands anyone had yet seen. There was also a mysterious figure with numerous heads, and large numbers of human figures. Proper recording of the sites will have to wait until another expedition.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (15 July 2008)

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