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Sailing vessels in northwestern Arnhem Land rock art reveal different attitudes to visitors

In this new article, Professor Goldhahn and his colleagues explores the contact period rock art of northern Australia, which provides unprecedented insights into Aboriginal cross-cultural experiences during the last few hundred years.

Photo Credit: Paul Taçon

Northwest Arnhem Land has an extensive rock art assemblage and a complicated history of interactions between Aboriginal communities and Macassans from South East Asians, European colonists, such as explorers, missionaries, buffalo shooters, and more. This contact period rock art offers a unique opportunity to explore a variety of questions relating to cross-cultural interactions and artistic responses to new people, objects and ideas.

In this paper, which is lead by Dr Sally K May at Griffith University, they find a dichotomy existing in the number of European and south-east Asian themed rock art motifs. They suggest that there is an underlying theme in the proliferation of European related imagery relating to threats to Indigenous sovereignty. Their findings suggest that rock art illustrates the Aboriginal community’s responses to both groups and their experience of the existential threat posed by European intruders.

Photo Credit: Sally May

The apparent lack of rock art relating to south-east Asian interactions, the ‘missing Macassans’, although perplexing, may in fact provide circumstantial evidence for a more close and trusting interaction between some northern Australian and south-east Asian communities.

You can read more about this in The Conversation:

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