Day 6 - April 28, 2014 - Swift Bay
By Brad Siviour, Marine Biologist
Co-ordinates: S 14º32'25", E 125º35'86"
Weather: Sunny with Haze
Air Temperature: 35ºC
Pressure: 1008 hPa
Wind: calm, 5 knots
Today we were given the opportunity to take a step back in time, and marvel at some of the very ancient and iconic Aboriginal rock art of the Kimberley region. The Captain let go Silver Discoverer’s anchor before sunrise, and the Deck Crew begun speedily dropping Zodiacs into the water for the Expedition Team to set off and scout our destination for the day. As the sun gently climbed over the horizon, we departed the ship to discover what mysteries the archaic shelters and caves of Swift Bay had to offer.
On arrival at our intended landing site, the mangroves lining the shore were alive with birdsong and activity. Once the guests had stepped ashore we led them along the overgrown walking track and over the sandstone boulders into the rock shelters to see representations of both the Wandjina and Bradshaw art styles.
The Bradshaw figures are the most prolific, yet most controversial style of Aboriginal rock art in Australia. This style of art was first discovered and recorded in 1891 by pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw, after whom the figures were eventually named. It is believed that this style of art has the oldest depiction of the human form in the world, with an estimated age of around 17,500 years. Many of the figures looked like they were painted just yesterday, while others were a little more difficult to decipher due to the deterioration of the rock face and increased exposure to the elements.
The deep red colour of the monochromatic images contrasted well with the sandstone, most of the paintings depicting people in ceremonial poses with elaborate headdresses and tassels hanging from their body. As we walked around the gallery, it was easy to see why people had chosen to live in this area. The large rock overhang provided shelter from the sun, and a cool gentle breeze puffed though the gallery giving respite from the blistering heat outside. Also there was obviously a large source of food in the area, indicated by the enormous amount of marine mollusc shells which littered the shelter floor to create a midden.
After visiting the Bradshaw gallery, we then got back into our Zodiacs and were shuttled about 100m along the rock face to another gallery which depicted the other style of art; the Wandjinas. These figures tend to be a lot more elaborate with huge halos around the head, often made up of ochre of three colours (red, white and yellow). The Wandjinas are also believed to have been created much more recently than the Bradshaw style – no more than maybe 4000 years ago. Some of the spirit figures we could see were over 2m (6ft) in height; single figures were often dominating an entire wall surface of the cave.
When it was time to head back from Swift Bay to the ship for lunch, most of us left the galleries with an increased sense and understanding of what it might have been like for the countless generations of indigenous people living in this harsh environment.
Another great day for all!
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