Day 6 - May 17, 2014 - Swift Bay
By Brad Siviour, Marine Biologist
Co-ordinates: S 14º32'25", E 125º35'86"
Weather: Fine and Sunny
Air Temperature: 36ºC
Pressure: 1006 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 dropped the ships anchor just after sunrise, and the Deck Crew began speedily dropping Zodiacs into the water ready for the Expedition Team to set off and scout our destination for the day. Once the Zodiacs were in the water, we had to give them a good scrub to remove the remnants of mud from last night’s ordeal up the Hunter River.
We approached the creek at Swift Bay right on an extremely low tide, and had to unload all of our equipment (water, towels, Lifejacket bins) approximately 300 meters from the intended landing site.
On arrival at our intended landing site, the mangroves lining the shore were alive with birdsong and activity. We walked 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 by pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw in 1891 -the figures have been named after him. It is believed that this style of art is the oldest depiction of the human form in the world, with an estimated origin 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 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 the body. As we walked around the gallery, it was easy to see why people chose 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. There is also obviously a large source of food in the area, indicated by the enormous amount of marine mollusc shells which littered the shelter floor creating a midden.
After visiting the Bradshaw gallery, we then got back into Zodiacs and were shuttled approximately 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 three colours of ochre (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 seen were over 2m (6ft) in in height; single figures often dominating an entire wall surface of the cave.
After lunch back on board the ship I gave a presentation entitled “Captain Courageous", where I talked about the incident involving the bombing of the State Ship Koolama along the Kimberley coast during World War II. It was a good opportunity to educate our guests about the significance of the area we are visiting tomorrow, which has since been named Koolama Bay after the bombing of the ship.
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