Carnarvon Gorge National Park, Queensland, Australia - research field trip

We took a field trip to gorgeous and naturally diverse Carnarvon Gorge National Park hidden in the Central Queensland highlands to explore the various sections and discover the Bidjara and Karingbal rock art that are nested in this roughly 35 km long Gorge.


The national park features some of Australia’s archaeologically and anthropologically most important indigenous sites such as the Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave, where we found beautiful examples of stencilling techniques considered to be the most sophisticated of their kind in the world. These rock art include repeated themes consisting of boomerangs, emus, kangaroos, body parts and carved human vulvas, the importance of which motif is not known however it is very common along the cliffs of the Great Dividing Range in Central Queensland. Nowhere else in Australia is this motif engraved in this way with such regularity. Some of the motifs include the double-handed forearm stencils, which are quite unique in the sense that the only place they were were used is here at the Carnarvon Gorge NP. The red stencils of a large axe-shaped weapon are believed to depict a type of wooden ‘Lil-Lil’ club. Unfortunately, no examples of this type of weapon have survived; their existence is only recorded via this rock art.


These rock art sites are believed to have been in use for over 3,650 years, however the Cathedral Cave revealed occupational evidence dating back 19,500 years, indicating a long period of human habitation. Although it is not quite established whether this area was permanently occupied or not, but it is undisputed that the Gorge has spiritual significance to the Bidjara and Karingbal peoples and Carnarvon Gorge’s rock art sites were used for large ceremonial gatherings.


As the national park is rather isolated, we planned a good three/four days for exploration and trekking while staying at the Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge given that it was in the middle of the winter. Other than the two (2) Aboriginal rock art sites, the park includes other sections such as the Wards Canyon, the Amphitheatre and the Big Bend.


Date: July 2009

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