Aboriginal Art / Engraving Walk in Ku-ring-gai Chase NP

Party: Katy, Lilian, Andrew,  YiLing, Zhan and Felix (photos by Felix)

SUBW trip details

Credit: Many thanks to Trevor Leaman (from the Nura Gili astronomy team) for his permission in using the star diagrams that appear in this report. Great talk at the Redfern Community Center by the way 🙂

Disclaimer: I have tried to include some additional information in this report. Much if it comes from my memory and notes I have made during a couple of presentations, so there could be some inaccuracies. Furthermore, there are over 300(?) aboriginal languages and each of these can be considered a separate country, so although there are common threads, they often have their own localised beliefs. Check out this language map!:


A wet-looking-day dawned and I scampered out of bed. I have always liked rain, so with a light drizzle for company I made my way across town to where I would be meeting my chauffeur Andrew.

With nearly half the participants already having bailed, I wondered if there would be more last minute dropouts? No, our party of 6 was soon huddled beneath a bus shelter in Terrey Hills for a quick look at some maps. In increasing rain, we made a quick dash for the cars and headed to the first site our internet research indicated we would find Aboriginal engravings.

We pulled up at the track that would take us to our first location to explore. The rain had stopped and a wonderful light was streaming through breaks in the cloud. As we made our way up the muddy track we where overwhelmed by the numerous wild flowers. Katy pointed out a yellow New Holland Honey Eater and other creatures.

We soon came across some tessellated rock pavements and began searching for engravings. It wasn’t all “heads down” though, as there were some fantastic views! I was definitely excited when we found a cute triangle slug and even more so when we stumbled (gracefully) onto our first set of engravings. The rain may have even made the engravings more distinct!

The first engraving we saw may have been Daramulan or Baiame, both creator-heros from the Dreaming of the Guringai people who used to live in this area.

We thought the second engraving could be a shield or some kind of fish.

As we continued along the rock shelf we found a number of D-shaped engravings – we weren’t too sure what they represented.

There was an abundance of bird life; this time Katy’s keen eye (and binoculars) identified a silver-eye (identifiable by the silver ring around eye). There are two types, apparently this was the one that migrates to and from Tasmania.

There where a number of creatures out, and the rain drops clinging to the flora made for some nice sights.

Eriostemon australis (Pink wax flower)

We returned to the cars and continuing past a graveyard of Banksias and Casuarinas (the result of a back burn?) and arrived at our next location where we where hoping to find a large engraving of an emu. Something special was noted about this particular engraving in that it didn’t look very like a real emu but rather resembled the “emu in the sky”.

In “Western astronomy”, constellations are important. For aboriginals, single stars are often important as well as the dark spaces between the stars: the head of the “emu in the sky” head is formed by the Coalsack absorption nebula, with its neck, body and head stretching out across darker sections of the Milky Way.

“In Victoria, Wergaia clans called the emu Tchingal, while the Mara called it Torong.  The “emu in the sky” is known across Australia, from the Kamilaroi of New South Wales, to the Meintangk of South Australia, to the Larrakia of the Northern Territory.”

Interestingly the same emu is known in South America, but is instead referred to as a “llama in the sky”. “The Inca revered the llama, which can be seen as a very similar shape to the emu in the sky”. “In Bolivia, this … [shape] as a rhea (a bird very much like an emu or ostrich)!”

The important thing about our emu engraving was its orientation. It is now thought that the Guringai used the position of the “emu in the sky” to measure the emu’s breeding cycle (a food calendar). Emu eggs were an important food source for aboriginals. If the emu is facing up, it is mating time and the emus will be pairing up. If it is more horizontal orientation the emus are sitting on the eggs, and it is a good time to harvest them. If the emu is facing down, it is too late for collection.

April – May = Mating phase

June – July = Sitting on Nest

August = Too late to collect eggs!

There is another orientation that may also hold significance. If the emu is facing vertically down, it marks when the Bora initiation ceremony occurs.

Another cultural aspect around September reflects the boys Bora initiation ceremony into manhood. 

When the “7 Sisters” (Pilades) rise just before sun rise it signifies the migration of the whales and the start of the dingo breeding season.

This is a surveyors benchmark!

“Highlighting” (gentle removal of dark organic material from the groove profile) is evident in this engraving. 

 We thought that these engravings may have represented snakes.

We came across a compass rose with the north and south letters also engraved. So not of aboriginal origin!

On a recent SUBW trip I learnt that you can actually use the stars to find the southern celestial pole by drawing a line through the long axis of the Southern cross and intersecting this with a line drawn perpendicular from the midpoint of the Pointer stars (Alpha and Beta Centauri).
I wonder if the aboriginals used something similar?

Aboriginal story: The Boorong people were struggling through a severe drought. It was the worst they could remember, and the lack of water and food meant that people were starving.
One day a wise woman by the name of Marpeankurrk was out foraging.  Whilst sitting down exhausted from her fruitless efforts, she noticed some ants marching into the bush. She wondered where they might be going? She followed them to where they disappeared into the Earth. Curious, she dug up the nest and discovered bittur (ant larvae). Desperate for food she shoved some into her parched mouth and slowly felt the energy strengthening her body.

When Marpeankurrk passed away she was placed in the sky. The star has a reddish colour (a reflection of ants’ colouring) and is the fourth brightest in the sky.
Even as a star she continued to show the people when they could find bittur, appearing in the night sky along the northern meridian when the time was ripe.

After some story telling we moved on. Walking down a new track, Katy pointed out the edible blueberry ash. Lillian and I both tried some of the tasteless berries.
We also discussed the identification of the angophora tree. The day before I learnt that the seeds have ridges on them, today I learnt that the leaves grow opposite each other as opposed to alternating for mature eucalyptus leaves!

Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus)

Aboriginal hand stencil in Red Hands cave

(left) unidentified flower, (right) Lilian excitedly noting the ridges on the angophora seeds 😉

We continued on to a panoramic lookout which would be the ideal spot for lunch. We admired the view whilst listening to the birds, including a kookaburra, and keeping a watchful eye on a fat, overly friendly magpie. We watched a white belly sea eagle gliding through the sky.

Zhan produced a packet of duck tongues which everyone (apart from myself) was brave enough to try.

The view from West Head Lookout over the sand tied “island” of Barrenjoey

After lunch we crossed a small creek and visited a small secluded beach.

Continuing around the peninsula the track meandered though casuarina trees (sheoaks) and came across a World War II observation post.

On the final stretch back to the cars we passed more engravings as well as a white orchid.

Caladenia catenata (also known as White Caladenia or White Fingers)

(left) an engraving possibly of Daramullan or “Biami”. Maybe holding a club?, (right) an engraving of an eel.

Thanks everyone for a fun trip! I think it was YiLing’s (and Zhan’s??) first club walk. Hope to see you again!


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