Event description

Australia is one of the greatest rock art estates in the world – with Western Australia boasting more than its fair share.  Amazingly diverse paintings in caves and engravings on open rock surfaces are found across the Kimberley, Pilbara and Western Desert.  This ‘symbolic storage’ is evidence for an early human revolution.  This vast yet irreplaceable cultural heritage represents a critical resource in understanding the question: why do humans make art? Humans created rock art to allow the transmission of complex thought and enduring lines of communication between different groups and generations. Information technology and digital innovations … from cameras and computers to virtual-reality headsets … are the modern analogues which facilitate out human urge to communicate and transform our environments with imagery.

The First Australians – as early as peoples in Europe and Asia – generated, curated and transmitted knowledge through art production. But while Ice-Age European rock art documents survival under the ice-sheets with woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers, Australian rock art from this very dry and cold period records long-distance symbolic behaviour and deep-time connections to Country: evidence recently supported by genetics.

Aboriginal Australia provides a unique lens in the global context, through which we can understand the role of rock art in human society through deep time. But rock art research undertaken collaboratively with Aboriginal communities can also contribute to emotional health and well-being in our remote northern communities. Rock art’s continuing significance to contemporary Indigenous Australians provides opportunities for new and sustainable economies using these heritage assets. Cultural tourism is a sustainable economy for Western Australia and research can facilitate this as well as ‘future-proof’ heritage management for sustainable resources development in the State’s north.

In this Lecture Jo McDonald will highlight the global significance of Western Australia’s rock art, and highlight how research at UWA is helping to develop management regimes and sustainable economies for Aboriginal partner organisations – as well as providing research outputs relevant to Industry partner organisations.  She will talk about the Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming Project and how this research assists Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to manage WA’s first co-managed National Park.  Significant finds for the project so far include the first evidence for people living on the Dampier Archipelago during the Last Ice Age, and Australia’s earliest-dated domestic structures. 


SPEAKER - Jo McDonald

Professor Jo McDonald

  • The University of Western Australia
  • Director Centre for Rock Art Research and Management