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The Aboriginal Rock-Stencillings of New South Wales in eastern Australia


In a number of places in eastern Australia curious aboriginal markings are found on the faces of the sandstone cliffs. These came from Wolgan Gap near Wallerang in the Blue Mountain region of New South Wales. They are found on overhanging rocks that have served as shelters or camping places for the aborigines and which doubtless have protected their works of art.

These stencillings are made by a sort of spatter work, something like that in vogue a generation ago in this country, using leaves, etc., as forms. The rocks at Wolgan Gap are a coarse sandstone stained almost black by an iron oxide derived from included bands of ironstone. These black surfaces were selected by the artists. Nearby in the rock is a band of shale which had disintegrated at its exposed edge to a white powder.

The native artist put some of this white powder in his mouth, placed his hand or foot upon the rock, and blew the moistened powder upon and around his outstretched fingers or toes. When he removed them they were outlined on the rock. Since the sandstone is coarse and deeply pitted, the moist powder was blown into minute cavities where it has remained despite the erosive activities of some generations.

The hands are either right or left, and, in some cases, both hands seem to have been stencilled at once. Sometimes the whole arm and hand are stencilled together, and in one of the photographs a boomerang is shown. The age of these stencils is not known. They were first discovered at Wolgan Gap about sixty years ago, but others have been known for a longer time, for instance, those at Greenwich, Parametta River, near Sydney.

The significance of these stencillings has been the subject of some controversy. The natives may have been induced to make them as boys carve their names on benches or even rocks. The materials for making the stencillings were present and, the example once having been set, others would emulate it. It is interesting that similar stencillings of the hands were made by cave men on the walls of some of the European caves, as, for instance, those of Aurignac in southern France. Evidently spatter work is no modern pastime.