Vandals Destroy 30,000-Year-Old Indigenous Rock Art in Australia

In Southern Australia, vandals forced their way into the sacred Koonalda Cave and permanently destroyed part of the 30,000-year-old Nullarbor Plain drawings, some of the country’s oldest examples of Indigenous rock art.

According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the vandals appear to have dug underneath a steel gate to enter the site, where they then etched the phrase “don’t look now, but this is a death cave” into the limestone walls. Archaeologist Keryn Walshe told the Guardian that the soft surface of the cave means it is impossible to remove the writing without damaging the drawings.

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

The damaged works are of particular significance to the Mirning People, and for months, activists have been in talks with the Australian government about increasing security on the site, including potentially installing security cameras. Trespassers have gained access to the site for years and carved smaller markings into the walls. Now, the Australian government is facing criticism for its lack of action.

“Me and my Mirning Elders are very sad, disturbed and hurt by what has happened,” said Senior Mirning Elder, Whale Songman, and Custodian of Koonalda Uncle Bunna Lawrie, in quotes shared with Hyperallergic. “Koonalda is our most important, sacred place.”

“People were going there without us being consulted,” he continued. “That is abuse and so disrespectful.”

Uncle Bunna Lawrie and Peter Owen survey damage at the cave. (photo by Bill Doyle; used with permission from the Yinyila Nation of Mirning)

The Koonalda Cave has been on Australia’s National Heritage List since 2014, in part for its role in shifting the understanding of Indigenous history in Australia. Prior to 1956 research into the cave, the earliest known trace of Indigenous people in the nation was dated to approximately 8,700 years ago. At the time, the cave drawings were estimated to be around 22,000 years old, but it is now known that they date as far back as 30,000 years ago.

Under Australian heritage law, the Mirning people were barred from protecting the Koonalda Cave and had to ask for a key to gain entrance. These laws are currently under review.

“It is not coming back,” Uncle Bunna Lawrie said of the lost drawings. “It is one of the oldest cave art in the world and it is now damaged. It is so wrong.”

Authorities have yet to find the vandals, but the suspects could face a A$10,000 ($6,700) fine and up to six months in prison.

While the Koonalda Cave has been irreparably impacted by individual acts of vandalism, rock art in Western Australia is being threatened by a natural gas project. Experts have warned that pollution from the drilling could erode the site’s ancient petroglyphs, and in 2020, a mining company blew up a cave system containing ancient Indigenous archaeological sites in a quest for iron ore.


No votes yet.
Please wait...