I wish to take you on a journey into one of the Hawk Dreaming rock art shelters and try and make you feel what it is like to travel back in time. It is a difficult task describing this in words (time travel is a bit hard too), but do come along on this illustrated trip as we explore a Hawk Dreaming aboriginal rock art shelter.
I am often asked how large is Hawk Dreaming and I don’t actually know, it’s not marked on a map of course. We’re only allowed access to a small area anyway but it is a significant and beautiful area along the East Alligator River with around 15-20 art sites included Bill Neidjie’s cave and important sites like the painting of the Warramurrauungi – the creation mother. All the paintings we can access are found around the large range shown here in my panorama:
Hawk Dreaming Ranges Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography
This is a stitched panorama shot from the river looking southeast towards the ranges. It was a hazy sunset but with good clouds and light above the rocks. I am trying to shield the camera as it was so windy on this night that I had to hook my backpack to the tripod to prevent it from blowing over! I managed to get some sharp exposures and I am very happy with this shot, it is quite successful I reckon at expressing the open expanse of the Hawk Dreaming floodplains and the ranges.
The art sites are found in shelters in these ranges. Look at the full size version of the panorama above and you see some of the shelters as horizontal lines along the side of the range. One of them is a large spectacular cave accessed through a bit of climbing. It has a huge collection of art on the walls and grind holes in the rock. It also offers a magnificent view North and if one was allowed to bring a swag up here it would offer a truly special place to sleep. I have attempted to capture the feeling of sitting in the shelter in the following panorama. This stitched pano required a lot of work in PTgui. It is shot at 17mm so I could include the cave as well as the view. But 17mm means distortion and a very tough stitch. In the end I got what I wanted, a pano of looking out of the cave:
Rock Art Shelter Lookout Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography
As you sit here in the rock shelter and lookout over the glorious landscape then think back tens of thousands of years and have a look around. There are grind holes on the floor from grinding paint and flour. There is still charcoal on the floor leftover from fires. There is absolutely nothing to break the illusion. You are back in time. No fences, no signs, no roads, no people! This is not a museum. This is real; this is authentic and you are right there in it, experiencing traditional living with the land lifestyle. Imagine a clan of Bunitj people sitting right next to you, laughing, eating, painting, sleeping. Living in this very shelter. It is a great place to live, the land here provides plenty of food and the natural shelters make for perfect homes. It is a slice of magical time travel.
Now. Look up and look behind you and what you see is this panoramic view:
Tens of thousands of years of living here is documented on the walls in layers and layers of painting. Again; this is no museum. This is time travel; this is real. The paintings range from just having fun recreational paintings to very important sacred paintings. A lot of it is food sources and dreamtime stories and ceremonies. Very interesting are the paintings of encounters with white people and before that, meetings with the Macassan traders in the year 14-1700. I apologise for the large watermark but have to protect this image as it is sacred art and is something I shot for the present custodians of Hawk Dreaming. I’m afraid I can’t show you close-up of the art; you’ll have to visit and see yourself!
If you have visited other rock art sites in Australia I think you have spotted why this Hawk Dreaming experience is unlike any other. This is so real it becomes a time travel. Again; no fences, no crowds, no lines, no boardwalks, no signs, nothing that turns the experience into a museum like viewed from a distance feeling. Hawk Dreaming enables you to sit down in a shelter and take it all in with no filters between you and the authentic experience.
I trust you enjoyed this trip in Hawk Dreaming sitting in a Bunitj clan rock shelter. It defines the word special and I can only attempt to capture a bit of this in my photos. It feels like ‘my country’ like home to me.
It is amazing to see how indelible the Hawk Dreaming experience was for you. From what you tell (and show) it must be an amazing place!
Hi Gudrun, would have thought you would be tiring of hearing me talk about Hawk Dreaming by now 😀
Yeah it is a part of me now, something I'll never forget and will need to revisit again! Driving into Hawk Dreaming this year was like coming home again!
Wonderful account of the experience Flemming. I like the first image the best and it looks a little like Nourlangie Rock.
Thanks very much Tony! Yeah the first image is the art shot, the other two I shot so I could show and share the experience.
Now that you mention it, yes it does look a bit like Nourlangie!
what a magical place! you really have captured it in your photo's and story. as always a very enjoyable read. thanks for taking so much time to write so much information every post. definitely not tired of hearing and viewing about Hawk Dreaming here!
i love your cave lookout image. it feels so much like you are sitting there looking out.
Thanks heaps Stephen, I really appreciate you always taking the time to comment. It does take a while to write each post but I love blogging about my photography so I try to make time to tell longer stories.
I'm glad you get the feeling of sitting there looking out when viewing the cave lookout image, exactly what I was shooting for (haha). I worked for more than an hour in this cave shooting the paintings and kept thinking "it's gotta be possible to capture the feeling of sitting here looking out"!
Its sounds like an awesome experience you have had. I love the landscape you are capturing as well.
Where I live we have about 180 art shelters within the park, Only 5 are accessible to the public and about 10 have cages around them. However the artwork is not as visually impressive as that in the top end apart from two shelters. There is one shelter here that has been utilised for over 22,000 years.
Keep up the great stories.
Thanks very much Thomas, glad you like the photos and stories!
Those shelters sound very interesting! There's a shelter in Hawk Dreaming with "paintings" which is basically grass dipped in ochre and whipped onto the rock. It's the earliest form of aboriginal art and could be maybe 40,000 years old I guess!
That’s a great!!!!
It will be the best trip because this is the golden chance to see the hawk dreaming ranges and rock art
shelter at very close. I am sure that at this time you will think about those people who were pasted away
thousands years ago.