Kakadu’s rock art is of enormous international significance. The park has one of the greatest concentrations of rock art sites in the world, and with paintings up to 20,000 years old, this is one of the longest historical records of any group of people.
The paintings provide a fascinating record of Aboriginal life over thousands of years, and show the close personal relationship Bininj/Mungguy share with their land and spiritual heritage.
Our main rock art galleries are at Ubirr and Burrungkuy (Nourlangie). Look for naturalistic paintings of animals, traditional x-ray art, and paintings of early contact with European people.
The local Aboriginal word for rock art is gunbim. For Bininj/Mungguy art is an expression of cultural identity and connection to country. The act of painting is generally more important than the painting itself so many older paintings are covered by younger ones.
Bininj/Munnguy continue to tell their stories through painting, mostly done now on bark, paper and canvas.
Types of rock art
Rock art is still very relevant to local Aboriginal people. It shows objects they still use, animals they still hunt and activities they still do.
The rock art in Kakadu was painted for a number of reasons.
Some sites and paintings could only be painted by people with the right knowledge. Sorcery paintings could be painted only by the holder of magic knowledge, for instance. Other paintings, particularly at sites depicting stories of Creation Ancestors, were often re-painted.
To make the paint, Bininj/Mungguy ancestors crushed the pigments on a stone palette and mixed it with water to make a paste. They made brushes from human hair, chewed sticks, reeds and feathers. Sometimes, they would blow wet pigments from their mouths around objects, to create a stencil. You can see hand stencils like this at Ubirr and Nanguluwurr.
Of all the paints, haematite lasts longest. That’s why the majority of old paintings that you see today are completely red.