Friends of Australian Rock Art (FARA)

Irreplaceable petroglyphs of Murujuga/the Burrup: a step closer to World Heritage protection

Murujuga / the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha in Western Australia’s Pilbara, contains the world’s oldest and largest rock art precinct, with an estimated one million ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) across the Dampier Archipelago. There are many different styles of carvings, thought to represent a period from our recent history back to 40,000+ years ago. These have been documented and studied by a variety of people, including Dr Ken Mulvaney and research teams led by Drs Jo McDonald, Joe Dortch and Peter Veth from UWA’s Centre for Rock Art Research + Management.

Rock art Burrup peninsula
Rock art – bird with snake, crab, eggs. Image from FARA archive

These unique carvings capture the oldest depiction of the human face as well as macropods and thylacines which have been extinct from the Australian mainland for thousands of years.

Post-ice age carvings contain an important record of habitat and sea-level change and show collaborative endeavours such as netting marine animals.

A close up of a stone wall

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Rock art – marine turtle. Image from FARA archive

Murujuga / the Burrup Peninsula and adjacent islands constitute the greatest continuous Aboriginal cultural site in Australia, representing humankind’s survival from before the last Ice Age until now. It is also home to endangered and endemic (mostly) botanical species. For these reasons, the Traditional Custodians and the State and Commonwealth governments have recently initiated the process of nominating Murujuga for World Heritage listing which would provide much more protection for this globally significant cultural heritage site.

Friends of Australian Rock Art (FARA) has been working toward this goal for many years and welcome the news, although a decision about World Heritage status will take several years. Supporters have written many submissions to request that the WA State government holds industry to account for the acidic industrial emissions that degrade the petroglyphs.

A long-promised rock art monitoring program is being established and the results should contribute to better management of this important Aboriginal cultural site which deserves to be protected for all Australians, in perpetuity.

A close up of a rock

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Gomphrena cunninghamii. Image from FARA archive

In addition to the spectacular petroglyphs, the area contains a diverse range of natural habitats such as rocky ridges, gullies and rock pools, plains, beaches, mangroves and salt flats. Some species live in several habitats, while others occur only locally. Birds that frequent the Burrup Peninsula include the Painted Firetail Finch, Mangrove Robin, Osprey, Whimbrel and Spinifex Pigeon. The Burrup Terminalia, Pilbara Kurrajong, Sandpaper Fig, Caustic/Blister Bush are among the interesting plants and trees to be seen. Several faunal species are restricted to the Pilbara, including the Rothschild’s Rock Wallaby, Northern Pilbara Rock Monitor and the Pilbara Death Adder.

A lizard on a rock

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Pilbara Rock Monitor Image from FARA archive

Through its annual tour to Murujuga / the Burrup Peninsula, FARA continues to work to educate people about the unique petroglyphs, cultural history, interesting landscapes, and the flora and fauna of the Dampier Archipelago. This year’s tour will be from 1-9 August 2020 (from Perth), which coincides with peak wildflower season in the Pilbara, when the amazing Sturt’s desert pea, lovely mulla mulla, the striking Ashburton pea, and many species of Acacia (wattle) can be seen. A highlight of the trip is a guided tour and/or talk from local botany expert Vicki Long.

If you’re interested to learn more about Murujuga / the Burrup Peninsula, there is information at https://www.fara.com.au/. For tour information go to https://www.fara.com.au/burrup-murujuga-tour/ or email tour@fara.com.au

COVID-19 UPDATE: At this point, we are still hoping that the tour will go ahead in August. Of course, we will take advice health authorities and update closer to the time and give a full refund of deposits if we have to cancel the tour.