The Kimberley region of Australia is vast, remote, barely inhabited and strewn with ancient art. Jo Lennan takes a tour with a local elder to work out what it tells us about our distant past …
MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE: “I’ve come to see a painting. To reach it, I climb up the rocky outcrop, use the crook of a tree for a foothold to cross a crevasse, then edge out along a ledge. Above is a wide blue sky, below is a tangle of gum trees and grass. Only rock relieves the endless flatness of the land. The terrain is strewn with sandstone, either piles of it, rising up violently orange against the sky, or solitary boulders that seem to have stopped mid-tumble to nowhere. Standing on the ledge, I face a more-or-less smooth expanse of rock face that has been used as an artist’s canvas. The paint is a deep mulberry-coloured stain. The artist, it’s clear, had a way with a line—I’m looking at a tableau of a lithe human couple, shown in crisp silhouette. There’s a delicate flair in the profiled forms and headdresses of the pair, who seem to saunter out of the rock from a forgotten Eden.
Who are these people, I wonder, and who immortalised them here in Australia’s far north-west? It’s a question that intrigues many people who set eyes on them, including Sam Lovell (pictured below), an Aboriginal elder who spent decades droving cattle through the savannah and river-gorge country of the Kimberley region, and who has led the way to these paintings. His mother was Aboriginal, while the line of his pastoralist father goes back to the Lovells of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire. An agile 77, Sam is now a director of an outfit researching the untold reserves of rock art here.”
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