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Ngarrabullgan, Mount Mulligan Rd, Dimbulah, QLD, Australia

Photographs None
List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Indigenous
Legal Status Registered (24/06/1997)
Place ID 100267
Place File No 4/06/258/0039
Statement of Significance
Ngarrabullgan, the mountain and its surrounds, is a place of considerable cultural and research significance. Culturally it is the heart of the Kuku Djungan homeland. For Kuku Djungan people, Ngarrabullgan has direct associations with Dreaming stories which remain important to the community today. The mountain is the home of spiritual beings and has been an important place for ceremonies, such as initiations (Criterion G.1). Ngarrabullgan is one of the oldest occupied places in Australia, revealing human occupation of the region and continent over 37,000 years. The occupation of Ngarrabullgan Cave from this time is vital to an understanding of the history of settlement of the continent, making it one of the most important archaeological places in Australia. Sites around Ngarrabullgan demonstrate continued use of this place over a vast length of time from the very earliest evidence for human activity through to the most recent late Holocene changes. Changes in social and cultural patterns in the Holocene, as documented elsewhere across the continent, are well represented at Ngarrabullgan by changes in the intensity of human occupation, the introduction of rock art at twenty-two recorded shelters and changes in material culture. The evidence from Ngarrabullgan is important to an understanding of the relationship between art and social organisation and identity, specifically in northern Australia during the late Holocene. There is important evidence which enhances a knowledge of human occupation, land use and lifestyles during the Pleistocene (Criterion A.4). Ngarrabullgan is outstanding because of the diversity, preservation and extent of a range of archaeological features, which includes rock art, camping places, tool making areas and rockshelter occupation, especially considering the size and frequency of the archaeological deposits. Sites have been preserved both on the mountain and around the base of the mountain. The presence of known sacred places and initiation places with associated archaeological deposits enhances this importance (Criterion B.2). The mountain and its surrounds are excellent examples of Aboriginal camping areas associated with a major religious site and resource focus, as well containing rock art and occupation sites within a complex of religious places. Stylistically, the rock art at Ngarrabullgan forms part of the artistic tradition of northern Queensland and like other rock art complexes dating from the mid-late Holocene, reveals a trend towards increasing local individualism (Criterion D.2). Ngarrabullgan Cave is one of the most important places for archaeological research in Australia. Its is also the oldest Aboriginal site so far known in Queensland. The contribution of this place to an understanding the of human occupation of the region, as well as to developing scientific techniques for the dating of such evidence, has been remarkable. Its potential to exceed this contribution is suggested by the amount of work being conducted by researchers studying environmental and geological history, as well as previous human occupations. The rich and intact archaeological deposits at Ngarrabullgan have been significant in addressing technical issues of dating very old cultural material. Further research may prove valuable in dating deposits of a similar antiquity from elsewhere in Australia. An analysis of the rock art from around and on the mountain will continue to contribute to studies of regionalism and intensification in human occupation in northern Queensland during the mid-late Holocene (Criterion C.2). Ngarrabullgan is a prominent natural monument with an impressive association of cultural and natural features, which are highly valued by Kuku Djungan people. As a complex, the place has a considerable aesthetic impact on visitors from Australia and overseas who are guided through the country by members of the Kuku Djungan community (Criterion E.1). Kuku Djungan people are more than willing to show visitors Ngarrabullgan and communicate aspects of its significance. As such, the place has significant educational values and is an exemplary case of Aboriginal people communicating the cultural history of Australia on their own land and on their terms (Criterion G.1).
Official Values Not Available
Ngarrabullgan is an 18km long, 6.5km wide sandstone conglomerate table top mountain rising 400m above the surrounding plain in south-east Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. It is located on the northern edge of the Featherbed Ranges, between the Mitchell and Walsh Rivers. The periphery of the mountain is comprised almost entirely of towering cliffs, some 300m high. Ngarrabullgan is an important dreaming site, featuring prominently in the dreaming stories of the Kuku Djungan people. According to creation stories, four devils, the Beerroo, Eekoo and two Mooramully devils were responsible for most sicknesses and were able to '...throw hooks, stones, or pieces of wood into the body without leaving a mark' (Richards 1926: 256). The Eekoo, a mountain devil, inhabits a lake on the top of Ngarrabullgan. The story of the Eekoo and the formation of Ngarrabullgan, was recorded in 1926 by F. Richards who wrote: 'The Eekoo's home was a lake on Mount Mulligan (Lake Koongirra) and natives were very afraid to go near this lake or its waters; though the Rhoonyoo (or witch doctor), being a companion of the Eekoo, could enter the water without any fear. The Eekoo was generally held responsible for any sickness when on the mountain. The mountain, which was built by wallabies on the advice of the eaglehawk, was originally a huge pile of stones. A swamp pheasant built its nest on the mountain and hatched its young. The Eekoo came along and killed the nestlings. The pheasants in their anger thereupon started a bush fire to burn the Eekoo and so great was this conflagration that it melted the stones and so formed the towering cliffs of Mount Mulligan. To save his life the Eekoo created the lake and took refuge in its waters; and so the lake became his home. Although the lake is the home of the Eekoo, strictly speaking he is not a water devil but wanders about anywhere on the mountain.' (Richards 1926: 256) Today the Kuku Djungan people continue to have the same dreaming story for the mountain and the lake. A recent analysis of pollen cores from the sediments of this lake record 6,500 years of depositional history. Kuku Djungan people have been involved in the research conducted at this place with several traditional owners writing interpretive articles about this work. Archaeological sites abound both on top of the mountain and around its base and are much less common away from the mountain surrounds. Over 207 archaeological sites have been systematically recorded in, on and around the mountain including rock shelters, artefact scatters and rock art sites. Six of these sites have been excavated including Ngarrabullgan (ex Narrabullgin) Cave on top of the mountain, which has been carbon dated to more than 37,170bp and Initiation Cave at the base of the mountain, which has been carbon dated to more than 4,110bp. Of the 207 recorded archaeological sites, over 180 are off the actual mountain. This may result from restrictions in access to the mountain and its sacred places. The archaeological assemblages around the mountain are from occupation sites (camping places) and activity sites (ie, places where stone tools were made). After a survey of 2sqkm of the these deposits, Davis describes them as some of the most intense archaeological remains of occupation, in terms of both frequency of material and number of sites, in Northern Australia (Davis 1995: Report to ATSIC). The past human use of this area can only be understood by considering the places where people lived around the base of the mountain, as well as the sites on the mountain itself. The survey and recording of these rich archaeological deposits continues. One important camping area which is being studied is represented by a large archaeological deposit on the eastern side of Little Watson Creek. Ngarrabullgan Cave and other places such as Initiation Cave, have been the focus of much recent archaeological research. The Ngarrabullgan Cave shelter is well stratified and has little evidence for post depositional disturbance. Rock paintings are present on the walls of the shelter. Excavated by David in 1991, the site has provided conclusive evidence of occupation in this area from at least 37,000 years ago. This places the site amongst the few known early occupation sites in Australia, thereby extending the possibilities of understanding the socio-cultural life and processes of Pleistocene Australia. Cultural materials, including burnt bone, stone artefacts and charcoal, have been found throughout the stratigraphic layers. Four radiocarbon dates have been obtained from the charcoal samples. The lowermost stratigraphical sample gave a date of more than 37,170 years bp, while the uppermost sample gave a date of approximately 5,410 years bp. Current research indicates human occupation began sometime during the Pleistocene before 37,170bp, followed by a series of occupational hiatuses until final occupation in the mid-late Holocene. Analysis of the stone material indicates little change during the occupational history of the site, suggesting cultural continuity despite the hiatuses in occupation. Fragments of ochre, possessing use striations, found in the Holocene levels of the site, are likely to be directly related to the paintings in the shelter, given the location of the excavated area immediately below a painted surface. Further archaeological research is being carried out on this site (David 1995, 1993, 1992.). One important result has been the first link between different scientific dating techniques, radiocarbon and OSL, on deposits from 34,000 years bp. This is first link between these techniques beyond 30,000 years bp and greatly enhances an understanding of the techniques required for dating very old cultural deposits in Australia. Initiation Cave, a rock shelter located at the northern base of Ngarrabullgan, was also excavated by David in 1991. The cultural materials from this site have yet to be fully analysed. However, preliminary analysis has provided a basal occupation date of approximately 4,110 years bp. The post 4,110 bp stratigraphic units are rich in cultural materials, with no evidence for changes in depositional trends (David 1995: 396). Thirteen rock art sites containing 222 separate pictures have been recorded at Ngarrabullgan. These are located either the sandstone shelters at the top of the mountain or overhangs around the base of the mountain. The images consist predominantly of non-figurative linear designs, this being characteristic of Ngarrabullgan. Three different rock art techniques were used: paintings, stencils and handprints. The principle colours used are red and white, although yellow, brown and orange are were also used. Most of the art uses only one of these colours to form a block image, with only eight paintings using two colours to infill an image. The hand prints are slightly different from classic hand prints, being created by dragging fingers wet with pigment across the rock surface. The stencils included twenty-five hand stencils and two of boomerangs. Figurative images were rarer, comprising 9.2 % of the paintings and are generalised human or animal body shapes. It is likely that these figurative designs are relatively recent in age. The information gathered from the excavations and surveys carried out to date on Ngarrabullgan indicate that the sites on the top of the mountain are generally different to those at its base. This issue is currently the focus of research. On top of the mountain the art sites are predominantly hand stencils, whereas at the bottom they are principally paintings and drawings. Also the open sites on top of the mountain possess very few stone artefacts (usually less than four and never more than fifteen), whereas those at the bottom can contain hundreds of stone artefacts. Those at the top (mainly rhyolite) are often brought in from sources at the base and at times highly curated (eg ground edge axes). The artefacts from the bottom of the mountain are almost always local. Obsidian from sources away from Ngarrabullgan was made into tools at campsites at the base of the mountain. This is the first place in Australia where obsidian from a known source has been found in prehistoric archaeological deposits. The evidence from Ngarrabullgan sites contributes to regional studies of socio-cultural changes which took place c 3,500-2,500bp, characterised by major increases in stone artefact, bone and ochre deposition rates as well as major increases in cave painting activity. The rock art motifs from Ngarrabullgan, for example the grid patterns common at the site, are characteristic of this place and contribute to a perception of increased regionalism during the mid-late Holocene, evident in place-specific rock art styles, throughout Cape York Peninsula. This evidence is supported by the archaeological evidence from Ngarrabullgan, especially Ngarrabullgan Cave and Initiation Cave, which suggests an increase in the use of places on and around the mountain.
History Not Available
Condition and Integrity
The mountain and surrounds are presently in an excellent condition. A small track gives access to the top of the mountain but this track is rarely used. The base of the mountain contains some cattle (low density). The top of the mountain contains some (but very few) wild cattle and pigs. The Kuku Djungan Aboriginal Corporation currently takes guided tours to the mountain for educational and economic purposes. (June 1996)
About 17600ha, Mount Mulligan Road, 35km north-west of Dimbulah, being an area enclosed by a line commencing at AMG point (Zone 55K) BB610460, then via Grid east to the intersection with the Hodgkinson River (approximate AMG point 708460), then upstream via the left bank of the Hodgkinson River to its confluence with Branch Creek, then upstream via the right bank of Branch Creek to its confluence with an unnamed creek (approximate AMG point 712254), then upstream via the middle thread of the unnamed creek to its intersection with AMG easting 269000mE (approximate AMG point 690306), then directly to the intersection of an unnamed creek with AMG easting 265000mE (approximate AMG point 650346), then downstream via the middle thread of the unnamed creek to its confluence with Little Watson Creek, the downstream via the middle thread of Little Watson Creek to its intersection with AMG easting 261000mE (approximate AMG point 610402), then via Grid north to the point of commencement.
Davis, B. (1992). 'Initial Radiocarbon Determinations from Nurrabullgin'. Australian Aboriginal Studies 1992 (1): 77-79.

David, B. (1993). 'Nurrabullgin Cave: Preliminary Results from a Pre-37000 Year Old Rockshelter, North Queensland'. Archaeology in Oceania 28 (1): 50-54.

David, B. (1995). 'Kuku Djungan Enters Eco-Tourism Market'. Landrights Queensland, 1995 (1): 12.

David, B. (1995). 'Ngarrabullgan Archaeological Project Stage 2'. Report to IATSIS, Canberra.

David, B. (1996). 'Earthwatch at Ngarrabullgan'. Aasu Bulletin, 1996 (2): 2-5.

David, B. (In Press). 'Old Cave First in the World with Paired Dates for 32'000 Years BP'. Nature.

David, B. And D. Chant (1995). 'Rock Art and Regionalisation in North Queensland Prehistory'. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 37 (2).

David, B. And C. Tuniz (1995). 'Dating an Old Aboriginal Site'. AINSE Activities, (10): 8.

David, B. And H. Lourandos (Accepted). '37'000 Years and more in Tropical Australia: Investigating Long Term Archaeological Trends in Cape York Peninsula'. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, Volume 63.

David, B. And L. Hall (In Press). 'Ngarrabullgan Dreaming'. Australian Geographic, 1997.

David, B., R. Roberts, C. Tuniz, R. Fullagher, J. Head And R. Jones (In Press). 'Paired Radiocarbon and Optical Dating of 34'000 Year Old Archaeological Deposits from Australia Indicate Comparability of Time Clocks'.

David, B. And R. Fullagher (In Press). 'Defining Site Use over >30'000 Years of Occupation at Ngarrabullgan Cave (Australia): Residue and Use-Wear Analyses of Stone Artefacts'. Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

David, B., J.R. Grainer, S. Wason, E. Grainer, J.I. Grainer And R. Cribb (1995). 'Ngarrabullgan: Archaeological Sites and The Management of a Kuku Djungan Site'. In Ward, G. (Ed.), Management of Rock Imagery, Occasional AURA Publication 9, Australian Rcok Art Research Association, Melbourne, Pp. 53-60.

David, B. and L. Hall (Submitted). 'Mystery of the Sacred Mountain'. Earthwatch Magazine.

Hall, L. and David, B. (1997). 'A rock in time: Mt Mulligan reveals its time-honoured secrets'. Australian Geographic. Number 46. April-June 1997.

Richards, F. (1926). 'Customs and Language of the Western Hodgkinson Aboriginal'. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 8 (3): 249-265.

Report Produced  Wed Aug 20 22:53:19 2014