|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (09/08/2013)|
|Place File No||7/04/004/0008|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
The stone pictures at Wurrwurrwuy are nationally
significant as a rare example of stones arranged to depict secular subjects
rather than the arranged stones being associated with ceremony and the sacred.
The stone pictures depict a range of subjects including Aboriginal camps, fish
traps and images relating to the Macassan trepang industry including praus, canoes, the stone fireplaces
where trepang were boiled and Macassan houses. The depictions of praus at Wurrwurrwuy show the internal
arrangements of the vessels, which is rare in Aboriginal depictions of praus in any medium. The creators of the
stone pictures would have acquired their knowledge of the internal arrangement
of praus during visits to, or voyages
on, such vessels.
stone pictures at Wurrwurrwuy that depict aspects of the Macassan
trepang industry lie on an open rocky shelf about ten
kilometres south east of Yirrkala in Eastern Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
The area is bounded to the north by a small creek: on the west by a strip of
dense coastal vine thicket and to the east and south by the sea. The vegetation
on the shelf is low grass and stunted shrubs.|
The stone pictures cover an area of about 80 metres by 70 metres. They are divided into three groups with a few outlying features. The group of pictures at the southern end of the site mainly depicts Macassan subjects in simple outlines. The northern group also depicts Macassan subjects, but the style is different, with stones of different sizes used to give weight to parts of the pictures. The western group comprises a mixture of Macassan and Aboriginal subjects.
During his epic circumnavigation of Australia in 1802-1803
Matthew Flinders (1814: Chapters 7 and 8) found bamboo frameworks, lines of
stone fireplaces, pieces of cloth and the stumps of trees cut down with metal
axes, at a number of places along the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria. He
interpreted this as evidence of Chinese visits to this part of Australia. On 16
February 1803, he met a fleet of Macassan praus anchored in the waters off the
English Company Islands group. It was here that he learnt from Pobassoo, the
captain of the fleet, that Macassan praus came to the coast of northern
Australia every year on the north-west monsoon winds to collect and dry trepang
or bêche de mer which they then sold to the Chinese (Flinders 1814: Chapter 9).
Interactions between Aboriginal people and Macassans
Flinders’ encounter with Pobassoo is the first Australian record of the north Australian trepang industry. Macassans had probably started to visit the northern Australian coast before 1650 (Taçon et al. 2010) but Dutch East India Company documents suggest that the intensive catching and processing of trepang for the Chinese market probably began in about 1750 (Macknight 1986, 2011: 133-134). Macassan involvement in the industry ended in 1906 when the South Australian Government, which administered the Northern Territory at that time, restricted the issuing of licenses to locally owned vessels.
The distribution of tamarind trees (an exotic species), trepang processing sites and the depiction of Macassan praus and other items of Macassan material culture in rock art provide direct material evidence for the Macassan trepang industry. Trepang processing sites are found on the Kimberley coast (Crawford 1968, 2001; Morwood and Hobbs 1997) and on the the Arnhem Land and Groote Eylandt coasts (Macknight 1976: Chapter 5). While depictions of praus and items of Macassan material culture are not unusual in the rock art of Arnhem Land (Taçon et al. 2010; May et al. 2010) and offshore islands like Groote Eylandt (McCarthy 1960; Clarke and Frederick 2006), Chasm Island (McCarthy 1960) and Bickerton Island (Turner 1973), such images are rare in the Kimberley (O'Connor and Arrow 2008). These data and Aboriginal oral tradition suggest that the relationship between Macassans and Aborigines in the Kimberley was different to the relationship between Macassans and Yolngu with the former relationship characterised by hostility (Australian Heritage Council 2010).
Aboriginal people in Arnhem adopted a number of items of Macassan material culture (Warner 1932; Thompson 1949; Berndt and Berndt 1954; Russell 2004) including dugout canoes and iron. This transformed Aboriginal economies so they had an increased marine focus. This is shown by the large numbers of dugong and turtle bones in middens on the Coburg peninsula that date from the time of the Macassan trepang industry (Mitchell 1996) and an increased marine focus on Groote Eylandt (Clarke 2000a, 2000b). There is also evidence for changes in the way Aboriginal people used space and evidence for changes in their exchange networks (Mitchell 2000; Clarke 2000a, 2000b; May et al. 2010).
Aboriginal people living in Arnhem Land incorporated the memory of Macassans into their social and cultural life. For example, Macassans and their voyages are important in some ceremonies and song cycles where songs may reference Muslim prayers (Thompson 1949; Berndt and Berndt 1954; Russell 2004; Macknight 2011). Oral tradition also provides accounts of Aboriginal people working for Macassans on trepang sites and undertaking voyages on praus to the Celebes and further afield (Berndt and Berndt 1954:43, 51-53; Macknight and Gray 1970). The close relationship between Macassans and Aborigines is reflected in the large number of Macassan borrowed words found in Aboriginal languages in Arnhem Land and on Groote Eylandt which includes words for different parts of praus and the rigging on these vessels. Aboriginal people in these areas use the Macassan names for some parts of praus and their rigging that are depicted in rock art (Turner 1974: 54, 180-181).
The stone pictures at Wurrwurrwuy
The stone pictures at Wurrwurrwuy are part of the story of Macassan Aboriginal interactions in Arnhem Land. They lie within the territory of the Lamomirri clan but on the death of the last responsible Lamomirri man they were taken into the custody of the Gumatj clan. A father and son, Yumbul and Dhatalamirri, created the pictures, probably in the second half of the nineteenth century (Macknight and Gray: 1970). Oral histories recorded in 1967 indicate that Yumbul, possibly with the aid of some of his fellow clansmen, made the first pictures. The site was entrusted to his second son, Dhatalamirri, who added further pictures at a later date.
The stone pictures created by Yumbul and Dhatalamirri depict Macassan praus, canoes, houses with multiple rooms, fireplaces where trepang were boiled, trepang drying houses, a house for storing wood, and stones for sharpening iron knives. There are also pictures of an Aboriginal fish trap and Aboriginal dwellings that may not have been made by the father and son.
When Macknight and Grey (1970: 5) recorded the site in 1967 two Aboriginal informants, Munggurrawuy (a Gumatj custodian) and Mawalan (a relative of Yumbul and Dhatalamirri), were able to explain how the divisions within the pictures of the praus represented different parts of the vessel: the crews' quarters, the galley, the eating space, the store and the water tank. They also provided Macassan names for the different parts of praus, the rudder, bowsprit and the tripod mast with its sail and rigging. These pictures show that Yolngu visited trepang sites and spent enough time on praus to learn the various parts of the vessels and where the crew lived and ate. This is consistent with historical records showing that Aboriginal people travelled in praus to the Celebes (Berndt and Berndt 1954: 54-58; Macknight 1972: 286), a trip that was made by Munggurrawuy's father (McKnight and Gray 1970: 6). The custodians told Macknight and Gray (1970: 37) that Wurrwurrwuy was a legacy from the past with no sacred associations. They felt that it was useful as it provided younger men with some idea of the way of life of Macassans who had come to the area to collect trepang. The pictures are a permanent reminder of Yolngu knowledge about this past.
|Condition and Integrity|
When first recorded in the 1960s
there was some minor damage to the site from buffalo mainly at the southern
end. There is no evidence for subsequent deterioration. The site has recently been
fenced and paths and interpretive signs have been installed. The place is
maintained by Dhimurru Corporation Aboriginal
About 1.41ha, 10km south east of Yirrkala, being those parts
of Northern Territory Portions 1044 and 1692 designated Northern Territory
Portion 6647(A) and enclosed by a fence line located on a series of straight
lines connecting in succession the Map Grid of Australia Zone 53 coordinates
Easting (metres) Northing (metres)
1. 710097 8636036
2. 710131 8636024
3. 710181 8636007
4. 710223 8636049
5. 710262 8636086
6. 710226 8636124
7. 710186 8636159
8. 710145 8636123
9. 710105 8636083
10. 710102 8636042
1 710097 8636036
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Report Produced Thu Jul 31 17:40:57 2014