National Heritage Places - Wilgie Mia Aboriginal Ochre Mine

Western Australia

Overview

Wilgie Mia is the largest and deepest underground Aboriginal ochre mine in Australia, and has all the features found in traditional Aboriginal mines: large open-cut pits, excavated caverns and underground galleries that follow ochre seams.

Wilgie Mia was included on the National Heritage List on 24 February 2011.

More information

Wilgie Mia was created in the Dreamtime when a marlu (red kangaroo) from Kalbarri was speared over towards the coast. He travelled east, following the hills to the Weld Range, yellow ochre site, Little Wilgie Mia, and at Wilgie Mia his marlu yalgu (red kangaroo's blood) made the red ochre.

Colour spectrum

There are three colours of ochre found at Wilgie Mia. Aboriginal people relate each of these to a different part of the marlu - the red ochre is his blood, the yellow ochre is his liver, and the green ochre his gall.

Unlike other ochre mines in Australia, this is the only known tradition to account for the different coloured ochre deposits to be found within one site.

Rituals

Wilgie Mia is guarded by four powerful spirits known as Mondong who protect the place from thieves and people who do not follow the proper law for collecting the ochre.

Piles of stones marked the boundaries of the area beyond which it was not safe for the uninitiated to enter, and rituals were performed to prevent injury or death during mining operations.

After extracting ochre, Aboriginal miners would walk out of the cave backwards, obliterating their footprints with a leafy bough so that the Mondong would not be able to track them and seek revenge.

Of all the ochre sites in Australia, ochre from Wilgie Mia is amongst the most sought. It has a lustrous sheen, 'glow in the dark' qualities, and doesn't burn when applied to the body.

The size and complexity of the Aboriginal mining at Wilgie Mia shows the importance of this sparkling ochre, which was traded extensively throughout much of western and central Australia, demonstrating the importance of ochre in Aboriginal society.

Wilgie Mia has the most complete records of the rituals and ceremonies associated with ochre mining in Australia; these are still known and practiced today.

Mining techniques

The mining techniques used by Aboriginal people at Wilgie Mia included 'stop and pillar' techniques to provide increased safety when mining underground, and the use of pole scaffolding with wooden platforms to allow them to extract ochre from different heights in the rock face at the same time.

These techniques have not been recorded at other traditional Aboriginal mines.

The size of Wilgie Mia indicates that around 19,600 cubic metres of ochre and rock weighing around 40,000 tonnes has been removed. This is the largest amount of ochre removed from a single location in Australia using traditional Aboriginal methods.

The red ochre from Wilgie Mia continues to be used today in Aboriginal Law, art, ceremony and healing practices throughout the Western Desert and its fringes.

The stories associated with Wilgie Mia and its creation, remain an important part of Indigenous tradition to this day.

Wilgie Mia was added to the National Heritage List on 24 February 2011.