This special place tucked away in Arnhem Land has been recording history non-stop for the last 18,000 years. Known as Djulirri by the Manganowal people, and located in the Wellington ranges of the Northern Territory, Australia, this library of rock art holds 18,000 years of recorded history. It is “the longest length of non-stop recorded history found in the world” Recording that goes back to at least 14,000 BC, and the Manganowal people only ceased painting on these walls just 60 years ago.

“Djulirri is like a library or an archive where we can go back and see the log books and diary entries about what happened here in the past. It should be preserved.” Traditional owner Ronald Lamilami

No significant history recordings will be done in Europe for at least another 10,000 years when the Manganowal people started this amazing library of information. This outstanding collection of knowledge is one to be recognized in the world history archive. Journalists a few years back had the privilege to visit Djulirri and wrote about this remarkable archive that redraws history.

The rock art at Djulirri contains paintings that are layered over the top of another previously painted. It has up to 20 layers and over 3000 separate paintings, there are also double that amount spread across the entire magnificent Wellington ranges. A documentary released back in 2013 titled ‘First Footprints’ featured Djulirri:

There are three major sites of study included in the Wellington Ranges with well over 6000 paintings. [Malarrak, Maliwawa (Bald Rock), and Djulirri] Currently researchers have been focusing on dealings between Macassans and the original people of Arnhem Land in which two sites have been found that suggest small camps set up by the Macassans. The 28 ships painted at Djulirri and twice that amount of recorded vessels across all three sites tells us that the original people had intimate knowledge of many foreign boats.

Such images include Prau Vessels, which refer to a period in history when fleets made seasonal visits from southern Sulawesi (Macassar) Also stunning depictions of Luggers, Steamers, Naval Vessels, and even a biplane. The details of certain ships painted during the time of European occupation of Australia include the interior of certain vessels which suggests the original people had been on board the ships. Manganowal Traditional owner Ronald Lamilami explains Djulirri and speaks of how his great-uncle boarded a Macassan boat and traveled to Macassar failing to ever return home.

A Steamer, Two Luggers, a World War 2 vessel and Biplane

Being highly likely that the original people boarded some of these vessels and a few had apparently already traveled as far as Darwin by foot, some researchers have suggested that one of the Djulirri Artist’s may have been given a magazine on their trip to Darwin containing images of the boats and then maybe just copied the ships. Ronald explained how there was no such thing known to his people as magazines when he was young, also the depiction of this early European sailing vessel below illustrates the time of Europeans first arrival to Australia. A time when there was no such thing as magazines.

A later naval vessel and an Early European Sailing ship, also a turtle painted beneath thousands of years earlier.
The location where these images are painted is about 30 km inland. Taking into account the time and energy it takes for a person to walk 30 km and then go and paint what they had seen much earlier, the original people clearly had a remarkable photographic memory to be able to create such amazing and detailed depictions in art.

Noting also the characters in the paintings and how [Ronald explains them]. The original people depicted European people in their rock art as it was obviously the first time they had ever seen them. Certain scholars and Independent researcher’s imaginary notion of Europeans living alongside aboriginal people before 230 years ago is a poor evaluation when adding the detail and knowledge passed down through these remarkable recordings of history found at Djulliri to the story.

Depictions of some of the first visitors from elsewhere.

The illustrated ships of Europeans show them all with hats on and some are smoking tobacco pipes. The most important detail depicted in the paintings is that they all have their hands on their hips. Ronald explains how in the mission days the superintendents would stand and speak with their hands on their hips which was seen by the Manganowal people as them being “The Boss” or superior over them. This depiction in artwork is the same as a letter or sign of written warning today. The Manganowal ancestos passed down a style of painting that could be read by the people as a warning of those certain people they should be wary of. Painting depictions of the people you see for the first time is one thing, but to also depict their character is an brilliant form of passing on knowledge.

Steamer and Europeans on board
A depiction of Early Europeans
Painting from Gabarnmung hundreds of kilometers away.
There are many paintings of boats in this region and rock art around the country. This image (above) is from Gabarnmung also painted in the same style. (below) is a petroglyph with the same depiction from the Pilbara W.A. 
Petroglyph from Western Australia

Djulirri is not only the number one contact rock art site in Australia, perhaps the world, but it simply stands out in world history. Of the over 3000 paintings, prints you see x-ray art of emu’s, kangaroo’s, beeswax figures and even depictions of extinct megafauna. There are also stencils of whole birds, something not found elsewhere in the world.

Find a Quick Overview of depictions at the three sites here

Birds – 10  Aeroplane – 3 Bicycle – 1 Human 233 Four Wheel Horse Buggy – 1 Land mammal -28 Knife – 3 Unknown – 181 Tobacco Pouch – 1 Geometric – 64 Tobacco Tin – 3 Horned Animal – 6 Smoking Pipe – 2 Building – 1 Gun – 6

Screenshot (373)

Bird Stencils

Screenshot (365)
Emu X-Ray painting

What could possibly be a marsupial lion, extinct for 40,000 years?

 

 

There is still much research being done and more to learn from Djulirri. One thing that cannot be taken away from Djulirri along with the many other rock art sites across Australia is the significance the original people have left behind. We simply have not found certain examples of recorded history like Djulirri elsewhere in the world. This is a remarkable contribution of human achievement that should be recognized in the world history archive.

Acknowledgment to the Traditional Manganowal People and country.

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Further Sources:

Rock art evidence for Macassan–
Aboriginal contact in northwestern
Arnhem Land –  http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p241301/pdf/ch08.pdf

Megafauna depictions in Australian rock art – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280621908_Megafauna_depictions_in_Australian_rock_art

Painted ships on a painted Arnhem Land Landscape – https://research-repository.griffith.edu.au/bitstream/handle/10072/59612/90892_1.pdf?sequence=1

Rock Art Australia – https://www.griffith.edu.au/research/impact/rock-art

 

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