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 who had the privilege to visit Djulirri wrote about how this remarkable archive redraws history.

The rock art at Djulirri contains paintings that are layered over the top of each other. It has up to 20 layers and over 3000 separate paintings, there is also double that amount spread across the 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 villages or camps set up by Macassans. The 28 ships painted at Djulirri and over twice that amount of recorded vessels across all three sites, suggests original people had intimate knowledge of many foreign boats.

Such images include Prau Vessels, which refer to the period in Australian 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 the vessel which suggests the original people had been on board or may have even worked on 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 return home.

 

Depiction of a Steamer, Two Luggers, Possibly 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 a trip to Darwin containing images of the boats. and then perhaps 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.

 

Later naval vessel and an Early European Sailing ship , also a sea turtle painted beneath millennium’s 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 these people.  The weight in suggestion made for many years by scholars that Europeans were living alongside aboriginal people before the 230 years ago, is about as light as a feather now learning of these remarkable images and recordings at Djulliri.

Depictions of some of the first visitors from elsewhere.

The illustrated ships of Europeans show them all with hats on and some are smoking pipes. The most important depiction in the paintings is that they all have their hands on their hips. Ronald explains of how in the mission days the superintendents would stand and speak with their hands on their hips, and how that was seen by the Manganowal people as the boss or superior over them. Something passed on from the ancestors before hand in rock art that depicted those to be weary of.

Steamer and Europeans on board.
Depictions of 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. Depictions of the people you first see is one thing, but to depict their character is absolutely brilliant, this also was done with meaning and purpose. The European was viewed as someone to be weary of.
Petroglyph from the Pilbara W.A.

Djulirri is not only the number one contact rock art site in Australia and perhaps the world, but 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
  • Fish -27                                  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. Many more questions, suggestions and new information. One thing that cannot be taken away from Djulirri along with the many other rock art sites of Australia is the significance the aboriginal people have left behind. We just have not found certain examples of recorded history elsewhere in the world. This is remarkable contribution that should be recognized in the world history archive.

Acknowledgement 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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