Aboriginal Rock Carvings - Bondi

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A rock carving of a shark
I should probably preface this article with a short address of some racist attitudes held in Australia. Ancient Aboriginal historical sites, like those in Sydney, have long been under-appreciated and dismissed, largely because of the ideological view, stemming from Terra Nullius, that Aboriginal people “never did anything with the land”. Comments, like the then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock’s in the year 2000 to the Washington Post that described Aboriginal disadvantage by referring to them not having “agriculture” or developing “the wheel” just demonstrate how widespread this ideological view still is. Of course, Anglo-Saxons have been forcing other people off of their land for a lot longer than they have been able to justify such evictions with reference to their contributions to human technology. The Britain of the Britons already had cities, roads and farms, already had London in fact! According to Tim Flannery, agriculture developed independently in five different regions on Earth and you will find included in his list neither Europe nor Australia.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The rock carvings are situated on a site with good natural
architecture for ceremonial rituals.
Which is all to say that visiting different countries’ historical sites shouldn’t be about comparing cultures, but rather about marvelling at human ingenuity in the face of an often cruel and unforgiving Mother Nature. So I invite my readers to engage their imaginations when appreciating these photos of Aboriginal rock carvings and try to imagine an ancient ceremonial site, where people gathered from miles around, at a certain time of the year, to celebrate a now long forgotten ritual and in the days of that celebration feed off of the bounty of the sea, relaxing at nearby Bondi beach and performing ritual dances and storytelling in the balmy night of a hot Sydney summer.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
You can see miles of coastline from this site. Conversely,
the site is visible from miles away.
So first of all, for a travelblog, how do you find the place? The fact that I’ve lived in the Eastern Suburbs region of Sydney for most of my life and only discovered these rock carvings' very existence last week, provides at least anecdotal evidence as to how little these ancient rock carvings are appreciated in Sydney, and subsequently how unlikely you are to just stumble upon them. In fact, not a single sign attests to the existence of these rock carvings along the entire length of the coastal cliff-top walk or in fact anywhere in North Bondi. Even when you finally find the rock carvings, the only official acknowledgement of their existence is a sign erected by Waverley Municipal council in testament to their careless attempt at preservation when they regrooved the carvings in 1964. They are however, listed as an “item of archeaological significance” on the NSW State Heritage Register.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Rock carving of a dolphin.
To find the rock carvings, first you must navigate towards the junction of Military Rd. and Blair St., use as a guide to your destination the giant “ventilation tower” of the “Bondi Sewage Treatment Works”. What’s this you say? “Sewage Treatment Works?” Yes, unfortunately this ancient historical site is right next to a Sewage Treatment Works, which in fact makes the place smell like Rotorua in New Zealand, but without the excuse of volcanic activity! However, it doesn’t seem to bother the golfers, the site is actually situated in the middle of the Bondi Golf Club. Accustomed as I am to the fenced off and exclusive Royal Sydney Golf Club in nearby Rose Bay, it was with some trepidation that I first entered the site. Fortunately the Bondi Golf Club isn’t that sort of golf club, other non-golfers I found were a women sun-baking on a rocky outcrop over the ocean and in the early morning a man walking his two dogs through the golf course. Although I didn’t actually ask anyone, the maintenance staff of the golf club didn’t seem at all bothered by me taking photos of the rock carvings, so in conclusion, I think the site is quite open to the public.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
At the corner of Military rd. and Blair st. cross over to the
golf course and walk-up to footpath to the ventilation tower.
Back to the directions: when you’ve reached the corner of Military Rd. and Blair St. cross into the golf course and follow the gravely path up to the ventilation tower, just after you’ve passed the ventilation tower you will find the rock carvings a little off to the right. If you plan on taking photographs it’s best to go either early in the morning or late in the evening, probably within 2 hours of sunrise or sunset, so that the sun is at a good enough angle to show the outlines of the rock carvings. Of the two, I found evening to be slightly better in terms of visibility, it was a little hazy on the morning I climbed-up to them, but morning has the added advantage of allowing you to watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean, which is a site to see in its own right.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A carving of two fish and a boomerang.
From what I can gather from research on the internet, these rock carvings would have been the site of an “increase ritual”. That is a ritual to increase the yields of their fishing expeditions along the coast. Some of the rock carvings are probably as much as 2000 years old, whilst there is evidence to suggest that the Sydney basin has been inhabited for at least 10 000 years and probably 20 000.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The morning surf clashing against the cliff-face.
When taking these photos I also tried to incorporate the surrounding area. It is important when looking at palaeolithic rock carvings to observe them in the context of the environment, and to regard the entire site, ocean, cliffs and sky as a ceremonial place. Which is what I’ve tried to do with these photos. The site is at the top of a cliff jutting out into the ocean just north of Bondi Beach. It’s a place visible for miles along the coast, just looking at the site you can imagine how a whispy plume of smoke and buzzing human activity would make it a distinct landmark in itself.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Aboriginal Rock carvings in the foreground. Bondi Beach is
just visible in the background to the right, followed by
Tamarama beach, Bronte beach and Coogee beach.
In terms of further reading, so far all of my research has been done on the net, but the most useful website I’ve found pointed me to A Field Guide to Aboriginal Rock Engravings by Peter Stanbury and John Clegg which is at my local library - obviously it's next on my reading list!

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JJ said...

Wow! It is a great shame we do not appreciate diverse cultures based on ridiculous reasoning. Those historical sites are precious and no government should look upon its residents as monstrous. I didn't realize Beowulf was Australian.

Roxy said...

Very interesting post. I'm amazed at the achievements of these ancient people. That they survived at all is remarkable, but recording their culture through carvings in stone makes them even more impressive. Had I been in their place, my clan would probably have gone extinct.

Judie said...

This is a wonderful article, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! For any of your readers who might be interested in race relations in Australia, please rent the film "Rabbit-proof Fence," It is a wonderful film about the subject of race in Australia many years ago.

Tom Hakkinen said...

Haha JJ, I like your image of Australians as Beowulf! Although aside from making a (perhaps overly simplistic) jibe at a previous track-record of "just taking" in English history, I was really trying to make the point that in pre-historic Australia, whilst one vital ingredient, human ingenuity, was certainly present to light the spark of agriculture, cities and roads, the others, namely a grain or herd animal suitable for domestication, or a annually flooding river, were not.

Roxy, I completely agree that it is always awe-inspiring thinking of the ways that ancient humans must have scraped an existence against all the odds and at the same time manage to develop and pass down a culture which we can still appreciate today.

Judie, I can definitely second your film recommendation. It is a very good exposition of a really terrible chapter in Australian history.

Judie said...

Akseli, thanks for your comment on my post. Many doctors are no longer taking Medicare patients, so I was lucky that the pain clinic still does. Our primary care physician has stopped taking new Medicare patients. There is just no money in it--HA!

#167 Dad said...

Beautiful photographs. Really dig your writing style. Reading your blog makes me feel more smarter...

Unmarked ancient Native American carvings can be be found on Phoenix Arizona's South Mountain.

Tom Hakkinen said...

Thanks again for the complement #167! I am glad that you like my posts. And Judie, I enjoy checking out your blog and leaving comments!