Camping in the heart of the range yields outstanding heritage and cultural values

The week two team enjoying breakfast in the gorge before a hard day hiking

Following on from our fantastic week with the Tommy’s and their extended kin we have had another incredibly exciting week on the ground with the Nyimili Project. This week we returned to Tulip Gorge with the Cox and Cooke families to continue our work from trip one, stage 2 of the project. During trip one, we ascertained that Tulip Gorge contained substantial cultural and heritage values and was a prime target for further investigation. Our initial reconnaissance of the gorge was hampered by the long and challenging drive in and out, and the size and terrain of the gorge itself. This time around we organised to camp for the first two nights in the mouth of the gorge providing us with a lot more time to explore the heart of the gorge.

The results were outstanding, nearly every rockshelter contained cultural material including artefacts and a substantial number of grinding bases. One of the rockshelters even contained a rare, wooden yandi dish cached behind a walled niche which may have been cut from a nearby scar tree. We were also able to re-identify an engraving site, which was last reported on by bushwalkers who came across the place in the 1960’s. This place comprised two rockshelters one of which contained a large boulder with at least 40 engraved motifs and cupules, many of which are substantially weathered and are likely to be of considerable antiquity. The second rockshelter contained a large number of heavily utilised grinding patches on slabs of roof fall. Both of the rockshelters were located above a large, multi-tier, permanent rock pool which was teeming with lizards, birds and insects when we visited.

Within the gorge we also identified a large number of scar trees. These sites are formed when a section of bark and / or heartwood is removed from a tree leaving a scar. Wooden objects do not usually preserve well in the archaeological record, these scar trees are often the only physical evidence we have for an extensive series of wooden technologies. Based on the shape of the scars, the Yinhawangka Traditional Owners present were able to identify the types of objects created including yandi dishes, baby carriers and dancing shields, as well as marks made by cutting into the tree to collect honey from native bee nests. One pair of trees showed tentative cut marks where the maker had clearly given up on one tree and then moved on to another! Interestingly, every rockshelter site contained at least one scar tree directly in front.

The whole team had a lot of fun camping. For two of Terra Rosa’s staff (Kirsty and Denis), this was their first experience of camping in swags under the stars. Both agreed they were unlikely to forget this experience! The terrain within the gorge is very challenging and everyone was elated and tired at the end of each day. We were also incredibly fortunate to have Claire Leach with us during this trip. Claire is a director of photography who specialises in anthropological film making. During this trip Claire recorded parts of the range and gorge, the heritage places and the stories associated with the places. A lot of this footage will be added to the interactive tour of the range which is currently being updated. The second half of the trip was dedicated to collecting ethnographic comment and video on the places which had been identified.

The next trip is an environmental survey; this survey is being conducted to get a general idea of the kinds of flora and fauna that make their home in the range.

Claire Leach and Claude Cox filming in Tulip Gorge.

Engraved boulder and cupules at Tulip Gorge 3 (scale = 10 cm)

Recording ethnographic video with (l-r) Adrian Condon, Claude Cox, Clinton Cooke and Justin Range

The terrain inside the western arm of Tulip Gorge

The lowest tier of the permanent pool in Tulip Gorge