Traditional owner condemns vandals of ancient rock art

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Desecration of culturally significant Indigenous rock-art in Victoria’s Grampians region has traditional owners calling for national park visitors to take care or face the consequences.

The Grampians region in Victoria's west is home to 90 percent of the state's culturally significant rock-art, but unlike the vivid rock-images found in Australia's north, art in the Grampians is subtle and sometimes difficult to detect.

But according to traditional owner Ron Marks from the Barengi Gadjin Land Council, it's no less culturally significant or profound.

“Here, this is our library -this is our art gallery. It warms the heart to know that for thousands of years - stories have been written on rock on sites such as this,” Mr Marks said.

Increasingly graffiti and vandalism of the work is being identified by staff from Parks Victoria and the indigenous community. 

Ron Marks, a traditional owner from the Barengi Gadjin Land Council with his sister Sandra.
Ron Marks, a traditional owner from the Barengi Gadjin Land Council with his sister Sandra.
SBS

Ryan Duffy, the ranger with Parks Victoria who has been working to preserve the sites, said the artwork was "irreplaceable".

"Once a rock-art site is gone it's gone - they either write in charcoal sometimes they scratch with rocks sometimes they write with paint - so that not only deteriorates the site, it's very disrespectful to the traditional owners of this landscape."

Mr Duffy uses archaeological digital camera filters to help highlight the art beneath the graffiti and has engaged art preservation experts to provide specialist advice.

Once the correct direction has been given, the painstaking work of restoring the art-work begins.  

“We had to bring in an art conservator to provide advice around how we could remove the graffiti particularly when it's overlaying rock art in the most sensitive manner so often we're working very patiently with little scrubbing brushes with water with cotton wool to remove some of the graffiti that's been overlaying the rock art,” Mr Duffy said.

Aboriginal occupation in the region has been estimated at at least 22,000 years, and of the estimated 130-odd rock-art sites across the vast Grampians region, 35 were re-discovered in the past five years.

Now there's an expectation many more will be identified. 

That comes as welcome news to Ron Marks and his sister Sandra who are actively engaged in sharing culture – a right they say they were largely denied.

“We weren't allowed, we weren't encouraged to maintain practice so we're getting that back - we are now finding our souls again,” Mr Marks said.

The Barengi Gadjin Land Council encourages all activities in the national parks and adjacent bushland reserves, but is urging all users respect the thousands of years of history which lies within – or face the consequences.

“If they know they are and they deface them then they should face the brunt of the law - if it was our law things would be a bit more harsh,” Mr Marks said.

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