Aboriginal rock art, frontier conflict and a swastika


Graphic: Western cavity adjacent to Pudjinuk Rockshelter No. one struggling with west (be aware that the entrance to the rockshelter is partially hid from this vantage level). Photograph by Amy Roberts, 13 September…
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Credit score: Amy Roberts, Flinders University

A hidden Murray River rockshelter speaks volumes about regional Aboriginal and European settlement in the Riverland, with symbols of conflict – including a swastika symbol – uncovered in Aboriginal rock art.

The engravings studied in 188 engravings in a distant South Australian rockshelter are a stark reminder of colonial invasion and the strife brewing in Europe in advance of Earth War Two, Flinders University archaeologists have discovered.

The ‘graffiti’ has been etched above or adjacent to Aboriginal rock art at a culturally significant rockshelter in limestone cliffs of the Murray River in close proximity to Waikerie in South Australia.

The engravings expose the deep Aboriginal significance of the rockshelter, the traumatic period of time of European invasion, and the frontier conflict and ongoing impacts of colonial settlement, states guide author Flinders Associate Professor Amy Roberts, who will work with associates of the regional Aboriginal community.

The archaeologists from Flinders University, in partnership with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, have printed their observations in a new posting in Australian Archaeology.

“Of the 188 motifs discovered, only a single engraving remained that could be positively discovered as a pre-European Aboriginal structure – a ‘treelike’ motif,” Associate Professor Roberts states.

“The rest of the identifiable historical inscriptions ended up the work of associates of frontier conflict/punitive expeditions, regional European settlers and a non-regional Aboriginal gentleman. Of the motifs that can be confidently discovered a single incorporates a swastika, engraved in 1932.”

The first European historical inscriptions ended up engraved by associates of volunteer law enforcement events on punitive expeditions, and ended up section of a historical trajectory that later on culminated in the Rufus River Massacre.

“It is not likely that law enforcement occasion associates ended up unaware of this deliberate desecration when they additional their names to the entrance of the shelter,” states co-author Flinders University Professor Heather Burke.

The authors argue that these historical engravings breach the Aboriginal cultural house and characterize the first functions of trespass and desecration.

Fiona Giles, co-chair of the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation, states: “We want to inform these stories to guard our history and heritage so that our culture is respected and not dropped.

“For us, as common proprietors, this rockshelter is a highly significant and specific area. It tells the stories of our ancestors and reveals our deep connection to the river and reminds us of how our people lived ahead of Europeans invaded our entire world,” she states.


The paper, ‘Connection, trespass, identification and a swastika: mark-creating and entanglements at Pudjinuk Rockshelter No. one, South Australia'(April 2020) by Amy Roberts, Heather Burke, Catherine Morton and the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation has been printed in Australian Archaeology DOI:ten.1080/03122417.2019.1738666

Analysis at the Pudjinuk rockshelters is becoming funded by the Australian Analysis Council [LP170100479].

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