Home' Scoop Homes and Art : Insite 28 Autumn 2011 Contents 124 INSITE AUTUMN 2011
VIEWPOINT | THE ARCHAEOLOGIST
Archaeologist Dr Liam Brady honed his
skills in Canada as an u ndergraduate before
winning a scholarship to study the rock
art of the Torres Strait Islands as part of his
doctoral research. Eventually, he found
himself working with Aboriginal groups in
the Northern Territory and WA to carry out
He’s worked closely with locals and
gained an understanding of the special
nature of rock art and its continuing
importance among the indigenous people.
He gives an example from the Torres
Strait Islands where the research team found
a faded panel showing a boy between two
palm trees. The elders knew it represented a
story about a boy who hid in palm trees from
headhunters who had just killed his father.
“Although the... panel wasn’t known to
the commu nity, they still knew the story
a nd it was still commonly told. Some even
knew or were related to ancestors of the boy,
the thread of the story still very much alive
even to this day. The panel’s discovery was
cause for celebration,” he says.
Since he arrived at UWA two years ago, he
has spent plenty of time in the Pilbara. “In
the Pilbara, you’ve got the largest complex
of engravings on the planet,” Dr Brady says.
“Realistically, it’s enough to warrant the
entire area being made a World Heritage
site. But add to this some of the key sites are
also next to the most resource-rich areas of
Australia, and you see the problem.
“There are plans for up to five railways
to run directly through some of these
a reas, like Woodstock Abydos protected
reserve where there are tens of thousands
of engravings waiting to be properly
documented. You have to ask yourself –
would this happen to Stonehenge?”
Dr Brady’s passion for protecting key
rock art sites and communicating the
broader message of education to the
community has been given a good home at
the newly created resea rch centre at UWA.
“At the moment, we’re a relatively small
group of experts, but we’re hoping that
this centre will be the beginnings of more
interest in the subject – and eventually we’re
hoping to attract indigenous students, too.”
He’s frustrated that, despite the right
channels being followed for appeals about
potential new railways being laid, in some
cases decisions are made not necessarily in
the best interests of the rock art. He cites a
recent case where the decision was made
to put a railway track through a protected
reserve despite the best efforts of a local
protest group. “Alternate ideas should be
considered, rather than industry necessarily
forcing the outcome it wants,” he says.
The sheer diversity of the rock art of
Australia is a key differential between our
own nation’s examples and those fou nd in
Europe. “The artists here encode mu ltiple
meanings in the work, and we look to the
communities themselves to provide an
insight into the meaning and significance
of the works, as well as applying
archaeological methods of analysis.”
This approach has a long history of
archaeological practice in Australia.
“However, nowadays it’s a collaborative
partnership. We really need community
“Rock art is intricately tied to the landscape.
When an artist created an image, the permanence
of the site was a factor in its production”
Dr Liam Brady sharing his
knowledge and (right) at work.
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