New First Nations cultural rock painting sites found in the Grampians

ABC Larissa Romensky 13 May 2015

While undergoing conservation work on existing Aboriginal rock images in the Grampians, rangers stumbled upon two new previously unknown and unrecorded sites, conserving them will be the challenge.

At one site a mixture of ochre and emu egg has been used across the top of a hand to create a stencil. While a series of figures and lines appear on a rock at another site.

These were recently discovered by rangers in the Grampians while working in the fire affected areas.

"Two pretty standard finds in the Grampians but exciting all the less," said Chief Ranger David Roberts.

The Grampians is home to more than 120 Aboriginal rocks sites dating from 1000 years to 22,000 years old with 20 to 25 of the sites found in the last five years.

"The more we look the more we find," said Mr Roberts.

"The place is still unveiling its treasures."

Most of the image works are of a red and orange colour common to the Western Grampians region but there is the occasional white paint found in the northern end and the odd bit of yellow in the southern end.

Once new rock images sites are found there is thorough process of recording the findings.

A registered archaeologist is required to perform a series of detailed measurements and designs of the images work which is then added to a state-wide data base for managing Aboriginal cultural heritage across the state.

However, the two newly discovered rock image sites will remain in undisclosed locations. This is to protect them.

"We try and keep the 120 sites across the park pretty quiet and off the radar, and the other sites we try and provide an opportunity for visitors and locals to get a sense of what the Aboriginal stories were from pre European times," said Chief Ranger David Roberts when speaking with ABC Western Victoria's Dan Glover.

It is the conservation aspect of the work that is the challenge.

"Certainly in the Grampians we have been really struggling with this for quite a number of years now," said Mr Roberts.

One of the biggest challenges is protecting the works from not only Mother Nature but feral animals.

"We have fires we have floods and these artworks ... are subject to things like fire damage and things like the build up of dust and dirt even some strange things like the impact of feral animals, like goats rubbing up against the artwork themselves," said Mr Roberts.

The other big threat to the rock images is water. The mineral based paint used in the rock images is more vulnerable once water gets into the shelters and runs down the drip lines.

"The water not only brings with it the leaching of the rock that the art works on, but also brings in the opportunity for lichen and mosses to stimages growing and taking over the art works," said Mr Roberts.

One of the conservation measures used by the rangers in preserving the rock images is installing silica spray lines.

"It's a very fine spray that stops the water from running down the face of the rock images and diverts it to one side or the other," said Mr Roberts.

But while there are measures to deal with the natural elements the other threat is more difficult to deal with - people.

Vandalism and particularly graffiti is a concern.

"It's very disappointing for us when we do our assessments of these sites and we come across sites that have got graffiti on them," said Mr Roberts.

Mr Roberts is not sure whether to attribute the behaviour to ignorance, in that people are unaware of the rock images or whether it is deliberate.

"The good side of me hopes that it's just ignorance and people just need more education," he said.

"But those graffiti elements are really difficult for us to manage."

The rangers try and remove the graffiti adjacent to the images but it is not an easy task.

"Once you stimages getting graffiti that is etched in or scratched in the artwork itself it's very difficult actually to remove that graffiti because you risk obviously removing the paintwork itself," said Mr Roberts.

The six sites that are promoted by the national park all have a protective cage around them that were erected in the 1960s.

"They were finding the exact same challenges we have today," said Mr Roberts.