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Rock Art shows our life
Rock art is an important part of Aboriginal people's lives.
Mimi spirits were the first of the Creation Ancestors to paint on rock.
They taught some Aboriginal people how to paint and other Aboriginal people learned by copying Mimi art.
At the end of their journeys, some Creation Ancestors put themselves on rock walls as paintings and became djang (Dreaming places).
Some of these paintings are andjamun (sacred and dangerous) and can be seen only by senior men or women; others can be seen by all people.
-Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
The escarpment, gorges, and rock outliers of Kakadu hold one of the world's greatest concentrations of rock art sites: approximately 5000 art sites have been recorded and a further 10 000 sites are thought to exist.
The paintings, estimated to range in age from 20 000 years to the recent present, constitute one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world. The rock art sites of Kakadu are recognised internationally for their cultural value and are one of the reasons that Kakadu is inscribed on the United Nations list of World Heritage properties.
Aboriginal people in the Kakadu area paint rock images rarely now. Among the reasons for this are the fact that Aboriginal people no longer live in rock shelters and there are fewer people with the necessary knowledge to allow them to paint at certain sites. Nevertheless, Aboriginal artists continue to paint on bark, paper and other materials. In recent years printing traditional designs onto fabric has become a popular art form, particularly among women.
Rock art remains relevant to Bininj/Mungguy as the works depict objects still used, animals still hunted, and activities people still do. The rock art in Kakadu was painted for a number of reasons:
Animals were often painted to increase their abundance and to ensure a successful hunt by placing people in touch with the spirit of the animal
- religious significance
At some sites paintings depict aspects of particular ceremonies
- stories and learning
Stories associated with the Creation Ancestors, who gave shape to the world were painted
- sorcery and magic
Paintings could be used to manipulate events and influence people's lives; fun-for play and practice
Some sites and paintings could be painted only by people with the requisite knowledge. Sorcery paintings could be painted only by the holder of magic knowledge, for instance. Other paintings, particularly at sites depicting stories of Creation Ancestors, were often repainted: again, only people with knowledge of the stories could repaint them. The act of painting put artists in touch with their Creation Ancestors - a powerful experience.
Generally, the act of painting was more important than the painting itself. At many sites in Kakadu images have been painted over each other: the artist was not concerned about preserving an image for posterity but simply wanted to paint to tell a story.
The stories and knowledge associated with many paintings often have a number of levels. Younger people and non-Aboriginal people are told the first level, known as the 'public story'. Access to the 'full story' depends on an individual's progression through ceremonial life, their interest, and their willingness to take on the responsibilities that go with that knowledge.