Buhrich, A., Goldfinch, F. & Greer, S.
Buhrich, A., Goldfinch, F. & Greer, S. 2016. Connections, Transactions and Rock Art within and beyond the Wet Tropics of North Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 10: 23-42. Brisbane. ISSN 2205-3220
Identity, rock art, shields, boundaries, Aboriginal heritage, Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
This paper explores past connections of Aboriginal people within what is now known as the Wet Tropics, a coastal strip of tropical rainforest in northeast Australia. As a result of historical and ethnographic descriptions the rainforest is often defined as a ‘cultural zone’. The proclamation of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, based on environmental parameters, has exaggerated the idea of the rainforest as a cultural boundary. We propose that in the past, Aboriginal connections were multifaceted, multifunctional and multidirectional, extending beyond the Wet Tropics boundaries. We use rock art to illustrate connections within and beyond the rainforest. For example, decorated shields, an iconic item of rainforest material culture, are depicted in rock art assemblages south of the rainforest boundary. Are the shield paintings out-of-place or do they illustrate networks of connection? We examine rock art motifs found in rainforest areas and compare them with those found in other rock art regions in North Queensland. We identify, for example, that sites located in the eastern rainforest are dominated by painted anthropomorphs (people) and zoomorphs (animals) in the silhouette style similar to figurative rock art of southeast Cape York Peninsula. We suggest that, like other areas, there were connections between cultural groups within the rainforest but that these same groups had links that went beyond this environmental zone. We further propose that the proclamation of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area has particularly influenced non-Aboriginal understandings of the past within this region.