Quinkan Rock Art: Cultural Heritage Preservation efforts


Just finished reading about how one man’s efforts is helping preserve a wondrous rock art site in Australia named “The Quinkans”. “The Quinkans” are located near Laura, a small town four hours away from Cairns. The site is being threatened by mining companies hungry for minerals.

The Aboriginal people of Cape York Peninsula occupied this area over 35,000 years ago and spent the wet season in the hundreds of caves that are present in the sandstone escarpments. The drawings on the wall record the very fabric of their hunter-gatherer lives. The images record how they lived, what they ate, the animals they lived with even ancient “animals like diprotodons which have been extinct for an incredibly long time. You’ve got all of that right through to first contact, man on horse” says researcher Rosy Whelan.

Percy Trezise took a schoolboy interest and developed it into a full blown passion for rock art preservation.  His passion was set after a local newspaper reported the find of some rather unusual Aboriginal paintings. This turn of events set him up to become a pilot which allowed him to research and explore the rock art with his family of five.

Percy fostered friendships with bush mates as well as a partnership with a gentleman named Dick Roughsey who introduced Percy to Aboriginal culture. Dick introduced him to aboriginal elders who still recalled “the lore and customs and the meaning of the rock art”. Percy and Dick explored, painted, wrote and recorded the sites. Percy “produced hundreds of landscape paintings… and hundreds and hundreds of metres of canvas charts of reproductions of the rock art”.

Realizing there was no formal protection for these sites, he pushed for the area to become a national park and to be administered by the local Aboriginal community. The government accepted his proposal and Percy’s efforts begat the start of a local tourism industry.

His sons have now taken the reins of this enterprise to support the conservation of the area. Percy passed on in 2005 and was buried in the very landscape he so loved. However, mining is a real and present threat to the Quinkan country sites. The Trezise sons must now push for World Heritage Site status in order to protect it from mining exploration applications. All of this has come at a cost for Percy’s sons. Living conditions are harsh, money not forthcoming and failed marriages are the price they have had to pay for their love of rock art.

There is a program which will document their remarkable efforts. “Australian Story: Set in Stone” on ABC1. Hopefully, some of us Canadians will be able to view it at some point. Next time I’m in Australia this will have to be high on the bucket list!

Photo: *ABC News – Kent Gordon article “Percy Trezise: One man’s passion for Quinkan Rock Art helps preserve aboriginal cultural history”.

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