Tag Archives: Indigenous Australian art

Yourambulla Caves Rock Art Trail: Natural vs. Human Intervention

The Yourambulla Caves are an Indigenous rock art site located 13 kilometres south-west from the town of Hawker within the southern Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Yourambulla is a name that is derived from the words ‘yura bila’, which means two men in the language of the Andyamathana people, the traditional owners of this region. The cave paintings are made from manganese, charcoal, red ochre and white ochre. Figures include animal tracks (emu and kangaroo), hand stencils, human figures, camps and ceremonial depictions (FIGURE ONE).

FIGURE ONE: Rock art at Yourambulla Cave One. Photo by Daniel Petraccaro.

The Yourambulla caves are one of the most accessible rock art sites within the Flinders Ranges, attracting hundreds of tourists every year. The Yourambulla Caves trail was constructed in 1995 by member of the Iga Warta Aboriginal Corporation and the Bungala Aboriginal Corporation. The project was funded by the Department of State Aboriginal Affairs, Environment Australia, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and from Commercial Minerals. The Yourambulla cave trail encompasses three rock shelter sites within a radius of one kilometre. A path has been carved allowing access, while interpretation signs are also present to enhance the visitor’s experience.

There are a number of natural processes affecting the rock art at the Yourambulla caves. The rock art at Yourambulla Cave One is suffering from water damage (see FIGURE ONE). Water is seeping through a crack in the overhang and trickling over the art. The area of rock art affected by the water exposure is significantly faded compared to the rest of the site. There is also are a number of old wasp nests on the rock face at all three overhang sites. The wasp nests appear to have been destroyed but not completely removed.

The barriers around the rock shelter sites were established to protect the sites from animals and human interferences (FIGURE TWO). The barrier around Yourambulla Cave Three, in particular, is in very poor condition. The base is eroding out of the sediment (FIGURE THREE) and the top bars have been intentionally bent back. While the barriers have been successful in keeping feral goats and kangaroos out of the shelter, it has not prevented humans from drawing graffiti on the site. Graffiti is present at all three rock shelter sites. The graffiti is either in the form of imitation Aboriginal art or in the form of human figures (FIGURE FOUR). The graffiti is drawn with white chalk or scratched on the rock surface. The staircase leading to Yourambulla Cave One has some nails missing and there are cracks in the wooden planks. It is recommended that visitors are not to use the staircase until repairs have been done.

FIGURE TWO: Eroded fence post at Yourambulla Cave Three. Photo by Daniel Petraccaro

FIGURE THREE: Fence cage at Yourambulla Cave Three. Photo by Daniel Petraccaro.

FIGURE FOUR: Graffiti at Yourambulla Cave Two. Photo by Daniel Petraccaro.

There has been no management plan established for the Yourambulla Caves determining who is responsible for the long term management of the site. Pastoral leases and tourism companies develop rock art trails in the Flinders Ranges for financial gain. However, neither party really understands about the long term management and conservation issues of these sites. Neither the land owners nor the tourist groups contribute to the management of the site.

The failure of site management has resulted in a number of conservation and liability issues. The graffiti needs to be removed to prevent encouragement from the public to vandalise the site. The barrier around Yourambulla Cave Three also requires significant repair. Further, this site needs to be monitored in another few years to determine whether the area of water damage over Yourambulla Cave One is expanding or receding. The Yourambulla Caves should have a management plan detailing relevant stakeholders who should be contributing funding to the management of the site.

By Daniel Petraccaro (Masters in Archaeology Student)