I don’t get to enough FOGGs activities because I live in Melbourne and get caught up in activities there. However, as a passionate student of the Aboriginal story of Gariwerd, I made sure I could be at the cultural sites excursion run by Ben Gunn on April 9th. We met up at Buandik and I noticed a few keen non FOGGs members also turned up, having found out by various means (thanks to the wonders of the internet) that this rare opportunity was being offered.
Twenty of us set off up the Goat Track – some by foot and some by car to the location Ben had chosen for our adventure. As we tramped through the bush to visit three sites in all, Ben generously filled us in on many aspects of the archaeology of Gariwerd art sites and discoveries. We learned about the changing nature of interpretations of the art. Amusingly Ben criticised some of his own earlier attempts at proscribing meanings to the symbols.
The fire of 2013 in this area destroyed much vegetation, and regrowth is slow. However the great gift is that so much is accessible which once was very scratchy to get into. One of the big bonuses, as we learned from Ben, is that several art sites have been re-discovered. Some by climbers and some by fire recovery crew. Our main objective was to visit one of these sites as well as stop to look at a previously known site now closed to the general public.
When we arrived Ben asked us to spot the art, and no one managed to do so. He had tricked us a bit by standing around the corner from where it actually was. All the same it was a good lesson in just how hard it is to find and identify genuine art. Which makes it all the more remarkable that new sites are being found and recorded.
We also got a demonstration of how newly emerging technology can be used in this process. Ben showed us how a photo with a camera loaded with special software can enhance the faded art and make it starkly visible.
We also got to watch him ‘map’ the shape of the shelter with a kind of laser gadget (sorry for my technical vagueness).
I found it exciting to know that more cultural sites are being mapped and recorded. The richness and density of Aboriginal sites in Gariwerd makes this a unique and special place in Victoria, and it is wonderful that the count of sites is going up. Even though almost all sites are necessarily kept secret to protect them from vandalism and degradation, it is very necessary for them to be preserved in the record of such a long lived culture which was so vibrant.
I think we all felt privileged to have this opportunity to have a brief look at how this is happening and feel even more supportive of the process. I tried to encourage Ben to write a book on Grampians rock art. I for one only want to learn more.
Ben told us of the danger some sites are in; e.g. Climbers putting bolts in rock faces near art they probably haven’t even seen. Preservation of the site we visited is probably assured by the fact that it would be very difficult to find it again. Possibly Ben led us there on a rather roundabout route purposefully. Of course we all understood well the vulnerability of the sites and this excursion helped to shore up our dedication to their protection.
Descending from the heights of the range and her secrets we gathered at Buandik picnic ground for lunch and chat. There were numbers of other picnickers and walkers and the car park was chock-a-block with cars. It looked more like a city park on a busy Sunday afternoon. I propose it might have been at peak usage of all time – as I have rarely, over the years, seen more than a few cars there at any one time.
A few new keen members were signed up for FOGGs over lunch and some of us went on to take another look at Billimina and Manja shelters as a dessert option.
Thanks to Ben for answering our innumerable questions so interestingly.