Aboriginal rock art, frontier conflict and a swastika

Graphic: Western cavity adjacent to Pudjinuk Rockshelter No. 1 facing west (observe that the entrance to the rockshelter is partially hid from this vantage place). Picture by Amy Roberts, thirteen September…
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Credit score: Amy Roberts, Flinders University

A hidden Murray River rockshelter speaks volumes about area Aboriginal and European settlement in the Riverland, with symbols of conflict – such as a swastika image – found out in Aboriginal rock artwork.

The engravings examined in 188 engravings in a remote South Australian rockshelter are a stark reminder of colonial invasion and the strife brewing in Europe ahead of Planet War Two, Flinders University archaeologists have revealed.

The ‘graffiti’ has been etched in excess of or adjacent to Aboriginal rock artwork at a culturally significant rockshelter in limestone cliffs of the Murray River near Waikerie in South Australia.

The engravings expose the deep Aboriginal significance of the rockshelter, the traumatic period of European invasion, and the frontier conflict and ongoing impacts of colonial settlement, suggests guide creator Flinders Associate Professor Amy Roberts, who functions with users of the area Aboriginal local community.

The archaeologists from Flinders University, in partnership with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Company, have posted their observations in a new article in Australian Archaeology.

“Of the 188 motifs identified, only a single engraving remained that could be positively identified as a pre-European Aboriginal style – a ‘treelike’ motif,” Associate Professor Roberts suggests.

“The rest of the identifiable historical inscriptions were the perform of users of frontier conflict/punitive expeditions, area European settlers and a non-area Aboriginal man. Of the motifs that can be confidently identified a single incorporates a swastika, engraved in 1932.”

The 1st European historical inscriptions were engraved by users of volunteer police events on punitive expeditions, and were component of a historical trajectory that afterwards culminated in the Rufus River Massacre.

“It is unlikely that police occasion users were unaware of this deliberate desecration when they added their names to the entrance of the shelter,” suggests co-creator Flinders University Professor Heather Burke.

The authors argue that these historical engravings breach the Aboriginal cultural place and symbolize the 1st functions of trespass and desecration.

Fiona Giles, co-chair of the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Company, suggests: “We will need to tell these stories to shield our heritage and heritage so that our culture is revered and not shed.

“For us, as traditional proprietors, this rockshelter is a remarkably significant and exclusive area. It tells the stories of our ancestors and demonstrates our deep link to the river and reminds us of how our persons lived prior to Europeans invaded our world,” she suggests.


The paper, ‘Connection, trespass, id and a swastika: mark-building and entanglements at Pudjinuk Rockshelter No. 1, South Australia'(April 2020) by Amy Roberts, Heather Burke, Catherine Morton and the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Company has been posted in Australian Archaeology DOI:10.1080/03122417.2019.1738666

Study at the Pudjinuk rockshelters is becoming funded by the Australian Study Council [LP170100479].

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