Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia have used art as an expression of cultural identity and connection to Country for more than 30,000 years. It is the longest living art form in the world and has been used as a tool to pass down knowledge to future generations. The connection between Aboriginal culture and nature is inseparable, which is why the best way to see Aboriginal rock art is in a NSW national park.
Experiencing Aboriginal culture in the great outdoors isn’t just to get a great Insta photo or make a personal best along the trail. It’s a way to show respect to the traditional custodians of the land, and understand their cultural heritage, both past and present. So grab your hat, sunscreen and a day pack, and view these Aboriginal artworks the way they were meant to be seen: in nature.
What do the artworks mean?View this post on Instagram
Aboriginal rock art is made up of symbols, strokes and arrangements that are unique to the people who created them. There are hundreds of Aboriginal groups across Australia, so symbols are dynamic and differ between language groups, clans and artists. Often, the stories represent an oral history of the world and its creation, known as the Dreamtime. Want to learn more about the potential meaning of the rock art you see? Common Ground is a great place to start.
Please: Help us preserve the Aboriginal cultural heritage in our national parks by respecting these precious sites. Don’t walk on Aboriginal engraving sites, touch rock art, remove artefacts or use flash photography.
Seaside art on the Central CoastView this post on Instagram
Brisbane Water National Park, near Gosford on the Central Coast, has an abundance of Aboriginal rock art and engravings that are at least 200 years old (many are likely to be ten times that age). Bulgandry Art Site Aboriginal Place is named after a large engraving of a man thought to represent an ancestral hero, depicted with an impressive headdress. The engraving is unique to this area and also includes depictions of wallabies, fish, a dolphin, canoe and bird. There are also axe-grinding grooves nearby, which shows the use of stone tool sharpening.View this post on Instagram
As you wander through the site, you’ll gain an appreciation of the cultural traditions and lifestyles of Aboriginal people in the past and present, and their special relationship with the coastal environment. To reflect on your experience, head up to Staples lookout for dazzling views across Brisbane Water and Woy Woy Bay. If you’re up for a hike, set out on part (or all) of the Great North walk in Brisbane Water National Park, where you can immerse yourself in the landscape that has inspired generations of Aboriginal people living on this land.
Did you know: Aboriginal people have lived in what is now known as NSW for more than 40,000 years, and have continued to practice their culture in NSW national parks to the present day.
Bush galleries in the Blue Mountains
The Glenbrook area in Blue Mountains National Park is only a 1hr drive from Sydney, making it a perfect spot for a day trip. Nestled deep in the World Heritage-listed area is Red Hands Cave, which features red (red ochre), yellow (yellow ochre) and white (pipeclay or copi/gypsum) hand stencils that are said to be between 500 and 1600 years old. The cave is significant to the local Aboriginal people and, according to Darug lore, is the home of Aboriginal ghosts that represent the children left there by the Great Spirit.View this post on Instagram
To get there, set out along Red Hands Cave walking track. You can either challenge yourself to the full 8km loop, or drive to the Red Hands carpark and enjoy the shorter 1km return walk. If you want to make the most of your visit, spend a night or two at nearby Euroka campground. It’s a popular camping spot near the Nepean River, close to mountain biking trails and bushwalks. Don’t miss the Tunnel View lookout, which offers sweeping views across the valley and beyond.
Bookings required: All camping spots in NSW national parks require a booking, even locations that previously didn’t require one.
Ancient stories in the NSW outbackView this post on Instagram
If an outback adventure is more your style, look no further than Mutawintji Historic Site in Mutawintji National Park, near Broken Hill. It boasts one of the best collections of Aboriginal rock art in NSW, set among the vibrant red peaks and gorges of the Bynguano Ranges. The best way to explore the Aboriginal rock engravings and ochre stencils is with Mutawintji Heritage Tours. Your guide will share some Mutawintji Dreamtime stories and point out the remains of ancient fireplaces and toolmaking.
After a long day of exploring, set up your tent by the magnificent river red gums at Homestead Creek campground. There’s plenty of great walks nearby, including the Homestead Gorge walking track which features a number of Aboriginal rock engravings on the red cliffs that overhang the path. On the way back, Homestead Creek picnic area is a great spot to fuel up with a BBQ lunch and map out your next bushwalk or activity.View this post on Instagram
Before you head home, don’t forget to stop off at Gundabooka National Park near Bourke. It’s home to the Mulgowan (Yappa) Aboriginal Art site walking track, where you’ll find ancient Aboriginal rock art by the Ngemba people, depicting animals, dancers, hands and hunting tools. The walk follows the dry Mulareenya creek bed, ending at a protected walkway where you can view the rock art under the ledge. We won’t lie—it’s a fairly challenging walk—but definitely worth it.
Ranger tip: Outback NSW is a region of extreme temperatures, reaching up to 50°C in some places over summer. Nights can be cold and temperatures can drop well below 0°C at times in winter. Autumn and spring are the best times for longer stays. Your safety is our priority, so please read our tips on how to be prepared for your outback visit.
Find your connection to Country
Helping Aboriginal people maintain a strong physical and spiritual connection to the land is a really important part of what we do at NSW National Parks. By working closely with Aboriginal communities, we can help protect and manage these incredible rock art sites and preserve the natural environment that inspired them.
These partnerships also help us discover areas that are home to significant art and cultural sites, so we can create new national parks around them. If you’re keen to see some Aboriginal rock art for yourself, start by taking an Aboriginal – guided tour through a NSW national park. You’ll learn more about the world’s oldest continuous living culture, and why rock art is so important to the cultural heritage of Aboriginal People in Australia.