‘THE PAST MATTERS’ Rock Art & Indigenous Heritage Workshop

The Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative organised a one-day workshop on Friday 20th May 2016 on heritage preservation approaches with a particular focus on Rock Art and Indigenous heritage. The following provides some background in planning the day, and overview of the workshop supported by Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle Library & the Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative.


Cultural Collections at the UON has been collecting, archiving and sharing knowledge about Aboriginal cultural heritage for many decades. For 20 years Gionni di Gravio (University archivist) has supported research of Aboriginal cultural heritage and rock art in the Hunter Valley. Indigenous cultural heritage has been the concern of academics and the alumni of the university and the wider community. Addressing these concerns the Coal River Working Party (now the “Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative”) was established in 2003, with the aims to discuss and share knowledge about Aboriginal cultural heritage. The interest in the Aboriginal cultural heritage in the region was elevated due to events that unfolded at the KFC site in Hunter Street, Newcastle, when Aboriginal artefacts were found, at the heart of Newcastle. See HERE for further information.

The case attracted wide public attention and interest in Aboriginal heritage. It also raised issues regarding the Aboriginal Heritage Act in general and protection of discovered artefacts in particular. The organising group’s understanding was that in general, there has been very little in the way of education around Aboriginal cultural heritage. However, Amir Mogadam’s interest and specialisation in conservation, and predominantly rock art prompted the workshop. We thought would be a great opportunity to join with others (with experience in Indigenous rock art) to have a workshop specific to this area, as well as have other speakers (on other aspects of Aboriginal heritage).

We didn’t call for papers! But saw a need for a workshop. We identified presenters known to us, many of them had already presented at CRWP/HHI meetings.

– Better understand existing knowledge of Indigenous cultures
– Share knowledge about Aboriginal cultural heritage/rock art
– Bring individuals and communities together who care about Indigenous cultural heritage
– Ideas for future projects to be shared
– Opportunity to network and form collaborations
– Support Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities to build new knowledge about Indigenous culture
– Promote care of Australia’s ancient culture

-Liaising with Aboriginal communities. Key person was Dr Greg Blyton from UON Wollotuka Institute. Invited Prof John Maynard to speak (unfortunately not available).
– Workshop promoted via email to Aboriginal groups and key representatives e.g. Guraki committee of Newcastle Council, YAPUG pathway program.
– UONCC WordPress was primarily used to promote speakers, other social media was UONCC Facebook, twitter and Lost Newcastle Facebook (over 20 000 followers).
– Handout available on the day with bio’s on each speaker and contact details.
– Morning/afternoon tea, and lunch (funded by UON Library)
– Workshop was free to attend, we wanted to attract students and others who may otherwise not have come along, due to the cost.

– 55-60 attendees, from government depts. e.g. Office of Environment & Heritage, Aboriginal people working in gov. depts., various Aboriginal groups and communities, UON staff/academics, students, general community members, professional architects and archaeologists.
– The MC was Dr Bernie Curran discussed the background of the workshop, and the aims
– Entire day was recorded, including question time and general discussion to be posted on UONCC WordPress.
– There was a lot of networking going on over morning/afternoon tea and lunch.

– Recent perspectives in rock art management and advocacy
– Indigenous perspectives on the cultural heritage and its preservation
– The importance of the Australian rock art and its position in the global context
– Methods of rock art documentation
– Future perspective in the preservation of rock art.
– How to make Indigenous heritage meaningful and relevant (planning, all communities)
– Why it is important to care for Australia’s cultural heritage
– Global significance of Australia’s Aboriginal cultural heritage
– Can new technology (virtual & augmented reality) help raise awareness and be an educational tool in terms of Aboriginal heritage.

– One attendee was concerned with the lack of consultation with Aboriginal communities in terms of rock art documentation, interpretation and making publicly available.
– Attendees were very respectful of others viewpoints.
– There was plenty of time for discussion after each speaker (30 mins + 10 mins worked well)- there were no pressure to wind up sessions, and program ran to time.
– Overheard discussions during breaks about some of the difficulties and hurdles working on Aboriginal heritage projects, and the fragmentation within Aboriginal communities, the differing viewpoints in terms of Aboriginal history, ‘who owns’ – not always seen as heritage to be shared.

Feedback on the day was positive, attendees seemed to enjoy the workshop and encouraged in terms of new knowledge available.“Congratulations on planning and hosting the Rock Art symposium on Friday.  It was a great success.  We need more events like this.” – From UON academic.
“Enjoyed the two papers I was able to attend, and meeting other participants. Thanks for organising a great event.” – From UON academic. “It was a great workshop. I enjoyed the day and the company.” – Educator (via Facebook). “What a great day Bravo! We need more workshops like this saturated with significance!”- Heritage advocate (via Facebook)

Registration 8-00am for 8.30 start

CHAIR Dr Bernie Curran

Dr Amir Mogadam
Kulturpolitiks, the Question of Conservation
Dr. Amir Mogadam is a University of Newcastle’s conservator. Amir works on the topics of conservation, Middle Eastern Studies and history, and prior to 2008 worked on international projects in preservation of world heritage sites. His works have been presented and published in the prestigious international forums in Europe and New Zealand. Contact amir.mogadam@newcastle.edu.au

Dr Greg Blyton
Conservation from an Indigenous perspective
Dr Greg Blyton is an Indigenous senior lecturer, historian and researcher at the Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle, where he specialises in Aboriginal history, health and social justice. He has worked extensively throughout many parts of Australia as a registered nurse and health worker, and is a strong advocate of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Contact Greg.blyton@newcastle.edu.au

Gionni di Gravio & Dr Ann Hardy
Indigenising the City: Embodying Aboriginal knowledge and wisdom into planning frameworks to create sustainable cities of the future
Gionni Di Gravio is the archivist for the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections based in Auchmuty Library, 2016 marks 20 years as an archivist at the UON. He is the chair of Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative/Coal River Working Party and councillor of the Australian Society of Archivists. Contact Gionni.digravio@newcastle.edu.au
Dr Ann Hardy is Historian, Creative Industries & Digital Humanities Projects Co-ordinator at the UON’s Cultural Collections. She is a former social worker and has a strong commitment to historical and archival research of the Hunter region, with new digital media platforms, and the oral history tradition. Currently co-ordinates the Hunter (Living) Histories Initiative/Coal River Working Party.

Dr Jillian Huntley
Colouring colonisation – the emergence of rock art and modern human dispersal to Australia
Dr Jillian Huntley is an archaeologist who specialises in the scientific analysis of rock art and the shelter/cave environments that house it. Based in Newcastle, Jillian is engaged in ongoing multidisciplinary projects across northern Australia and Indonesia, and conducts rock art research and conservation projects along the east coast, particularly within the Sydney Basin. Her talk is based on recent research she has undertaken on the early human records of Sahul and Wallacea.

ABSTRACT: Australia is the earliest end point for modern human dispersal out of Africa more than 50 thousand years ago. Our Australasian region has been at the forefront of early finds of highly complex behaviors such as deep sea fishing and the production of figurative art 35-40 thousand years ago. Australia has a globally unique record, created exclusively by fully behaviorally modern people at the same time as the ‘symbolic revolution’ in the European Upper Paleaolithic. Australasia therefore provides a unique opportunity to test prevailing ideas about the timing and materials signature of fully modern humanity. In this presentation I will review evidence for the emergence and dispersal of rock art globally and explore the role recent discoveries in Indonesia and northern Australia as a current focus for human evolutionary research. Contact huntleyj@tpg.com.au

Dr Bernadette Drabsch
Visualising and Contextualising the rock art sites of the Hunter: Conservation through Education
Dr Bernadette Drabsch has an academic background in Ancient History, Classical Languages and Natural History Illustration and has volunteered on archaeological digs in Jordan, which lead to her PhD of the ancient wall paintings from Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan’. She currently teaches the theoretical component of the Natural History Illustration and has developed course curriculum in this area. Contact Bernadette.Drabsch@newcastle.edu.au

Emeritus Professor John Fryer
Recording Rock Art: Techniques and Experiences Locally and in UK
John Fryer is an Emeritus Professor of the University of Newcastle. He came to the UON 1974, was promoted to Professor in 1991 later became Head of School of Engineering. Since retiring 12 yrs ago, he has undertaken forensic investigations for the NSW Police Force and other law enforcement agencies using his academic speciality involving close-range photogrammetry. Contact john.fryer@newcastle.edu.au

Materials Related to Emeritus Professor Fryer’s Presentation (These materials have also been incorporated into the video of the presentation):

Powerpoint: Recording and Modeling an Aboriginal Cave Painting: With and Without Laser Scanning by John Fryer, Jim Chandler & Sabry El-Hakim (19.3MB)

Powerpoint: Recording Petroglyphs by Dr Jim Chandler, Loughborough University, UK & Professor John Fryer, University of Newcastle, Australia. (4.5MB)

The Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project by Paul Bryan, Metric Survey Team Leader & Head of the Photogrammetric Unit English Heritage, York. (13.1MB PDF)

AutoDesk 123D Catch: How accurate is it? by Jim Chandler and John Fryer (192KB PDF)

Emu Cave (Image Courtesy of John Fryer)

Emu Cave (Image Courtesy of John Fryer)

Emu Cave (Image Courtesy of John Fryer)

Emu Cave (Image Courtesy of John Fryer)


Zebedee-CSIRO Hand Held Laser Scanner

Zebedee-CSIRO Hand Held Laser Scanner

Phone Scanner app from ETH Zurich

Well, T., Hancock, G., Fryer, J. “Using laboratory simulations and gravestone measurements to estimate rates of sandstone weathering in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia.” Paper submitted to Environmental Geology, 2007.

Tim Davidson
Virtual Heritage: Experiencing the past through Virtual Reality
Timothy Davidson is Creative Director of Virtual Perspective, he has over 10 yrs experience within the 3D animation, visualisation and digital media fields and is currently exploring how virtual reality and augmented reality can be applied to the fields of archaeology, anthropology, history and cultural heritage. Contact tim@virtualperspective.com.au

BONUS Presentation – Carol Carter (with Allan Chawner) – Photographic Reflections of Aboriginal Sites across three decades

Since the workshop we were contacted by Nicholas Hall (Indigenous Rock Art Workshop Co-ordinator) from the National Museum of Australia about ways to look ahead to new possibilities for collaborative efforts from various organisations and institutions nationally. Nicholas informed that a workshop will be held at the Museum on 29 June 2016, and of a book  Rock Art: A Cultural Treasure at Risk. How we can protect the valuable and vulnerable heritage of rock art by the Getty Conservation Institute. Nicholas is contactable at  Nicholas.hall@nma.gov.au

Members of the Public are welcome to attend this free session

Contact Ann Hardy 49215824 or 0438509139 on ann.hardy@newcastle.edu.au .

For location see MAP for location of Auchmuty Library.

Kindly supported by Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle Library & the Hunter (Living) History Initiative

Other Sources

UON Indigenous Online Resource –  The Wollotuka Institute has endeavoured to provide staff, students and community with a comprehensive list of online resources to provide the user with a greater knowledge base, understanding and awareness of Indigenous cultures, lifestyles and issues.

Yengo Country:A place of cultural and spiritual awakening.  Garry Jones, 2009.

African Rock Art: research, digital outputs and heritage management conference, 4th-5th November 2016, British Museum. For further information visit website: www.africanrockartconference.com

Mitchell 1828 Exhibition

Nature Illustration

Day Shift – 18/05/2010 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

University of Newcastle Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the new forthcoming exhibition of Natural History Illustration works, surveying reports and early Newcastle Panoramas on display at the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections in the Auchmuty Library. This is a rich physical and online display of the University’s engaged interdisciplinary research highlighting the historic natural beauty of the Novocastrian landscape.

Broadcast Notes:

Back in September 2008 a manuscript came to light in the State Library of New South Wales containing the first recorded mention of the Aboriginal name of Nobbys as  ‘Whibayganba’. In addition, the 1828 field book of Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General, contained three sketches of Newcastle drawn from the top of Fort Scratchley looking towards Nobbys, then looking towards Prospect Hill (Now Obelisk Hill), then another taken from the top of the Windmill (now Obelisk Hill) looking back towards Newcastle. These three important sketches are reproduced here:


The full Field book can be seen here:

1828. Mitchell, Sir Thomas Livingstone (1792-1855) Field Book – Port Jackson and Newcastle, 1828 (C 40) 55MB PDF (Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales)

At the time, the Coal River Working Party immediately enlisted the assistance of  Emeritus Professor John Fryer in Surveying to ask whether he could examine the survey readings and compare them with those of Australian Agricultural Company surveyor John Armstrong Survey in 1830.

We believed that this Field book would also be of interest to art historians wanting to compare the actual perspective readings with the colonial art portrayals of the township. So we also asked Dr Anne Llewellyn whether her Natural History Illustration students would be interested in ‘colouring’ Mitchell’s sketches and bring them to life.

This was a perfect opportunity to spark an interdisciplinary ‘science meets the arts’ research approach to these important historical works.

Professor Fryer asked two final Surveying Students to examine Sir Thomas Mitchell’s sketches and survey readings in order to decipher them into lay person’s terms. After a year’s work those two final year students, Mr Chris Towers and Troy Sumner, prepared a report on their findings which they presented at two seminars held on Friday 6 November 2009 (to their Surveying Colleagues), (see the following three You Tube videos from the Presentation – unfortunately we did not capture the whole seminar):

and then at a meeting of the Coal River Working Party on the 7 December 2009. (This is an edited version with the second half of the Presentation and Questions):

Dr Anne Llewellyn’s 2nd Year Natural History Illustration students researched the content of Mitchell’s sketches and together with field observations, developed a ‘reconstruction’ of Mitchell’s drawings based on the ‘now known’ plants and animals of the region. Here is a video from their Presentation before the Coal River Working Party on the 7 December 2009, and a selection of their beautiful art works with some details.

The students whose work is on display are:
Angela Armstrong
Kimberley Swan
Karen McDonald
Susan Sparks
Helen Adamski
Teresa Purnell
Amy Hands
Katherine Pearce
Phoebe Ritchie
Morgan Laudine

To view all the student’s artworks please see our Flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/sets/72157624027355103/ and slideshow here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/sets/72157624027355103/show/

The Work of Sir Thomas Mitchell examined and analysed by University of Newcastle Surveying Students Chris Towers and Troy Sumner

The Full Report and Summary prepared by Chris Towers and Troy Sumner of the University of Newcastle’ Discipline of Civil, Surveying & Environmental Engineering for the Coal River Working Party was placed on the Coal River blog here:

[Sir Thomas Mitchell 1828 Newcastle Survey Report – Full Report and Summary]

Towers, Chris and Sumner, Troy.
Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Angular Observations and Field-Note Sketches of Newcastle. [12.6 MB PDF file]

Towers, Chris.
Summary of Report: Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Angular Observations and Field-Note Sketches of Newcastle [896KB PDF File]



Then; Newcastle in 1828 from Signal Hill (now Fort Scratchley) by Sir Thomas Mitchell


Fort Scratchley Panorama by Chris Towers


Then: Newcastle from the Windmill (now Obelisk Hill) (1828) by Sir Thomas Mitchell


Obelisk Panorama by Chris Towers


To celebrate the achievements of this work, the  University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections in the Auchmuty Library has prepared an exhibition of the student’s artworks, as well as a collection of reproductions of Newcastle painted panoramas from various stages in its history, including the Mitchell 1828 sketches, to be displayed. Some of the Panoramas below have never been seen before.

T.R. Browne (1812)

T.R. Browne (1812)

Browne, T.R. (1776 – 1824). Newcastle, in New South Wales, with a distant view of Point Stephen,1812 and
View of Hunters River, near Newcastle, New South Wales, 1812. Copper Engraving.
Photographer: Bruce Turnbull. Courtesy Newcastle Region Art Gallery.

Edward Charles Close – Newcastle 1818

Edward Charles Close (1818)

Sketchbook 1818
Now attributed to Edward Charles Close. Courtesy National Library of Australia.

Edward Charles Close (1821)

Edward Charles Close (1821)

Panorama of Newcastle 1821.
Panorama of Newcastle : watercolour drawings by Edward Charles Close.
Courtesy State Library of New South Wales.

Edward Charles Close (c1825)

Edward Charles Close (c1825)

The Panorama above is constituted of the following paintings in Sketchbook of scenes of Sydney, Broken Bay, Newcastle and region, New South Wales, 1817-1840, (Courtesy of the National Library of Australia) once attributed to Sophia Campbell, now Edward Charles Close, 1790-1866 (Thanks to Mark Metrikas for identifying this find) The individual paintings that make up this Panorama from the Sketchbook are listed in order from left to right: (1) Commandant’s house from in front of the old gaol, Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1828 [picture] (2) Dwellings, fenced land and the windmill on the hill, Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1820 [picture] (3) Barracks with Christ Church in the distance, Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1820 [picture] (4) Dwellings and buildings in Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1820 (5) View over buildings towards the signal mast and Nobby Head, Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1820.

John Rae (1849)

John Rae (1849)

Rae, John, 1813-1900. Newcastle in 1849.
Courtesy State Library of New South Wales.

William Keene (1854)

William Keene (1854)

William Keene (Examiner of Coal Mines)
Copy of Stratigraphic sketch from Nobby’s Island Newcastle to Burwood, showing coal seams and their Order of Superposition. 31 May 1854.
Photographed by Bruce Turnbull. Archives Authority Map No. SZ325 (Courtesy State Archives of NSW)

John Rae – Photograph (c1880)

John Rae (c.1880)

Rae, John, 1813-1900. [Panoramic photograph of Newcastle, 1878-1882, possibly taken from Jesmond House] — 4 albumen photoprints
from Sketches in New South Wales in the olden time 1842 – 1859 by John Rae, M.A. / album of watercolour panoramas and photographs of watercolour sketches.
Courtesy State Library of New South Wales.

On behalf of the University’s Cultural Collections (Auchmuty Library) and the Coal River Working Party we congratulate Emeritus Professor John Fryer, Dr Anne Llewellyn and their students for their work, and the wonderful new insights it has brought to the study of our history and artistic legacy.

Gionni Di Gravio
May 2010