Rock Art

Day 8. Sunday 12 August.

A disturbed night, partly from anticipation of an early start, partly from heavier weather as we transitted. An early wake up in Vansittart Bay as the anchors banged, rattled and creaked to the bottom and the zodiacs were off-loaded. We were in the first group to go ashore to Jar Island (so named because of the discovery of Chinese pottery shards)to have a welcome to country smoking ceremony, view the rock art and watch some traditional dances. Although cruises have visited here in the past, this was the first time the traditional owners from the Wandjina culture would conduct a welcome to country ceremony. And we smiled at the cultural contrast: the indigenous hosts had arrived for today’s important event in shifts by helicopter.

Because there were more welcomers than expected, the day’s programmed activities were delayed by half an hour, which meant nothing to many, but resulted in the cancellation of this evening’s wine tasting function. We weren’t going anyway.

The zodiacs ferried us the couple of hundred metres from ship to shore, in quite a significant swell. We’d been advised to wear spray jackets – good advice as there was plenty of spray in both directions: T copped it going in, and D had his turn on the return.

The rock art is in what was called the Bradshaw style after the grazier that found it, but is now usually described by its indigenous name as the Gwion Gwion style (the name derives from a small bird with a distinctive call that sounds like ‘gwion’). It’s origins are unknown, as there is no evidence of cultural continuity : the Wandjina, now the traditional owners, disown this art, describing it as ‘rubbish art’.

We’d heard about the mystery of this art: unknown artists, unknown culture, age anywhere between 17000 to 40000 years old, regarded as the oldest depiction of humans in the world. The elongated figures wear long stripped grass garments, tasseled headdress, bracelets, and are painted in fine detail with some kind of brush.

A visit to a crashed WWII aircraft is on offer in the afternoon, but there is a lack of enthusiasm, due the strengthening winds forecast to be up to 30 km/hour, and with an even heavier swell. Being the hardy adventurous types, we’d both decided to go anyway: the zodiac rides are a lot of fun. It turned out that the wind died down, making the trip quite pleasant. The wreck of the aircraft just reinforced D’s views about the unnatural nature of man’s attempts to fly. The good news is that all crew and passengers survived the crash landing, in better condition than the aircraft.

As we arrived at the site, the ‘boys’ re-enacted the crash story, to the background commentary of a Movietones announcer of the era. Very funny amateur theatrics!

Tonight is the All White Night for dinner: needless to say, we have nothing that is all white, nor even the allowed alternative of black. It coincides with the Officers Dinner, an opportunity to mix and dine with the ship’s officers. T reckons we’ve done more than our share of ‘officer dos’(and we are yet to be invited to join the Captain’s table).

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