Race against time to find Indigenous boab bark art

12/10/2022 | 2 mins

Researchers are working with a group of First Nations Australians in some of the roughest terrain on Earth to document ancient art in the bark of boab trees.

Carvings in the boab trees tell the stories of the king brown snake (or Lingka) Dreaming in a remote area of the Tanami Desert, which straddles the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

After more than two years of fieldwork, researchers from The University of Western Australia, The Australian National University and University of Canberra, alongside five Traditional Owners, found 12 trees with carvings in the region.

Traditional Owner Brenda Garstone said it’s important Indigenous knowledge and stories were not lost and continued to be shared for generations.

Professor Emerita Jane Balme, from UWA’s School of Social Sciences, said the cultural practice of carving boab trees had provided reminders of stories and events in Indigenous people’s lives that were not otherwise recorded.

“We have visited locations where known carved trees have all but disappeared within the lifetime of present Traditional Owners,” Professor Emerita Balme said.

“It is imperative that as many of the remaining trees are recorded before they suffer the same fate.” 

Researcher Professor Sue O’Connor, from the ANU School of Culture, History and Language, said many of the carved trees were already several hundreds of years old.

“Unlike most Australian trees, the inner wood of boabs is soft and fibrous and when the trees die, they just collapse,” Professor O’Connor said.

“Sadly, after lasting centuries if not millennia, this incredible artwork, which is equally as significant as the rock art Indigenous Australians are famous for, is now in danger of being lost.”

The study of Australian boab trees has been published by Antiquity


Media references

Annelies Gartner (UWA Media & PR Manager) 6488 3229

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