Heritage listing for NSW Aboriginal cave

By Erin Frick 6 March 2014
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One of the most important Aboriginal rock art sites in NSW may soon be protected by law.

A SACRED HUNTER VALLEY cave which features a painting of one of the most important Aboriginal figures in NSW has been slated for inclusion on the state heritage register.

It is one of more than 300 rock art sites tucked into the caves and crevices of the region, some of which date back 13,000 years or more.

Biaime’s Cave, also called ‘Going’s Home’, is found on private property near Yengo National Park, 170km north of Sydney. Baime is known as the “Father of All” to the Dreamtime of many NSW Aboriginal cultures, including the Wonnarua on whose traditional land the cave is found.

“While Biaime’s Cave is one of several thousand sites of indigenous significance in the greater Sydney area, this site is unique due to its location within the landscape and its composition,” says Professor Paul Taçon, an anthropologist and archaeologist at Griffith University in Queensland. “It’s visually amazing.”

Aboriginal Dreamtime and “Father of All”

The site features hand stencils and a painting of the spirit being, says Paul and “conveys stories of the creation of the landscape.” The Wonnarua believe that Baiame also created the spirit Kawal, who is thought to keep watch over them today.

James Wilson-Miller is the Wonnarua Nation’s historian and Aboriginal curator at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. He says: “this place is the most significant of all for real Wonnarua descendants. It represents the very beginning of all Wonnarua creation and spiritualty, the very essence of our existence.”

Despite the significance of the cave as site of teaching and initiation rites, the Wonnarua Nation doesn’t own the property on which it is located, so its protection is not guaranteed.

Aboriginal cave submitted to NSW state heritage register

Now, following many years of planning, the Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation has submitted an application to have the cave listed as a NSW State Heritage Site.

If granted, Biaime’s Cave and 10ha of land surrounding it will be protected in perpetuity. “Nearby development will be limited,” says Laurie Perry, chief executive of the corporation. “If a mining company wants to come in and excavate the land, it can’t be done. The site will always be looked after.”

Many portrayals of Baiame are engravings, which depict him as human-like, but this painting shows a figure with elongated arms, stretched wide in a gesture of protection.

This is one of the reasons this particular painting is so important, Paul says. “This is a rare and unusual depiction… His enormous outstretched arms imply that he is flying, as if to gather people. There is no other representation like this.”

CREDIT: Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation