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January 2019, vol 14 no 4

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Jonathan McKeown


And the Lord God made skin coats for the human and his woman, and he clothed them. ~ Genesis 3:21

The shady overhangs and crevices of the rocky outcrops at the edge of the Nadab floodplain shelter an abundance of aboriginal rock art. There are many beings depicted here, including Mimi spirits, the first Dreamtime ancestors, but it’s animal paintings that predominate. At first the decorative intricacy and stylistic patterning is what strikes me. But information posts and my Kakadu National Park booklet refer to it as “X-ray art”, and not without reason. It’s not what you’d call scientific illustration exactly, but the more one looks the more one is impressed by their remarkable display of anatomical structure – anatomies of the animals by which traditional human inhabitants of the area must have subsisted.

Climbing higher the vista of the floodplain extends out to the horizon. There are six seasons here. Now is the end of Gurrung, the hot dry season. I sit a while in a little piece of shade imagining the great expanse during Gudjewg, covered in water. Or the vast sky during Banggerreng, the “knock ‘em down storm season”.

On the way down I pass again an impressive painting of a long-necked turtle and another of a Barramundi; but the more I think about them the less appropriate the term “X-ray art” seems, promoting, it seems to me, at least as much ignorance as it does understanding of the way such an intimate knowledge of our animal brethren was no doubt obtained. Among them, too, an odd one: the form of a man, but opaque, like a silhouette, standing, hands in pockets, sporting what seems to be a pipe.

security screen
the official asks if it’s
a harmonica