The idea for this series has been hanging around in the back of my head for a long time. It serves two purposes: a chance to resurrect pre-digital photos, and an opportunity to indulge in intermittent and discontinuous memoir. When I finally decide to initiate the series, I have to turn the house upside down to find the photos to use for my first postcard and the travel notebook to refresh my memory.
I’m travelling with my eldest daughter in 1996 on a road trip in North Queensland from her home base in Townsville. We venture out to Laura where there are galleries of cave painting depicting the Quinkins, spirit creatures from Aboriginal story we first encountered in Percy Tresize’s picture books when she was a child. It’s a hot day, as you would expect, and there is no one around at the site office, situated at the bottom of a sandstone ridge. We walk up a narrow rocky path, carefully, because it’s under construction and because this is sacred territory. We reach an overhang, and there they are, galleries of paintings from the distant past: hands, dingos, eels, animals, the bad Quinkin squat and goblinish, flying foxes, handprints, even a foot. We take them in, these messages from distant people and time, and continue up the path until we reach the ridge, up tree root stairs with loose rocks and sand, and saplings for maintaining balance. As we look across to the escarpment on the other side of the valley, there’s the sound of wind in the trees and among the rocks. Then, suddenly, there is complete silence, as if time’s suspended. It’s an eerie feeling, a sense of being on a threshold. A feeling I’ve only ever had once before and the power of which I can’t begin to capture in words.
Of course I can’t limit myself to one image, so I’ve included a slideshow, and a bit of background as well. Maybe in future I’ll manage mere postcard format.
The rock art at Laura is somewhere between 15,000 to 30,000 years old. It’s included on the Australian Heritage Estate and listed by UNESCO among the top 10 rock art sites in the world. It’s in Quinkin country, those spirit people of the Yatanji tribe. One group, the Imjim, small and fat-bellied, steal children; the Timara, slender, almost wispy, play tricks on people but protect children from the Imjim.