Jo McDonald: 2019 Tom Austen Brown Lecture
2019 Tom Austen Brown Lecture | Jo McDonald, Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research + Management at the University of Western Australia
“From the desert to the sea: symbolic transformations in the human journey in Australia’s north- west”
The last decade has seen a revolution in understanding how and when Australia was initially settled. Occupation evidence in a number of Australian bioregions now exceeds 50,000 years ago; revolutions in genetics brings new understandings of the complexities in the human journey out-of-Africa; and the first direct dating of Pleistocene rock art in south-east Asia, Australia and Europe means that we can now re-envisage how and when humans first started making rock art; and how this may be reflected in Australia’s earliest evidence for symbolic behaviour.
Murujuga (the Dampier Archipelago) juts into the Indian Ocean on the Pilbara coast in Australia’s north-west. When people first started using this region 50,000 years ago, the coastline was more than 160km away. Murujuga rock art reveals the long-distance hypermobility of arid zone peoples at different times during its long occupation as well as differing human responses to major environmental changes through time. Recent archaeological work reveals that the period after the last Ice Age – as the sea level rose – was a period of intense human interactions, with hunter-gatherer villages and intensive rock art production being signs of increased social and population pressure. The engraved rock art of Murujuga provides a visual record for the entire human occupation of Australia’s north-west, up until the arrival of European explorers and north-American whalers in the early-mid 19th Century, and the Flying Foam Massacre in 1865.
Murujuga is on Australia’s National Heritage List because of its significant cultural and scientific value to the nation. The Dampier Archipelago is also home to a major Pilbara industrial focus with iron ore and natural gas contributing significantly to Australia’s economy. Collaboration between researchers, Aboriginal community and industry is increasing our understanding of this Place’s cultural significance and contributing to its appropriate management in the face of development pressure. Working with the Aboriginal community we are developing the case for this Place to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, to ensure that its values are protected for future generations of all Australians. This lecture highlights how science and indigenous knowledge contributes to a better understanding of heritage values generally, and showcases recent findings from Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming.
Jo McDonald is the Director of the Centre for Rock Art Research + Management at the University of Western Australia and holds the Rio Tinto Chair of Rock Art. Her PhD research in the Sydney Basin contextualized rock art production in the sandstone country while her consultancy practice here developed better understandings of large- scale open-area sites working in western Sydney. She has studied the rock art of the Western Desert and Dampier Archipelago (Murujuga) for the last two decades, completing an ARC Future Fellowship focused on arid zone rock art in Australia and the USA. Jo has recently been the Lead Chief Investigator (CI) for the Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming ARC Linkage Project, and is a CI on the Deep History of Sea Country ARC Project. She is currently working on rock art dating across the arid zone, and is developing a project with Aboriginal communities from the Western Desert and Pilbara coast on inter-generational and cross-cultural knowledge exchange.
Hosted by the Tom Austen Brown Endowment in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI)
Lecture Theatre 200
Social Sciences Building A02
The University of Sydney
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Please click here to RSVP by 1 August 2019